Pope Francis Gets It. Do You?

I know that you may be wondering, “Why is a nice, Jewish guy writing about the Pope?”

Pope Francis greets the public. By Catholic Churches (England and Wales) via Flickr

Pope Francis greets the public.

Let me explain.

First, I believe that we all can learn something — sometimes, many things — from anyone.

Second, Pope Francis clearly understands branding, managing one’s image, living one’s mission, communicating effectively, engaging others, and maintaining a good sense of humor.

While the new Pope can certainly teach any number of lessons about religion and morality, I want to focus on what nonprofit managers and development professionals can learn from the new Pontiff.

Here are six things you can learn from Pope Francis that will help you do a more effective job for your nonprofit organization:

Know Your Brand. Pope Francis understands his brand. He is a Jesuit priest. The Order’s founding document, written by Ignatius of Loyola, calls on all Jesuits to take a vow of perpetual chastity, poverty and obedience. Through his lifestyle, public remarks, and image, the Pope has demonstrated his commitment to the principles outlined by the founder of the Society of Jesus (the religious order known as Jesuits).

Effective nonprofit managers and development professionals know they must carefully craft and manage their institutional and personal brands. We must have a mission, understand the mission and be able to convey that understanding to others.

Live Your Brand. Long before being elected the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, Pope Francis lived his brand. For example, as a Cardinal in Argentina, he lived in a modest apartment rather than the more elegant, suburban Bishop’s residence. He used public transportation to get around. He cooked his own meals. In other words, he did not simply create a superficial public image. He created and lived a lifestyle. He lived authentically.

His authenticity continues. After the conclave elected him Pope, he took the name of Francis of Assisi explaining it this way, according to The New Yorker:

I will tell you the story. During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Cláudio Hummes—a good friend, a good friend! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two-thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said, ‘Don’t forget the poor!’ And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi.”

Later, Pope Francis returned to his hotel to checkout of his room. He chose to take the bus rather than the Papal car. He was the new Pope, but he was also still the priest who rides the bus.

Nonprofit managers and development professionals must be authentic. We need to be true to brand identity and mission. It is not enough simply to pretend to be a certain way. Authenticity earns the public trust that generates and maintains support.

For example, there are charities that efficiently use donated funds to achieve their missions. However, there are also nonprofits or non-governmental organizations that squander contributed resources while still others are simply scams. On the surface, all may appear worthy of support. In reality, the authentic charities that operate with integrity are best positioned for long-term success on all fronts.

Manage Your Image. When addressing the public, Pope Francis reportedly ignored prepared remarks written by his would-be handlers. Instead, he spoke for himself, off the cuff. For example, he spoke of his desire for “a church that is poor and for the poor.” Beyond choosing his own words, the new Pope also chose to wear a plain white cassock instead of formal Papal robes. When first introduced to the public, he wore a simple wooden cross rather than a gold one such as those worn by his predecessors.

Nonprofit managers and development professionals need to carefully manage their own image as well as the image of their organization. Leaving our images to chance simply puts our organizations and us at risk. We must exert effort to effectively and appropriately manage our images and those of our organizations. It’s part of a sound communications strategy. Remember the old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Communicate Effectively. Pope Francis has carefully managed his image following his election as Pope just as he did previously in his career. In the early days of his papacy, he also clearly communicated with the public. The New Yorker reported that the new Pope’s first two homilies “were short, simple, and highly inclusive. He recounted the story of the adulteress from the New Testament on Sunday: ‘He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.’”

When riding around the piazza in the “popemobile” to greet the public, the Pontiff was not tucked behind a bulletproof shield. Instead, he rode in an open vehicle where he could be seen easily without any obstruction. He even had the car stop so that he could get out to mingle with the crowd and bless a disabled man. 

Again, the Pope managed his image. He spoke concisely. He delivered simple messages. He spoke to and with individuals who came to witness the historic events.

Nonprofit managers and development professionals must be accessible to prospective supporters and donors. We must craft simple, direct messages that easily make the desired point. We must also recognize that communicating does not mean broadcasting. The latter involves putting out a message without expecting or desiring engagement. By contrast, communicating puts out a message with the hope of engaging recipients and stimulating feedback or action. The key to building powerful relationships is engagement.

Willingness to Engage. While it might be pleasant to speak just with those individuals with whom we often agree, wise people recognize that they also need to engage people with whom they disagree if they want to create change or open themselves to fresh perspectives and ideas.

Over the years, when he was a Cardinal in Argentina, Pope Francis clashed often with Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner regarding a variety of social issues. Nevertheless, prior to his formal installation as Pontiff, the newly elected Pope met privately with the leader of his native land, even having lunch with her.

By the way, Pope Francis has over 2.1 million Twitter Followers. While he has some distance to go before he overtakes Justin Bieber (36.2 million Followers), keep in mind that Pope Francis is still new. As of this writing, he ranks 539 in the world for Followers.

Nonprofit managers and development professionals should not isolate themselves. We should not surround ourselves with yes-men. Engaging those who are supportive makes obvious sense. However, it is also important to engage those who are not supportive. It’s the only way to have a chance at turning them around. It’s also the best way to understand their view, which can have a positive, profound impact on our own thinking.

Keep Your Sense of Humor. I’ve never been a leader of 1.2 billion people. However, I’m guessing, there’s probably some stress involved. One of the best ways to cope with stress and engage others is through humor. Pope Francis understands this principle. For example, The New Yorker detailed Pope Francis’ meeting with reporters. When speaking about the selection of his new name, “joking, he said that some of his fellow cardinals suggested he should take the name of Clement XV in order to ‘pay back Clement XIV, who suppressed the Jesuit order.’”

