The History of Fundraising

Fundraising has become a common thing these days, as it is easy to give large and small amounts of money now online thanks to websites like Kickstarter, PayPal and inventions like the Square, which allows you to donate small amounts via credit card. However, fundraising isn’t a 21st Century invention; it has been around since the 1900’s.

Many people believe large face to face fundraising campaigns first truly started in the 1990’s through Greenpeace and their army of youngsters with clipboards standing outside of supermarkets and malls, trying to get people to sign up to save the environment. However, fundraising’s history actually goes back much, much farther than that.


The first truly notable fundraising campaigns by a major organization were done by the YMCA, which raised enough funds to build YMCA’s around the world at the beginning of the 20th Century. The whole process was invented by a man named Charles Sumner Ward, who is generally considered to be the godfather of modern fundraising. In the late 19th Century he was general secretary of the Grand Rapids YMCA and realized he was spending all of his time trying to raise funds for his organization. So he came up with a unique plan.

He basically asked everyone who worked at his Grand Rapids office to only work in the office for half of the day and spend the other half of the day out trying to raise money wherever they possibly could. The idea was to get the fundraising goal over with as quickly as possible so that people could get back to their office work. However, the plan worked so well that the total funds for the year were raised in just a couple of days.

Sumner continued using this philosophy of fundraising and it quickly spread to other YMCA’s all over the country. Different YMCA’s in major American cities began raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the organization, which is equivalent to millions of dollars today. This then spread to other YMCA’s around the world, making it one of the most successful non-profit organizations in history and helping it to shape and change many generations of lives throughout the 20th Century and beyond.

This face to face fundraising was built on by other organizations over time and now fundraising has taken on a wide variety of different forms, from phone calls to email campaigns to commercials that play around widely viewed programs or events. However, the basic philosophy that Sumner created still works to this very day and is used by major non-profit organizations on a regular basis.


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