South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu delivered the keynote for the International Conference of the Association of Fundraising Professionals on April 13, 2010. As he addressed 3,000 professional fundraisers from dozens of countries, I wondered how his remarks would be received. The 79 year old slightly stooped priest was the only major speaker who did not use props, gimmicks, or PowerPoint. He just gripped the podium and preached to the crowd. You could have heard a pin drop.
As any good speaker he began with a joke, and then praised the audience. He reminded the audience of the importance of the organizing by college students in America and England in the 1980’s. They pressured their universities, then the businesses in college towns, and then the biggest businesses in the country like Coca-cola and General Motors to disinvest in South Africa as long as racial apartheid continued.
The early successes at Stanford, Michigan State, Columbia University, and University of Wisconsin – Madison expanded to dozens of other campuses and hundreds of stockholder annual meetings. While the Anti-Apartheid movement did local actions, public outrage was stoked by the images on television of resistance in South Africa.
Tutu recalled visiting UC Berkeley and seeing the college students protesting against apartheid. He teased, “I don’t know what cockles are, but those college kids warmed the cockles of my heart. And imagine they were protesting for people 10,000 miles away.” This came back to me the next afternoon when I was doing a one-on-one workshop exercise with a fundraiser from the Red Cross. She suddenly pulled out her phone, then clutched her throat and said, “I’m so sorry but I can’t be your partner – I have to go. There has been a terrible earthquake in China.” As she dashed out I realized that caring about people 10,000 miles away has become the norm in fundraising.
By the late 1980’s, more than 90 cities, 22 counties, and 26 states had binding actions against companies doing business in South Africa. The strength of the movement pushed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 through the House and Senate, but it was vetoed by the popular President Ronald Reagan. Organizing and lobbying got the Senate to override Reagan’s veto, and between 1985 and 1987 imports from South Africa dropped by 35%. The effect of this capital flight caused a steep decline in the South African Currency, the rand, which in turn led to inflation levels of 12% to 15%. This helped drive the white government to the negotiating table, paving the way for the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990 and the transition to a multi-racial democracy.
Archbishop Tutu remembered that when he was the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town some people had told him, “Don’t mix politics with religion.” Or “Don’t mix politics with sport.” Rising up on his toes, he shouted to the fundraisers, “Politics mixes with everything!”
At the same time 46 heads of state and international leaders were meeting nearby at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC. Archbishop Tutu said that the arms race cannot go on forever and laid out a list of what even a minute part of the defense budget could buy instead: enough food, clean water, safe homes, good education and health care, inoculations and health care for all. He cocked his head and pantomimed God asking, “Why don’t you get it? Why? Why?” Tutu warned “There is no defense system that can ever defend against the resentment of those who are left behind.”
He surprised me and other fundraisers by calling fundraising “a noble calling.” Usually people consider fundraisers as sales people, at best, and used car sales people at worst. But Archbishop Tutu said, “Fundraising is a noble calling because responsible philanthropy will help to change institutional injustice.”
Then he closed with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “We must live together as brothers (and as we now say, sisters,) or we will perish as fools.” He received the most sincere and sustained standing ovation I have ever heard.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his youngest daughter Reverend Mpho Tutu, the Executive Director of the Tutu Institute for Prayer and Pilgrimage in Washington, DC, have a new book out “Made for Goodness – and why this makes all the difference.” New York: HarperOne, 2010.