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.

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RIP, Billy Graham

The Rev. Billy Graham has passed away at 99. He is hailed as the most noted American evangelist of the 20th century. He is also rightfully lauded as a media pioneer, a brilliant communicator who was versed in print, broadcast, digital and live event. Watch the short video below to appreciate how the man brought the Gospel to the world.

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The Minicam


The Ikegami Handy Looky, an early minicam (Shoot HD)

CNN is currently airing ”The Radical Story of Patty Hearst,” a multi-part documentary on the 1974 kidnapping of Patricia Hearst, granddaughter of media baron William Randolph Hearst. The Hearst saga foreshadowed spectacles such as the O.J. Simpson murder trial by two decades, as the heiress declared her allegiance to the terrorist group that had abducted her, the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Bank robberies, shootouts, bombings and a fugitive run ensued before Ms. Hearst’s recapture in 1975. She was sent to prison, receiving a commutation from President Jimmy Carter and eventual pardon from President Bill Clinton.

The pinnacle of media coverage regarding Patty Hearst was the live broadcast of the Los Angeles Police Department’s shootout with the majority of the SLA in South Central LA (Hearst was not at the hideout). The real-time relay of the military-level battle on American streets was a television and technology breakthrough thanks to the minicam, a (relatively) portable video system comprising a camera and backpack. Washington Post writer Paul Farhi provides an illuminating history of the minicam including its pioneering use by KNXT (now KCBS), the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles that landed the video scoop.

As Farhi points out, live TV feeds were commonplace in 1974 but required pre-positioning bulky traditional video cameras. In 1955, Walt Disney unveiled Disneyland with a live broadcast, stationing nearly 30 big cameras around the park. In 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald died on the air as news crews were in place to cover his transfer to county jail. Political events and space launches were routinely seen in real time but not without scrupulous planning and copious equipment. The minicam injected breaking news into the telecast—spontaneous scenes not captured on film hours earlier, not described in “a thousand words” by radio remote, not filtered by an in-studio anchor.

I was 12 years old when I watched LAPD’s SWAT battle the SLA. A news buff, I had followed the Hearst kidnapping. I felt fear and fascination knowing the story had come to “our town” although I was approximately 20 miles away from the firefight, safe at my family home in the Hollywood Hills. That night as I slept, the .22 rifle I had gotten for my birthday lay under the bed (five-round magazine loaded, chamber empty, safety on). The “era of televised terror” was underway, as commentator Jeffrey Toobin would write decades later.

Today, everyone with a smartphone is a one-person minicam crew. As I’ve blogged previously, the man/woman on the street creates the message. Toobin’s televised terror is constant, from tours of Aleppo’s ruins, to images inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during Nikolas Cruz’ rampage, to bullies immortalizing a beatdown on Facebook Live. We never have to miss a minute.

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