Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke a warning, “Provide a preacher a podium and a captive audience and you cannot expect me to remain within the timeframe.” As keynote at the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) 47th International Conference in Baltimore, Tutu lauded over 3,000 fundraising professionals for making possible the peaceful transition out of Apartheid. Tutu explained U.S. donations supported many of the anti apartheid efforts.
I was proud at that moment to think of New York Theological Seminary’s former President Moses William Howard, Junior’s work as president of the North American Regional Conference on Action Against Apartheid, the largest United Nations-sponsored conference of anti-apartheid activities ever held in the United States.
Tutu went on,“Philanthropy is the opposite of selfishness.” And that, as we all know, extends beyond dollars. Tutu’s eyes teared as he remembered Berkley students in the 70s protesting against injustices happening 10-thousand miles away. “Without the honorable calling of fundraisers,” he said, “we would not be free today. And, Nelson Mandela might have died in prison, not living to be acknowledged as a global icon of forgiveness.”
Tutu reflected, “Yours is a very noble profession. Our civil society efforts would have been hobbled if not for your generous support.” He went on to caution, “Structured help is another chain that binds; what is needed is an understanding free of chains.” In other words, when aid programs neglect to factor in a cultural understanding, they can be more restrictive than helpful. “Help should empower people by partnering equally, uplifting them.”
I was proud when Tutu’s lilting voice rang out, “You actually have a noble profession, a noble calling, a noble vocation.” He added, we must all work towards equality, a world where those who have more help those with less. “When those who are different are ignored, it presents a recipe for disaster… a dire, unsustainable situation. That is not how God intended it to be.”
Tutu whispered gracefully, “God is saying hey, hello-o-o, we are all family.” He closed by thanking all of us for being part of “philanthropy’s noble calling to help change situations of injustice.”
Peter Zehren is Vice President for Development and Insitutional Advancement at New York Theological Seminary.