How Fundraisers Can Leverage Pope Francis Visit

It turns out that all the anticipation of Pope Francis’ U.S. visit reflected an accurate level of enthusiasm for the popular pontiff. His parade around the National Mall drew throngs of people, and he spoke before 18,000 people in Madison Square Garden. Philadelphia is doubling in size this weekend for the World Meeting of Families and Francis’ open-air mass tomorrow on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

With the Pope set to land in the City of Brotherly Love today, let’s take a look at what he’s said and done so far and how these issues may have an impact on fundraisers.

In his address to congress, the pope mentioned a number of exemplary religious figures, including Martin Luther King. He also offered praise for Dorothy Day, a somewhat controversial figure in the Catholic Church who nonetheless enjoy popularity for her selflessness and saintly life committed to serving the poor. The Dorothy Day Guild – an organization that spreads awareness of Day and advocates for her canonization – stands to benefit. The group should leverage Francis’ words in its messaging in order to expand the reach of its valuable work.

Pope Francis also addressed immigration, and championed a humane and compassionate approach to solving political issues revolving around the topic. Some political figures – prominently Bernie Sanders – has already leveraged the Pope’s address in their fundraising and communications. Non-political nonprofits can do this, too. If your organization works with or for immigrant demographics, there is a natural connection.

The environment is another hot topic this week. In front of the UN, Francis called for nations to acknowledge the right of the environment. These are bold words, and a huge boon for environmental groups looking for another figurehead to channel their messaging through. Especially on the heels of Francis’ highly publicized encyclical calling for better stewardship of the planet, this weeks events have elevated environmental issues to the forefront and related nonprofits need to jump into the discussion.

A highly public figure in possession of immense respect and a massive global audience, Pope Francis is an invaluable influencer. Positioning your nonprofit’s messaging within the context of his vision is an easy (and essential) way broaden the scope of your nonprofit’s work.

The Pope Comes to Philadelphia

In his first-ever visit to the United States, Pope Francis will travel to Philadelphia to attend the World Meeting of Families. The event – which occurs every three years – will take place in the United States for the very first time. City officials expect up to 2 million people to visit Philadelphia for the Pope’s public appearance on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, in effect doubling the city’s population for the weekend.

Boosters were expected to raise as much as $45 million for the Pope’s visit. This large sum will cover the expansive operational costs, including security and the management of 10,000 volunteers that will be working around the clock to ensure a smoothly run three day tour.

The World Meeting of Families – while sponsored by the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for the Family – depends on private contributions and in-kind gifts in order to fund the events. Many of the details concerning the funders for the Pope’s visit will not likely emerge until after the World Meeting of Family’s next tax filing. The organization is registered as a 501(c)3 nonprofit. Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia – who heads the nonprofit – is under investigation by Italian authorities for embezzlement. The case involves Paglia’s tenure in Italy and, according to the World Meeting of Families, is in no way connected to the organization or the planning for the Philadelphia event. 

Government resources and personnel will also play a big part, as the Secret Service and other federal agencies have contributed significantly to the security planning process and will staff the implementation of the security plan, The extent of the primary security perimeter could stretch from the Schuylkill to the Delaware rivers, and from South Street all the way to Girard Avenue. Officials have indicated that a fence will be constructed that completely surrounds City Hall. Analysts believe this is because the influx of people will begin shutting down parts of the city as early as Friday evening.

Despite the logistical head aches and non-stop, city-wide organizing, the visit is expected to provide quite the financial boon for Philadelphia, with a projected $418 million impact spread across the city’s service, hotel, retail, and transportation industries.

Nonprofits and foundations are also leveraging Pope Francis’ visit to improve their fundraising.

The Pope – a veritable media sensation – has helped raise the profile of a number of area charities tackling basic needs issues and other worthy causes. The executive of HOME – an anti-homelessness organization – announced a $1.5 million fundraising campaign in June in conjunction with Francis’ visit. Also known as the Francis Fund, the campaign has contributed $700,000 to more than 40 human services organizations serving Philadelphia and Camden.

The actual extent of the philanthropic and financial impact of the visit will not emerge until months from now, but if the number of passionate faithful inspired by Pope Francis’ message traveling for the event are accurate, there will be a massive pool of generous donors ready to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate.

Philadelphia Charities to Benefit from Pope’s Visit

[Leading up to Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia in September, Shaping the Story will provide regular updates on nonprofit and charity issues as they relate to the pontiff’s first U.S. trip]

Visiting the Philippines on January 18, Pope Francis brought fellow catholics out in droves.

An estimated 6 million people attended what has been officially declared the largest Catholic mass ever held in the county. Appearing in a modest, inexpensive yellow poncho, the Pope spoke about society’s responsibility to children.

The world was moved in particular by his response to an orphaned street girl who had been rescued by a church-run foundation. “Why is God allowing something like this to happen, even to innocent children? And why are there so few who are helping us?” the 12-year old girl asked.

The ever-empathetic Pope responded, “Only when we are able to cry are we able to come close to responding to your question…Those who are discarded cry. But those who are living a life that is more or less without need, we don’t know how to cry. There are some realities that you can only see through eyes that have been cleansed by tears.”

Pope Francis also paid homage to Catholic nonprofit institutions, stopping at Manila’s Catholic university and spending 20 minutes with the father of a volunteer for Catholic Relief Services who died the day before from collapsing scaffolding in the seaside city of Tacloban.

The Pope’s popularity is unquestionable. He has achieved a rock star status, including in the United States, where he has even adorned the cover of Rolling Stone. A Pew Research Center poll shows that around 80 percent of U.S. Catholics – who will finally have an opportunity to see the pontiff during his first U.S. visit this coming September – have a favorable view of Pope Francis.

The focal point of the visit is the World Meeting of Families, scheduled for September 22 through 25 in Philadelphia. Following the conference, millions of people will flock to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to hear Pope Francis speak on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. The Vatican’s itinerary will also include either a visit to a children’s hospital or to a juvenile prison facility.

The visit presents a unique opportunity for Philadelphia-based nonprofits to galvanize their volunteers and supporters and to reposition their fundraising strategy and messaging for greater results, as the Archdiocese has already done by laying the groundwork for an ambitious year.

On January 20, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia announced a $10 million fundraising goal for the annual Catholic Charities appeal – the chief source of revenue for charitable Catholic activities aiding some 200,000 people through 80 programs. Archbishop Chaput has helped turnaround the region’s Catholic fundraising practices since he entered his position in 2011, surpassing $10 million in fundraising in both 2013 and 2014. The added excitement of the Pope’s visit should make this year even more profitable.

With the media attention, as well as the millions of energized Catholics (and non-Catholic philanthropists no less enthralled by the Pope’s presence) descending on the city, Philadelphia-based Catholic charities and nonprofits should follow the Archbishop’s lead and leverage the Vatican’s visit for 2015 fundraising. The pope’s message of charity, in conjunction with his popularity, will provide fuel for nonprofits’ invaluable basic needs work.

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