Today’s headlines seem like the work of a dystopian copy editor gone batshit crazy.

Sadly,  they’re real and reflect the reality on which they’re based.  Here’s a sampling of just a few from last week

  • “In Court, Porn Star Details Sex with President.”

  • “VP Hopeful Continues Media Tour Despite Questions About Shooting Puppy.”

  • “Democrats Save Republican Speaker from GOP Members’ Effort to Remove Him”

  • “Presidential Candidate Says Worms Ate Part of His Brain”

It’s enough to make even the most intrepid fundraiser want to crawl into a bunker with a lifetime supply of canned goods and wait for the sweet embrace of the apocalypse. Climate change, war, disinformation, fears about AI, political upheaval – the challenges facing our world today feel more insurmountable than ever.

Previous generations have been here before.  Sure, the issues change (with alarming speed) and the humanity’s skies are often dark.  We can’t lose hope.  And we sure as hell can’t blame poor results on the state of the world.

Over the weekend I took a break from doom scrolling and instead opted for  a digital stroll through the Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration (, a veritable museum –no, treasure trove –of fundraising genius.

As T.S. Eliot  (or possibly Steve Jobs or Picasso, depending on who you ask) once said, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”  And in times like these, we fundraisers need to channel our inner artistry more than ever.

This week SOFII is featuring a “Spotlight On Direct Mail” with an inspiring array of effective fundraising appeals and case studies drawn from the “Before Times”.   This collection is just the antidote  against existential dread. It  will refresh your hope and sprits (not to mention your skill)  while you bask in the brilliance of appeals from a simpler time – a time when the greatest challenges facing humanity were merely troubles like widespread famine, deadly epidemics, and rampant child abuse. You know, the good old days.

Among the discoveries you’ll find… an article by Sarah Bond delves deep into The Salvation Army’s archive to share fundraising gems created over 150 years ago. There’s an original draft appeal letter from The Salvation Army’s founder General William Booth plus various ‘self-denial fund’ donation envelopes. (Wonder what our behavioral scientists will say about titling an appeal with the words “self-denial”?)

Then, check out Mark Phillips’ expedition as he browsed the many examples of fundraising inspiration at the British Red Cross Muse­um of Kindness. You’ll discover a wide variety of interesting items, including an interactive collection box that made donating coins both rewarding and fun.

SOFII’s attic packed to overflowing with appeals and campaigns that pulled heartstrings or inspired action at the time, and any applicable lessons or inspiration fundraisers can draw from them today. In short there’s no “swipe file” like SOFII’s.

The time you spend on your SOFII visit is far more than some nostalgic trip down memory lane. It’s a masterclass in the art of fundraising. Items in this remarkable collection demonstrate the power of storytelling, the importance of moral clarity, and the effectiveness of unflinching looks at hard truths. Most of all, they remind us that in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, the right appeal can rally people to accomplish the impossible.

As fundraisers today, our job isn’t to imitate these appeals word for word. It’s to steal their essence – their emotional impact, their uncompromising vision, their ability to cut through the noise and inspire action. We need to study the masters, internalize their lessons, and then create appeals that are authentically our own.

Sure, the problems we face today may seem even more intractable than the ones our predecessors faced. But the fundamentals of great fundraising haven’t changed. We still need to tell powerful stories, paint vivid pictures of a better future, and motivate folks to be part of the solution.

The mediocre fundraiser borrows tactics. The brilliant fundraiser steals inspiration. So let’s embrace our inner artistry, and get to work creating the masterpieces our causes and our world desperately need.

The great fundraisers of the past stared down the great threats of their time and rallied people to act. It’s on us to steal their genius and wield it for ours.

The future of fundraising – and perhaps the future itself – depends on it.


P.S.  For even more great examples you’ll want to buy, beg or steal a copy of Ken Burnett’s The Essence of Campaigning Fundraising . Here’s the Agitator’s review of this collection 53 case studies, with its own UBS flash key with 199 web links.  No wonder we labeled our review  fundraising “Double Good News.”