Charles Dickens and Fundraising in 1843

I am a big fan of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I grew up watching George C. Scott (see picture) as Ebenezer Scrooge, and more recently have found Patrick Stewart’s portrayal to be quite enjoyable and true to the story. And I have been known to be found watching Mickey Mouse’s version with Scrooge McDuck as the miser…

… But have you ever read the story? I try and read my hard copy of the tale every year, and of course, I read it while wearing my fundraising hat. What I have found: even in 1843, people understood some basic fundraising techniques.  Below are some lines from the story followed by my commentary:

[Bob Cratchit] had let two other people in. They were… pleasant to behold, and now stood, with their hats off, in Scrooge’s office. They had books and papers in their hands, and bowed to him.

These two fundraisers had done some research and knew that Mr. Scrooge was a man of means with a successful company, and came in person to approach their potential donor. They didn’t just write a letter and hope for the best. And, as evident in a later chapter, these two gentlemen were not paid fundraisers, but instead were fellow businessmen of Mr. Scrooge and greeted him as an equal. Peer-to-peer fundraising by your board is always a good idea. Also, they came in pairs with one person leading the discussion and the other ready to add to the conversation when needed.

“… have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Marley?”

“… Mr. Marley has been dead these seven years,’ Scrooge replied.

However, they hadn’t done enough research beforehand and didn’t know that one of the business namesakes had died 7 years ago. Awkward! Alas, Google was not around back then.

“We have no doubt his liberality is well represented by his surviving partner,” said the gentleman, presenting his credentials.

After sticking their foot in their mouths about the dead partner, these two gents didn’t miss a beat, and on the fly came back with a platitude and suggestion that Mr. Scrooge consider a memorial in Marley’s name. And then they provided the 1843 equivalent of their business card to Mr. Scrooge as a more formal introduction (and perhaps an additional distraction from their goof.)

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up his pen, “it is more than usual desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who supper greatly at this present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

After greeting the potential donor and introducing themselves, the two gentlemen present their “elevator speech” or their reason for paying Mr. Scrooge a visit in a clear, concise, and persuasive manner.

“… A few of us are endeavoring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

Next comes the reason for their visit and the ask. What better time to ask for a charitable gift when Christian charity is at its highest, and those in need are at their worst? And while they didn’t give Scrooge a specific ask, such as “Please consider sponsoring three Poor Souls in memory of dear Marley with meat and drink for only 6 shillings,” they did hint that they are current donors and asked him to support the cause as well. And they didn’t apologize for asking; in fact, they assumed Mr. Scrooge would respond positively.

“Nothing!’ Scrooge replied.

“You wish to be anonymous?”

I love this part; the gents were not deterred by the initial “NO” and came back with a polite, impromptu counter-ask to Mr. Scrooge.

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge.

“… Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew.

Alas, not every ASK results in a positive response, and these two gentlemen knew that Mr. Scrooge’s NO was a NO (for now), didn’t complain, and bid Mr. Scrooge a respectful goodbye.

… [Scrooge] had not gone far, when coming on towards him he beheld the gentleman, who had walked into his counting-house the day before…

“My dear sir,” said Scrooge… Allow me to ask your pardon. And will you have the goodness” — here Scrooge whispered in his ear.

“Lord bless me!” cried the gentleman… “Are you serious?”

… “Don’t say anything, please,” retorted Scrooge. “Come and see me.”

And here is where the two gentlemen’s work paid off: after considering their request (and after visits from several ghosts) Mr. Scrooge decided to make a generous pledge towards the effort that was much larger than expected. And you can be sure the gentleman visited Mr. Scrooge to collect on that pledge the next business day as requested.

As I type this, I wonder if those two gentlemen were the ones who sent the ghosts; their ask was rejected, so maybe they reached out to their mutual contacts– or spirits– to persuade Mr. Scrooge to reconsider his opinion…

… In any case, I hope that you agree with me that working with donors was much the same in 1843 as it is today: treat donors with respect, present you case for support, ask for the gift unapologetically, and understand that their heart may not be with your cause now. But with a bit of research and a healthy dose of prayer, you may just get more than you asked for.

God bless us, everyone!