First, we watched a beloved, sacred and ancient landmark go up in flames on rolling news. Then we saw our friends and acquaintances post blurry holiday photos on Instagram of when they stood outside the Cathedral in 2013. Then after a rousing speech by Macron, nearly €1billion of fundraising has poured in from businesses, celebrities and ordinary folk around the world who vowed to resurrect Notre Dame.
Then yesterday a really interesting thing happened. My timelines were filled with friends suggesting that we should be giving to more worthwhile things than a new Cathedral.
I saw calls to fundraise instead for the even more ancient Islamic sites destroyed by Daesh in Syria. For homeless people or disadvantaged children. For wildlife protection as the Yangtze softshell turtle lost its last female this week, dooming it to extinction.
It’s not for me to say where people should or shouldn’t donate their charity. But I do think these calls to give in more utilitarian ways will fall on deaf ears.
If there’s one thing working in fundraising has taught me it’s that people’s giving is completely irrational. We give from our hearts and not heads. Rather than sparking a hot-air-balloon style debate of which cause is the most worthy we should be asking why the rebuilding of Notre Dame has captured so many hearts and opened so many wallets?
The answer is of course because it has meaning for people.
I loved the satirical article from Babylon Bee titled “Confirmed: Notre Dame Fire Definitely Means Whatever You Want It To”. Notre Dame has a place in people’s hearts and minds; whether as a house of God, an icon of France or a holiday memory. The coverage of the fire, from the toppling spire to the first press pictures of the damage inside have made the need clear and dramatic. Then Macron’s speech set out a vision for an inspiring transformation, a tangible timeline for restoration and called for people who cared everywhere to unite and play their part giving time, money and expertise to make it happen. A fundraising masterclass! Being part of the generation that rallied together and restored Notre Dame to even greater glory for the future is a powerful idea.
The question is, what is there to learn from Notre Dame for those of who are working on saving the turtles and other causes? What is our big idea? How can we have meaning in people’s lives? How can we give people a vital role in our cause and make them feel like we couldn’t do it without them?
Notre Dame has shown people are still willing to give, still want to feel part of something bigger than themselves and it will be a proud day when they see the Cathedral rise from the ashes, knowing they helped make it happen.