Solicitation Tips from 1891

Slide106Several years ago while preparing for a solicitation training I was to lead for a history museum, I thought it would be fun to weave in some quotes about philanthropy from famous historical figures during the session. I came across an interesting list online dated 1891 and attributed to John D. Rockefeller, Sr. entitled Ten Principles of Soliciting that served as an ideal icebreaker.

Today I discovered that the author was actually Frederick Taylor Gates, not Rockefeller. Gates was a trusted business and philanthropic adviser to Rockefeller who wrote a letter on April 20, 1891, to a gentleman named Sunderland containing 22 tips for “conducting a canvas.” This letter is part of the Rockefeller Archive Center collection.

As amusing (or offensive) as some of his word choices were, many of the basic tenets in Gates’ letter are as relevant to modern day major gifts fundraising as they were back then. Here are excerpts:

“Not only keep good natured by humor and grace, keep the victim good natured throughout.”

“If you find him big with gift do not rush him too eagerly to the birth. Let him take his time, with gentle management. Make him feel that he is giving it, not that it is being take from him with violence.”

“Appeal only to the noblest motives. His own mind will suggest to him the lower and selfish ones…. He wishes you to believe him to be giving only from the highest motives.”

“See some companion in your canvass, but never allow yourself to be delayed for lack of one. Your companion must be a discreet man. He must be very nearly silent, unless a rare good talker. His presence not his voice is the thing. Two give dignity to the call. Three is too many.”

“…seek to show that his views reinforce your work. If he is talkative, let him talk, talk, talk. Give your fish the reel and listen with deep interest.”

“Be grateful and express it cordially for every gift.”

“Work rapidly continuously and at a hot pace.”

“Whatever success I have achieved or others have achieved under my observation in this work has been due mainly to the fiery energy in which the work of subscription taking has been conducted….This rapidity of movement keeps oneself in tension to do his best work. It brings the success that keeps up courage. It keeps the friends and the public encouraged. It gives momentum.”

“…You will find the work mush easier and less unpleasant in the doing than in the contemplation if you work rapidly as I suggest.”

What do you think of the advice offered by Frederick T. Gates? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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