Grace Cooke, Associate Secretary for Advancement and Relationship, has been stewarding fundraising at PYM for the last five years. Since May, 2018, she has also been leading the communication team at PYM. This February, she will be leaving PYM to begin a new job at the Science History Institute. While we are sad to say farewell, we are glad to share this final interview.
Q: You have built deep relationships in the Quaker community and made transformative growth in giving to PYM. What is your hope for the community and PYM’s work?
I have such hopes for Quakers. Quakerism is the only faith I can imagine belonging to – I love the spiritual freedom it facilitates and the way our meetinghouses hold us in spaces that focus reflection. Friends are such interesting people, with fascinating minds and compassionate hearts. There is such a thing as ‘the Quaker Mind;’ it is curious, thoughtful, seeking, and wondering.
My greatest hope is that Friends will set aside differences – because we all do have differences – and focus on those commonalities that lead to vitality.
Something every meeting can do is to reach out to people whose participation has fallen away. Talk to young people who have grown up in the meeting; ask them what they think, and invite them to join a committee or identify another form of engagement. Try to engage with new ideas.
Vitality can mean different things to different meetings. For some it’s all about more people in worship and fellowship, for others it’s about being actively present in community.
Richland did this with a series of events centered on the town’s historic role in the antislavery movement. Unami is working on a forestation project. Valley Meeting built a community labyrinth that nearby office workers drop into to de-stress. Third Haven helped renovate a local church kitchen that distributed meals, plus their 1684 meetinghouse is an historic site that’s open daily.
Quakertown makes their meetinghouse available during town events and interprets their graveyard. Chestnut Hill has a James Turrell Skyspace and their members helped to build the Fair Hill Burial Ground into a community resource. Lancaster has started a school. Horsham opened its meetinghouse as classroom space to Quaker School at Horsham students during the pandemic. The New Jersey Quakers (three Quarterly Meetings) have a long list of activities, as does Bucks Quarterly Meeting. Upper Susquehanna Quarter networks Friends across big distances in remarkable ways. I am so impressed with the energy and creativity; there are as many ideas as there are meetings.
For meetings in deeply divided communities, it is about serving as neutral spaces, convening around what is shared.
Another hope is that we can make the Quaker structure more workable for today. Families have little time. How can we make Quakerism be more embracing of people who don’t have large blocks of time for volunteerism or committee work?
I’m impressed by the work of meetings who are reviving themselves. Darby, Cropwell, Little Egg Harbor, Barnegat and Newtown Square meetings come to mind. Darby has grown from a handful of worshipers to some twenty, Little Egg Harbor has gone from two to twelve. Cropwell is launching itself with a series of interesting events with the support of the Quarter. Barnegat does an event each month and is participating in the PYM Marketing Test Project funded by a very generous Friend.
Q: In the five years you have been at PYM in different roles, could you share some significant joyful memories along the way?
There are so many.
- Working with members of the community on their stories.
- Doing the Friends in Fellowship events.
- Watching Arch Street Meeting House programming grow under the leadership of our new Executive Director, Sean Connolly, with the tagline Meet Quaker History!
- Organizing the Quakers Got Talent fundraiser in 2019.
- Being sparked by the ideas of other people, and working alongside faith proficient colleagues like George Schaefer, Melinda Wenner Bradley, and Olivia Brangan. Welcoming new staff as well.
- Noticing how PYM grants impact meetings, individuals, and communities. The work of the Willits Book Trust!
- Seeing the PYM website come into sharper focus with strong content and better navigation.
The impact you can have on people is also joyful. I helped someone who wasn’t a Quaker in 2017, didn’t live in the region, and didn’t know much about Quakers, tap into the faith. He joined a meeting, and put PYM in his will.
Seeing people value what we do and be changed by it – that is joyful. Making the Quaker news we send out more interesting to people who are exploring the faith – that matters!
Q: What about the things you are most proud of?
In terms of philanthropy, when I came to PYM in 2017 we faced a persistent reduction in giving. I am grateful for the way we’ve stabilized the annual fund, building individual giving around special projects, and helping people feel more connected to—and known by—the yearly meeting.
We’ve persuaded individual donors to grow their giving. We’ve also recently re-launched PYM Planned Giving with a lot of help from a lot of people.
