Fundraising takes on many different names, faces and purposes. Some of the most common include, school fundraising, team, club and sport fundraising, medical expense fundraising, emergency/accident fundraising and funeral fundraising. Regardless of what you call fundraising, there is a common goal behind a fundraiser. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the word fundraise is defined as “to engage in the organized activity of raising funds to support a cause, campaign, etc.”. But that is not all that fundraising is, according to Nonprofit Quarterly, quoting Business Dictionary, fundraising is “the process of soliciting financial support and is an essential way for most nonprofits to bring in revenue for their organization’s mission.”.

While the main objective behind a successful fundraising campaign is to raise funds for an end goal, many nonprofits and charitable organizations also rely on fundraisers as a means to build and foster new relationships, develop foundation support and as a way to attract and introduce new donors to their organization. Many school organizations and clubs use various methods of fundraising as a means to provide opportunities to their students.

Another popular type of fundraiser is that of emergency and medical needs. Often times, I have discovered fundraisers that fall under this category are the result of someone being involved in an accident, unexpected medical expenses as the result of an illness or injury; and unfortunately, I have also seen a lot of fundraisers, raising funds to help cover the cost associated with a funeral. These are just a few of the different types of fundraisers that I have personally seen, I know that there are countless other philosophies, organizations and reasons why fundraisers are created.

With fundraising so prevalent and easy nowadays, it can be hard to imagine a time when fundraising wasn’t the norm, or even a time when fundraising didn’t exist. This is because fundraising has been around for years in one form or another, with a rich history. In fact, the root of fundraising in America goes all the way back to the nation’s founding. During this time, the wealthy came to the aid of the new nation, providing financial support to boost their economy; ultimately resulting in the new nation gaining strength and confidence.

History of Fundraising

Although, there are accounts and reports of fundraising taking place during the colonization and founding of the United States; organized fundraising did not officially come about till years later. Organized fundraising that we know and are familiar with today, stems from the early 1900s. Charles Sumner Ward and Frank L. Pierce are credited as the ones who developed fundraising on a national and professional level; also referred to as the “Fathers of Fundraising”.

Ward and Pierce were responsible for raising funds for the YMCA building in New York City after the initial fundraising efforts failed to prove successful. The initial goal was to raise a whopping $350,000 to construct the new YMCA building. As they were nearing the deadline, the YMCA was nowhere near reaching their lofty goal. Despite having received a generous $50,000 donation from the Rockefeller’s, the campaign was still holding an $80,000 deficit. It was at this seemingly hopeless point, that Ward and Pierce were called upon to bring new life to the, struggling, lifeless project that appeared as though it was destined to fail.

agoodcause - history-of-fundraising

With limited time, Ward and Pierce had to be creative and develop new ways that had never been used before, in order to raise the necessary funds. Part of their strategy included hiring a publicist, and receiving the first paid advertisements from corporate sponsors. Ward and Pierce were able to secure underwritten advertising from WoodWard and Lothrop department store, which is credited as an early record of cause-based marketing in modern fundraising. As a result of their efforts, their fundraising campaign was highly successful. Some reports claim that they were able to raise enough funds that exceeded their initial goal; therefore, leading to their fundraising trend to take off and be adopted for other fundraising needs across the country.

Around the same time that Ward and Pierce were developing their fundraising agenda, Bishop William Lawrence, from Harvard University set out to increase professors’ salaries. He generated a “genteel” letter that was intended to entice university alumni to make financial donations to increase professors’ salaries. Upon seeing his success in receiving donations from alumni for things other than constructing new buildings, other universities followed suit raising money for various reasons. This particular fundraising method still continues today, with universities appealing to their alumni to make financial contributions that will benefit current and future students.

Along with the success of professional fundraising, came a few repercussions that could have been hard to have predicted. Among them, were the small, mom-and-pop charities that relied solely on donations throughout the early 1900s, soon found it difficult for themselves to obtain recognition and donations. Along with the struggle to be recognized, fundraising took off into a national movement that allowed for donors to have an increased option of how and where to donate their hard-earned money.

The need for organized fundraising really gained attention between World War I and II, particularly following World War II. It is recorded that the American people were feeling exceptionally charitable, but they were skeptical and hesitant about donating money to just any fundraiser, as national standards for fundraising had yet to be established or in place.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that the National Society of Fundraisers (NSFR) was formed, and served as a source of research aid and instruction for professional fundraisers and for other organizations who elected to use their services. In the following years, different approaches to fundraising emerged; including the use of telethons, door-to-door solicitation, and others.

Nowadays, the ways that fundraisers are conducted has evolved even more. Rarely do you see individuals, groups or organizations going door-to-door soliciting funds, but more are selling goods and services in exchange for monetary donations. Food fundraisers have gained in popularity, whether it be in the form of tangible items to consume at home, or dining out to support an individual, group or organization.

In addition to fundraising evolving since its origins, fundraising has made it easier for donors to donate and individuals, groups and organizations to seek necessary donations. This is due in part to the ability to make donations and create fundraisers online through secure fundraising platforms, such as A Good Cause. Online fundraising has really taken off in recent years, as it is easy, fast and requires no inventory.

Fundraising as We Know it Today

Fundraising methods have come a long way since their origins with Ward and Pierce. Fundraising has become more and more common in our everyday lives, as there are countless fundraisers happening all around us. Although there are new methods and ways to effectively fundraiser, there are still some old-fashioned methods that are utilized. While not as common as they once were, some non-profits will write letters seeking donations from individuals, organizations and businesses in their communities.

Schools continue to utilize fundraisers that promote selling food items, such as cookie dough, pizza punch cards and other such items to raise necessary funds. This method has a proven track record for success, which is why many schools continue with this type of fundraising, although there are new and even better ways that are more effective and less work for everyone involved.

Online fundraising through A Good Cause, allows for individuals, schools, groups and organizations to raise funds quickly, safely and easily through an online platform. Online fundraising removes the obstacle of geographical restraints as donors can donate from all across the globe. From humble beginnings of writing letters and hiring a publicist to ask for donations, to simply donating online in a matter of seconds, fundraising has come a long way; who knows how fundraising will continue to change and evolve in the coming years.


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