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b2ap3_thumbnail_parker.jpgA Story of A Bequest Gone Wrong

"The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue." - Dorothy Parker

People who were close to the wisecracking writer Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) were not surprised (well, maybe a few were) that she would leave her estate to Martin Luther King, Jr., a man she had never met. She has been a keen defender of civil rights and social justice for most of her life. What did surprise them, however, was that she even had a will at all. Dottie was famously bad with her finances and she frequently borrowed money from friends.

There wasn't much to leave after years of living in reduced circumstances. Her cash assets at death were around $20,000 but the real value of the bequest came from the copyrights and royalties to her literary work – a gift that keeps on giving. Her will specified that in the event of King's death, the estate was to go to the NAACP which is what happened when King was assassinated in 1968. That's when the trouble really started.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Dogen.jpgIn 13th century Japan, Dōgen Zenji (also known as Eihei Dōgen) was a little fed up with the internal politics and schisms common among the various schools of Buddhism at the time. He was the kind of a man who thought that one should "prefer to be defeated in the presence of the wise than to excel among fools." So, in 1235, he packed his bags and moved to the mountains where he planned to open the Eihei-ji, a temple of the Sōtō Zen school of Buddhism.

“I will have no regrets even though what I have wished for and begun might not be realized," he wrote. "I do not mind if but one single pillar is erected, as long as people in later generations think that someone had the aspiration to carry out such a project.”

As it happened, Dōgen did not rely only on aspirations to make his dream come true because even a Buddhist needs money to build a temple. Because many of his writings still survive, we know exactly how he did it. Yes, a direct mail appeal. This is the earliest known example of a fundraising letter uncovered to date:

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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:

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