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Benjamin Franklin: Founding Father of Fundraising

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Franklin.jpgOle Ben Franklin - inventor, entrepreneur, polymath and philanderer - was also one of the most prolific fundraisers in America. Historically, charity had a close association with the church and good works but, as the son of Puritans and a deist himself, Franklin's philosophy of philanthropy was more about societal benefit right now rather than getting into heaven later.

In any cause he chose to support, he would be the first to give of his own money  usually a substantial gift  and he was as generous with his advice as he was with his money and time. His writings about philanthropy demonstrate his deep understanding of human nature and its relationship to fundraising success.

He wrote in his autobiography about raising funds for the first lending library:

"The objections and reluctances I met with in soliciting the subscriptions made me soon feel the impropriety of presenting one's self as the proposer of any useful project that might be supposed to raise one's reputation in the smallest degree above that of one's neighbours … I therefore put myself as much as I could out of sight, and stated it as a scheme of a 'number of friends' who had requested me to go about and propose it to such as they thought lovers of reading. In this way, my affair went on more smoothly, and I ever after practiced it on such occasions, and from my frequent successes can heartily recommend it."

Franklin invented the matching gift when he put forth a bill proposing that the Pennsylvania legislature kick in £2,000 to establish the Pennsylvania Hospital on the condition that the hospital raise the same amount in private support. 

“…the Members, who had oppos’d the Grant, and now conceiv’d they might have the Credit of being charitable without the Expence, agreed to its Passage; And then, in soliciting Subscriptions among the People, we urg’d the conditional Promise of the Law as an additional Motive to give, since every Man’s donation would be doubled! … I do not remember any of my political Manoeuvres, the Success of which gave me at the time more Pleasure. Or that in after thinking of it, I more easily excus’d myself for having made some Use of Cunning.”

His procedure for initiating a fundraising campaign should be familiar to any experienced development officer:

“In the first Place, I advise you to apply to all those whom you know will give something; next to those whom you are uncertain whether they will give any thing or not; and show them the List of those who have given; and, lastly, do not neglect those who you are sure will give nothing; for in some of them you may be mistaken.”

Much of Franklin's fundraising technique is an extension of his successful approach to business – relentless networking and a deft handling of persuasion tactics. As a hero of American commerce and philanthropy, having his portrait on the U.S. $100 bill seems more than appropriate.


All quotes were taken from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin which is available for free at Project Gutenberg.

For me, fundraising and communications go together like peanut butter and jelly – delicious & filling!

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