Monday, February 1, 2016

Milestones in Nonprofit Fundraising: Fascinating Facts

For your pleasure and amusement, here’s a very brief history of nonprofit fundraising from colonial times to the present:

1644: Harvard University kicks things off. Four New England colonies instituted “College Corne,” asking families to contribute a peck of wheat to support Harvard. For over 10 years, these contributions funded the entire teaching staff.

1847: The first documented response to a crisis. Americans donated generously to help Ireland during the devastating potato blight. 

1891: Here come the bells. A Salvation Army captain put out a large pot at a San Francisco ferry landing, launching the tradition of Christmas kettles that spread all over the country and continues to this day.

1901: Cookbooks for causes. The first fund-raising cookbook was The Way to a Man’s Heart. It was a fundraising tool for the Jewish Settlement House in Milwaukee. The initial printing in 1901 sold out, and the book ultimately sold more than 2 million copies. 

1902: The origins of the thrift store. The first Goodwill store was started when founder Reverend Edgar Helms started collecting used household goods and clothing from wealthy families, hired poor people to make repairs, and resold the items to raise money for the organization. 

1918: First major national fundraising campaign. The war generated tremendous national unity. The Red Cross tapped this for the benefit of its international work, raising more than $400 million dollars during World War One.

1950: The Salvation Army launches the first direct mail appeal. The Commander in Los Angeles posed this question: "Could we mail to a million households in Southern California this Christmas?" They scoured every directory in wealthy areas, mailed a million pieces, and raised more money than anyone thought possible. 

1952: Congress establishes the discounted postal rate for nonprofits. This new rate made direct mail more economical and launched a fundraising method that floods your mailboxes to this day. 

1963: The U.S. Postal Service creates zip codes. Zip codes made it possible for fundraisers to target mail and select names based on census tracts. In tandem with computer databases, this made direct mail fundraising much more effective.

1970: Fundraising turns to heart-wrenching stories of people in need. Here’s one tagline: "All she wants for Christmas is a red coat with gold buttons." Not only did that appeal secure hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the Salvation Army was inundated with red coats.

2014: The Ice Bucket Challenge goes viral. This social media campaign centering around dumping a bucket of ice water on someone's head promoted awareness of the disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerorsis (ALS) - and raised $115 million for research.

From pecks of wheat to cookbooks to ice buckets – what a long crazy journey it’s been, and continues to be.