Thanksgiving signals the start of the busiest time of the year for fundraisers. Year-end giving is in full swing. The addition of #GivingTuesday a few years back has only amplified the frenzy.
Let’s face it: fundraisers work hard to keep their organizations at the top of donors’ minds, especially in today’s noisy world.
Year after year, you’re continually challenged to find new ways to tell the kinds of compelling stories that inspire donors to give. The media you use to share those stories may change, but the art of an effective campaign remains rooted in your ability to persuade donors to give.
In my opinion, no holiday provides a better example of the power of a persuasive media campaign like American Thanksgiving.
Though most of us remember Thanksgiving’s origin as a feast shared between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians at Plymouth Rock in 1621, the holiday’s true beginnings date to the early 1830s. While up to that point various states celebrated days of thanksgiving, there was no nationally decreed holiday.
All that began to change in 1827 when New Hampshire writer Sarah Hale birthed the idea of a nationally celebrated Thanksgiving Day. Twenty years later, Hale became the editor of the popular women’s magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book. She began using the magazine as a platform to campaign for a national Thanksgiving holiday, publishing yearly editorials on the subject in addition to a letter writing campaign. Hale wrote to legislators and four consecutive US presidents, and implored her readers to do the same.
Hale doubled her efforts when the Civil War broke out. She positioned Thanksgiving as an opportunity for the Union and Confederacy to “lay aside [their] enmities on this one day and join in a Thanksgiving Day of Peace.” Hale also sent letters to President Abraham Lincoln, requesting that he “make it obligatory… to appoint the last Thursday of November, annually, as Thanksgiving Day.”
Two months later, on October 3rd, 1863, her efforts resulted in President Lincoln’s National Thanksgiving Proclamation establishing the last Thursday of November as the official Thanksgiving Day for the United States.
Beyond an inspiring story about the power of the media to influence public opinion, Sarah Hale’s example provides a few memorable lessons for fundraisers:
- Provide compelling content that both edifies and entertains your donors. Each year, the Thanksgiving issue of Godey’s featured articles, poems, and recipes that established many of the Thanksgiving traditions we still practice today. As a fundraiser, your donors need to know how supporting your cause is relevant to their daily lives.
- Don’t underestimate the power of a squeaky wheel. Hale campaigned for Thanksgiving year after year, dedicating an entire issue of her magazine to the subject in tandem with a relentless direct mail campaign. Fundraisers have to be careful they don’t annoy their donors, but should strive for a regular and varied stream of communication.
- Leverage the power of influencers. Sarah Hale wrote to government officials at both the state and national level in addition to leaders in business and the media. Begin today to discover the individuals in your donor file who have not only great capacity to give, but who also have a large following. Equip them with resources to help tell your story.
Hale’s example can serve as a reminder for us all to passionately work to achieve the things we know in our hearts will change the world. From the Pursuant family to yours, we want to wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.
To learn more about how to tell stories that inspire your donors to action, check out our free content paper, The Ultimate Storytelling Kit for Fundraisers.