Father of Fundraising: Charles Sumner Ward


The Campaign Clock, a fixture of Charles Sumner Ward’s fundraising campaigns.

Throughout my study, practice and teaching of public relations, I have examined the work of the discipline’s pioneers such as Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays. In similar fashion as a fundraising professional, I have noted this discipline’s pioneers. Prominent among them is Charles Sumner Ward, who in the early 20th century established many of the techniques we use to this day.

Ward focused fundraising into finite, intensive campaigns. Sargeant and Shang identify the hallmarks of Ward’s approach:

Concentration of time. Ward determined that business leaders could be more easily recruited for campaigns of the shortest feasible duration. This collapsed timeframe also boosted campaigns’ newsworthiness.

Organization. Ward was an assiduous planner, establishing detailed actions, schedules and structure. Early on, he would secure major gifts from the richest donors while highlighting small contributions from ordinary citizens.

Sacrifice. Ward was clear about the prodigious—and worthy—effort required of campaign participants.

Education. Ward used the full array of available media to inform the public about campaigns, educating them in the need and their vital role in meeting it.

Scott Cutlip, the late dean of public relations history, also wrote the definitive history of fundraising in America. Cutlip describes Ward as compact, mild-mannered, and devout, the opposite of a Barnum-like character one might envision as a master fundraiser. Ward became involved with the YMCA while a student at Dartmouth, staying with the organization after graduation.

As he rose in the Y, Ward developed and perfected his fundraising techniques. He espoused a concentrated expenditure of energy to preserve manpower and resources and ensure cooperation of busy business leaders. As Cutlip points out, deep planning preceded Ward’s campaigns, leading to successful fundraising during the 1890s in Grand Rapids, MI, where he served as general secretary for the local YMCA.

National officials deployed Ward to Minneapolis, where he raised sufficient funds for the Y to reclaim the headquarters building it had lost. In 1905, Ward partnered with another fundraising leader, Lyman Pierce, to raise final funds for a new building to house the Washington, DC, YMCA. Cutlip asserts that modern fundraising techniques crystallized in this landmark campaign:

…careful organization, picked volunteers supported on by team competition, prestige leaders, powerful publicity, a large gift to be matched by the public’s donations, careful records, report meetings, and a definite time limit.

The First World War would drive Ward to outdo his remarkable efforts for the YMCA on behalf of another heralded institution: the American Red Cross. In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson established the Red Cross War Council to boost the organization’s capabilities in the face of the global crisis. This escalation of membership and service would require tremendous financial resources. To raise the money, the council recruited Ward from the YMCA. PR pioneer Ivy Lee came onboard to direct communications.

An unheard-of amount of $50 million was the initial fundraising target. Ward said he could double it. He launched the first nationwide fundraising campaign, scaling up his proven techniques of planning and organizing, as always supported with public relations. In the end, Ward’s forecast was off 14 percent as the campaign actually raised $114 million. As stupendous as Ward’s accomplishments were, he exceeded the record the next year in a follow-up Red Cross campaign that raised $180 million.

The dawn of the 20th century presented the promise and peril of a maturing Industrial Revolution—teeming cities of riches and squalor; mechanized marvels of land, sea and air that could be turned into engines of destruction; burgeoning media to inform, entertain, and potentially manipulate the masses. Ivy Lee arose in this era to harness the power of the media for the promised mutual gain of citizens, business and government. Charles Sumner Ward also came of age at this time to harness the power of the people, demonstrated in a purposeful sharing of wealth. He offered another promise of mutuality—a society of the helped and helpers, all seeing needs met through donation.

About Jason William Karpf

Author, Professor, Nonprofit Pro, Four-Time Jeopardy Champ
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