In one of his homilies, “he quoted an old woman who had told him that without mercy the world would not exist. ‘I asked her if she had taught theology at the Gregorian University,’ he said, joking about the Jesuit university in Rome.” In the days following his election, the new Pope was often seen, smiling, laughing, and joking.

Nonprofit managers and development professionals should embrace humor. Using an appropriate good sense of humor is a great way to engage others. While we don’t want to be perceived as clowns, we do want folks to like us. One way to do that is to make them laugh.

And, there’s another benefit to making people laugh. According to Jeffrey Gitomer, a sales guru and author of several books including The Sales Bible, people will listen most closely to what you say immediately after you make them laugh. Consider that when using your talking points.

One more thing: whenever things don’t go quite the way we want, a good sense of humor will often see us through. Learning to laugh at ourselves is not easy, but it is enormously useful.

Like I said, Pope Francis clearly gets it. Do you?

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

20 Comments to “Pope Francis Gets It. Do You?”

  1. One of your best posts ever. Very insightful. Great advice.

  2. Wonderful post today, Michael, and I am in total agreement. The conclave picked a real winner in Pope Francis. Nonprofit leaders would do well to emulate his example as a leader. Ironically, my next blog is going to be about what nonprofits can learn from Kevin Bacon’s new show on Fox.

    • Richard, thank you for your comment. While I haven’t seen Kevin Bacon’s new tv show, I have seen the intense previews. I can’t imagine how your blog post will relate it to the nonprofit sector. I’m looking forward to reading your post. Be sure to share the link here once you post.

  3. Excellent insights, Michael! Authentic living out of values and humor–now that’s a recipe for successful communications as well for a happy life.

    • Richard, thank you for commenting. I just read an interesting story about how Pope Francis phoned his newspaper kiosk in Argentina to cancel his newspaper subscription. It’s a sweet, funny story that you can find here. I continue to find it interesting how these small, simple actions (not big gestures or pronouncements) are resonating with the public.

  4. Dear Michael, I am a newcomer to your blog and new to the funsraising area of work, but have to say I completely agree with you on this fantastic blog post! My thoughts after your post were that Blessed JP II taught what Catholics believe, Pope Emeritus BXVI taught Catholics why they believe it and Pope Francis is saying “Now go do it”……..Not unlike the process fundraisiers need to take really, to ensure their mission and message are authentically conveyed.

    I look forward to continuing to read your posts.

  5. This is an awesome post. It is succinct, heart felt and reflective on so many fronts – a keeper! I’ve already passed this on to my communities. Bravo!

  6. Terrific post, Michael. I passed it along to the Portland(ME) Diocese.

  7. Just a thought (and not a real point of disagreement) — I am not so sure the Pope is carefully managing his brand — he is simply living it. I believe he is being authentic, and that his decisions come naturally and immediately to him rather than via careful planning.

    If we develop worthy core values and live them, managing our brand becomes much less of a challenge.

    Of course, most of us do not have 6,000 members of the media to get our message out. So, we do have to work on making sure people know about the brand we are living.

    • William, thank you for commenting. I think we’re on the same page. When I suggested that the Pope is managing his brand, I did not mean it in the calculating, cynical sense. Living a life is all about making choices. In the Pope’s case, his choices seem to be consistent. Collectively, those consistent choices build his brand. It’s a demonstration of authenticity.

      Does a development professional need to believe in the mission of an organization in order to raise money for it. Probably not. But, I bet that a true believer with the same skill set would likely be more successful. And, the believer would likely be a lot happier. Authenticity beats faking it.

  8. Michael, I wanted to share this photo from today – it shows Pope Francis washing and kissing the feet of young-offenders in prison. A reminder that none of us are too powerful or important to engage in servant-leadership. Which, when we remember that our leadership positions exist to serve those who need the help our charities/non-profits offer, is key. Let us be as humble in our leadership as those who humble themselves to ask for and receive assistance.

    This all comes at a time that is holy for the Hebrew people (Pesach) and the Christian people (Holy Week/Easter). Peace is built one person at a time and I send wishes for God’s peace on you and all the peoples of the world. Thank you for your beautiful post.


    • Christina, thank you for your comment. I greatly appreciate the link to the photo of Pope Francis that you were kind enough to share. It’s another powerful image that shows us how the new Pontiff continues to live his mission.

      In the development profession, it’s very easy to get caught up in numbers and techniques. That’s certainly understandable. Numbers and techniques are certainly very important. But, at times, I think we can lose sight of why we do what we do. I think it’s important to remind ourselves, on a regular basis, of who it is our organizations serve. I’m always at least somewhat aware of who my clients serve. However, they may not always be in the front of my mind as I work to meet a deadline or achieve a goal. I find that whenever I’m feeling a bit burned out, it’s very inspiring to go talk with those the organization serves. It reminds me of who I’m really working for. I know that I’m never more energized and ready to serve my clients than after I walk through a college campus, attend a theater performance, visit an emergency room, talk with homeless folks, etc.

      I also want to thank you for your kind holiday wishes. I hope that you and yours have an inspirational, happy Easter!

  9. Michael, important and valuable nuggets to guide our everyday work. Thanks for posting.


  10. Is Pope Francis really a reformer? Is he really such an outsider? His parents, after all, were Italian immigrants in Argentina. Will Pope Francis stand up to the Italian clerics in the Curia? Has the media overstated the REFORMER? For more, please see my essay at: http://deligentia.wordpress.com/2013/03/15/pope-francis-a-reformer/

    • Insight, thank you for comment. Unfortunately, you seem to have missed the point I was making. Pope Francis may or may not be a “reformer.” In the context of the Catholic Church, I’m not even sure what that means. What I do know is that the new Pontiff lives his mission and doesn’t just say the words or go through the motions.

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