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Look Up for Inspired Fundraising

Updated: May 8, 2023

Take-away: Invigorate your storytelling by revisiting your nonprofit’s origins.

I wended my way along Broad Street, texting fundraising assignments and answering emails, avoiding pedestrian collisions by a hairsbreadth.

A single snowflake melted on my screen. Then another, and another. I looked up. A scattering of white flecks sparkled in the sunshine. Magic.

As I gazed skyward, I noticed a different, older city above me. Greek columns graced the tops of some buildings. Others were capped with Art Deco or Egyptian patterns. It was as if these buildings were designed for ground level, then shot up 20 stories, leaving their beauty stranded, a rarely-glimpsed memory.

The crowd jostled, looking down, ahead, around, but never up. Surprised by this revelation, I wandered on, head tilted back, marveling at Philadelphia’s eclectic mix of historic buildings. They comforted me.


The echoes of the past reassure us and provide a context for understanding new ideas and inventions. Architects mine the past for inspiration and so can you.

Imagine you’re about to ask for donation. But you’re stumped. Tongue-tied. Unsure. What can you say that hasn’t been said before? How can you talk about your cause in a way that will excite a gift?

Look to the past, especially if your nonprofit’s old. Dig, and chances are you’ll hit gold.

For example, I was preparing to ask a friend to support the Wagner Free Institute of Science. Casting about, I wondered about its founder, William Wagner, an 1800’s merchant who collected specimens on his far-flung trading voyages. I researched his travels, reading about and viewing historic paintings of the places he visited. I imagined him sweltering in Port au Prince, Haiti. Astride an ice-slick deck in the Antarctic. Inhaling the acid reek of island guano. Savoring Chinese dishes exploding with spices worth a fortune.

That sense of adventure fueled my plea for the Wagner’s hands-on science lessons. I explained that these children should and could experience the thrill of discovery for themselves.

Plowing through everyday tasks, peering at screens and caroming from meeting to meeting can sap your eloquence. If you want to make your case with renewed vigor, try voyaging into the past.

And next time you’re in Center City Philly, look up!

“Study the past if you would define the future”- Confucius

Find more fundraising tips in my book, Nonprofit Hero, available on Amazon, and in my blog, Twitter and Facebook pages.

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