A few days ago, our letters-to-the-editor section published this letter from Paul L. Adams: "It is spring again and I am being deluged with requests by schoolchildren, radio commentators and others to sponsor them as they walk a mile, 10 miles, 20 miles for Children's Hospital, Heart Fund, etc.
"If those people did something useful, I would be glad to sponsor them; subsidizing a pleasant walk along the C&O Canal seems hardly worthwhile.
"How about letting me sponsor them for a $1-a-bag of trash picked up in Rock Creek Park, or along Four Mile Run, or around Roosevelt Island? Or $1 an hour for accompanying some of the elderly or handicapped on a tour of Washington? How about it, fund-raisers?"
H.M. Fruth has sent me a clipping of the letter with the comment: "How pleased I was to see the enclosed letter in this morning's paper. You may recall I broached this very suggestion to you before your 'incarceration.' Paul Adams shares my view that with the amount of crud cluttering our streets, sidewalks and gutters, simply to walk a certain distance while kicking the crud aside or plowing through it makes no sense. Can I persuade you to address yourself to this matter?"
Sorry, pal, I agree completely with you and with Adams, but I wouldn't touch this subject in the column with an 11-foot pole. Too many fund-raisers consider themselves sacrosanct. It the cause for which they are working is a good one, then ipso facto any technique used to raise money for that cause must be a good one, right?
Many fund-raiser (both volunteers and professionals) have told me that to make a fund-raising campaign a success, its sponsors must think of a gimmick. And when they find a gimmick that works, others borrow it. If Jerry Lewis brings in a lot of money with a telethon, telethons sprout like weeks. If the idea of sponsoring hikers succeeds for one charity, other charities get on the bandwagon at once. Gimmicks are now firmly established as a basic fund-raising technique.
It has always seemed a pity to me that so much activity, time and money go to waste in these promotions. Consider the fancy dinners used by many organizations as fund-raising events. Several committees work themselves into a lather for weeks in negotiating with hotels, making arrangements and finding a prominent person to whom an award can be given - because it is the VIP's speech of acceptance that will be the gimmick that sells tickets.
Supporters of the charity shell out perhaps $35 or $50 a plate to attend the dinner. Later, if they think about the results at all, they may wonder, "Was all that activity really productive? They probably paid the hotel $25 a plate for that dinner, mediocre as it was. They must have paid for two dozen freebee dinners for the VIPs. The flowers and decorations weren't free. Even the printing and mailing of solicitations and tickets had to cost a lotof money. How much could have been left for the charity by the time they got finished? Would the charity have netted more if each committeeman had just chipped in $50 and skipped the dinner - and all the work?"
It has always seemed to me that the approach used by a self-help organization in Cincinnati was much better. The group held no dinners, no marathons, no telethons. It used no gimmicks - just volunteers who came around to talk to potential givers.
The volunteers didn't just knock on the door and ask for a $2 handout. They were imbued with the worthiness of their cause, and they asked for enough time to tell their story. Householders who didn't want to listen were thanked and left in peace. Those who did want to listen heard enough to develop a solid basis for deciding whether this was an organization to which they wanted to give substantial and continuing support.
There was no lost motion. Everybody involved in the work knew what he was doing and why he was doing it. And enough money always came in to provide for essentials.
I like that system better than sponsoring hikes. But I don't dare say so in public. Supporters of the charities being aided by hikes couldn't consider my comments a discussion of fund-raising techniques. To them it would appear that I was attacking the charity itself - and that kind of trouble I don't need at my age. So I have absolutely no comment on the hike-for-charity gimmick.