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A LESSON FROM NOTRE-DAME

by DAVID AFT

The fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral

The fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral

Shock and sadness swelled inside me as I watched the video footage of Notre-Dame Cathedral ablaze on Monday evening. Like many, I’ve stood in awe of the ancient structure — a medieval building built by the hands of thousands between 1160 and 1260 that today is one of the most widely recognized symbols of Paris, France, and European culture.

Just hours into the wake of the devastation, hope emerged. Calls to restore the heavily damaged Notre-Dame to its symbolic majesty were answered with pledges of financial support. Individuals, businesses, and foundations across the globe pledged more than $300 million within the first 24 hours of the fire. The speed of the philanthropic response to support Notre Dame not only reinforces the notion that the many throughout the world view the cathedral as belonging to the whole of mankind, but also emphasizes that in today’s digital world, we can move quickly to raise money for causes close to our hearts.

I read that on Sunday, a GoFundMe campaign to help three black churches rebuild from arson had raised less than $50,000. But after the outpouring of generosity on the world stage in response to the burning of Notre-Dame Cathedral, donations for the small Louisiana houses of worship skyrocketed to $1 million in just two days. Sometimes it just takes a reminder — a nudge — to get the attention of philanthropists.

I often wonder what magic ingredients must be present to create such a groundswell of interest and support, as there are so many causes that deserve our collective and thoughtful action, but never mobilize the same kind of response.  Some might say that these other causes don’t rise to the same level of global significance, while others will argue that so many worthy endeavors suffer from their inability to adequately share their message.  I guess after more than thirty years of trying to find common ground between important causes and those willing to open their pocket books and wallets in support, I am still looking for a way to make it happen more often.

I feel fortunate to live in a time when responses to tragedies can move so quickly. However, I see tragedies each and every day — parents who don’t have the money to purchase food for their families, people in a downward spiral as a result of a drug or alcohol addiction, service men and women with PTSD who don’t have access to mental health services. If the world can move so quickly to rebuild Notre-Dame, can we prioritize our community’s problems and work more swiftly to address them?

I know we can.

David Aft is the president of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia. He has worked in the nonprofit field for over twenty-five years and is a recognized resource and noted speaker on charitable enterprise, civics, fundraising strategy and community development.