News and analysis
April 14, 2015

A Legend’s Fundraising Manuscript Rises From the Dust, and Its Lessons Are Still Relevant

Several decades ago, while working as a young college administrator in Princeton, N.J., Jerold Panas, now a well-known fundraising consultant, met a legend in the business.

Harold J. Seymour, nicknamed Si, had published Designs for Fundraising in 1966, a book still highly regarded in the development profession, and was advising Princeton University on a campaign that exceeded its goal and raised $53 million — an astronomical sum at the time.

The two men became friends and during one of Mr. Panas’s visits to Mr. Seymour’s home in Tenafly, N.J., the elder statesman of fundraising gave the younger man a three-ring binder containing a manuscript for another book. Mr. Panas read it twice and put it away for safekeeping.

Last year Mr. Panas rediscovered the notebook and decided to publish it, along with his own observations, as The Lost Manuscript: Wit and Wisdom of Si Seymour. "Dear reader, you are now embracing material that is every bit as relevant today as when it was written.," writes Mr. Panas in his introduction. "You’re in for a wondrous treat."

To preserve the feel of the original manuscript, Mr. Panas decided to publish it in a three-ring binder just like the one his friend had given him. He added his own observations after each chapter on pages he calls "Crib Notes."

Mr. Panas mostly agrees with his now-deceased friend’s fundraising advice, which covers a range of topics like capital campaigns, individual giving, grant seeking, and federated giving through United Way.

However, he does take exception to parts of the manuscript.

For example, Mr. Seymour recommends that each volunteer in a capital campaign be assigned to solicit 10 others for money. "In today’s world," Mr. Panas writes, "I believe this is far too many. ... A better rule is to give your workers between three and no more than five people to call on. When they complete those calls, you can give them more."

The language of fundraising has evolved, and it took some effort to understand that by "laymen," Mr. Seymour meant campaign volunteers. "Indoctrination" was his term for engaging fundraising volunteers in a charitable cause.

However, the principles about raising money for the most part have not changed. Many boil down to good manners.

"Never turn down a suggestion" from a fundraising volunteer, Mr. Seymour writes. "Even if it is manifestly out of line, say you want to think about it and discuss it with others. Later, report promptly, and turn the suggestion to some constructive end. Show full appreciation."

Fundraisers should also remember to give credit to others rather than themselves, Mr. Seymour wrote. "The layman takes the credit, and the professional takes the rap," he says. "To seek credit is to lose it, and to avoid credit usually results in getting more than you really deserve."

Another fundraising rule Mr. Panas says he learned from Mr. Seymour: The case must be bigger than the institution. "I’ve been using this admonition for years — and didn’t know where it came from," Mr. Panas writes. "In one of my books, I write about the Tampa Museum of Art. I point out that the project is more important than just the addition of a much-needed wing to house more paintings. I describe the addition to the museum we are planning and how it will enhance a sleepy downtown. And how it will add to the beautification of the riverfront. And how it will stir the economy in downtown Tampa."

Mr. Seymour’s manuscript also debunks some common fundraising myths, one of which is that organizations can raise money simply by publicizing a need without asking people for donations.

"While the impulse to give originates in the heart, the act of giving is essentially a responsive process," he writes. "People give because other people ask them to give — and most of all, and most frequently, when seen face to face."

Send an email to Holly Hall.