There is a human tendency to focus on raising money from “wealthy people.” I’ve challenged that, deciding we should be focusing on generous people – which can mean anyone. The anonymous 2-to-1 matching donor for all gifts up to $56,000 to the Quaker Fund for Indigenous Communities is not a wealthy businessperson, but someone who wanted to grow PYM’s granting capacity to native peoples. With the new Legacy Fund we allowed people to create named gifts for loved ones with donations of $1,250 & up instead of $500,000 & up.
I’m also proud of the communications team (Malcolm McAtee, Joyce David, and Roma Narkhede) and what we accomplished. When I came, the News & Events email was a monthly thing, now it goes out every Thursday – as a weekly. PYM Fundraising appeals are inventive and beautiful to look at, plus they share news – they are not just about fundraising. You might want to know what is happening – why wouldn’t we tell you?
I loved the 2018 Comic Book Edition of Faith in Practice (.pdf) newsletter with its humor and new graphic storytelling about being trans by Ramona Sharples, the environment story by Joey Hartman-Dow, and the cartooning and editorial work of Signe Wilkinson.
PYM communications is not just about PYM; it’s about people – like the Quaker Educator Series (our newest story is on the founding of Sankofa Freedom Academy and Ayesha Imani’s work there). We’ve done stories on living educators like Terry Nance, Maurice Eldridge and Jane Fernandes, plus Roma researched and wrote great stories on historic Friends, like the sociologist Elise Boulding.
Q. How has your Quaker faith transformed or evolved while working so closely with the Quaker community?
I am far better educated about the faith thanks to my colleagues, and Friends I have met.
Quaker history is deeply fun and interesting, I do love it, and we also can’t live in the past. Quakerism is really not about ‘what was’, but what is.
People need our faith. Friends I’ve talked to over the past year have troubles, and they need support in being resilient. There is loss, and there is love.
Much of what PYM teaches—and its value to the Quaker community—is how to handle really difficult things like conflict and loss. It also helps meeting clerks and committees draw strength from within, access tools and information, learn about innovations like hybrid meeting, connect across distances, and address truths and grow love with programs like the Thread Gathering on February 5th.
What is your hope for PYM and the Quaker community?
I would like us to be the faith that says ‘yes.’ That might mean different things to meetings because there are wide ranges of interests and capacities at each worship community.
I was a fashion assistant, then a fashion editor at Glamour magazine for six years in the 1980’s. I intersected with key talent, working with people like Isabella Rossellini, Whitney Houston, and even Billy Joel. Glamour benefited from the leadership of one of the top editors in the country, Ruth Whitney, who understood our 2 million readers, and curated the publication to be more than just a fashion magazine, but a really ‘good read’. I left that work to live as a diplomatic family abroad for 14 years in Shanghai, Tokyo, Berlin, and Taipei. Later, I ran development and communications for a social services organization in Philadelphia.
There is a common thread that runs through all these professional experiences. It is that people everywhere relate to affirming stories, seek connections, and choose relationships (whether media content, international alliances, or child welfare support systems) that somehow meet their needs.
Positive connection is sustaining, telling people what to do is less so. I hope for positive connections in the Quaker faith.
Q: What plans are in place to replace you?
We’ve just hired an experienced temporary communications manager, Paul Jepsen. There will be a search for a Director of Development in the coming months. People who need to adjust their on-line giving can reach out to Mary Walsh and all interim questions on giving should go to Christie Duncan-Tessmer.
There will be a development staffing gap, and I urge Friends to make sure they continue to support PYM with meeting covenant gifts and annual fund donations.
We need both types of giving to sustain vitality and programs.
Q: Tell us about your new position with Science History Institute? What are some things you are looking forward to?
The Science History Institute is a museum with a rich library, an interesting collection of artifacts, a well-resourced fellowship program, and a global digital footprint. It collects and shares the stories of the innovators and scientific discoveries that shape our lives. It preserves and interprets the history of chemistry, chemical engineering, and the life sciences. In my role there as Director, Office of the President, I’ll work with the CEO and President, David Cole, to help grow advancement and build digital and other content sharing relationships in the US and internationally.
Maybe science and faith seem different. But for me they are just two parts of a larger truth that is highly relevant to the world we live in. I love them both.
Photo Credit: Photo of Grace Cooke by Greg Benson.