What Can the King of Rock and Roll Teach Us About Fundraising? (Video)
Up until a couple of months ago, I’d never been a huge Elvis fan. In fact, I never could wrap my head around the hype that surrounded the King of Rock and Roll. It’s not that I had any sort of negative feelings toward Elvis or ever questioned his iconic status—it was that I was apathetic. I never gave the man much thought at all.
Until I read Linda Thompson’s new memoir, "A Little Thing Called Life: On Loving Elvis Presley, Bruce Jenner, and Songs in Between," where she recounted their tumultuous four-and-a-half year relationship, detailing their time together with sensitivity, dignity, grace and above all, an unconditional love.
And that was all I needed. Since then, my nascent interest, piqued by Linda’s biography, has blossomed from a wee inkling into hardcore fandom, and it shows no signs of slowing down. I’ve immersed myself in the enduring presence that is Elvis’ legacy, and it’s morphed into a small hobby of mine. I’m baffled by my newfound curiosity in The King, and perhaps you are too. But I always say it’s better to arrive late to the party than to never arrive at all.
And, believe it or not, my Elvis obsession helped me arrive here, right at this video from University of Cambridge. Elvis has played a central, deified role in his life and in the lives of the women who knew him. But in this video, he’s cast as a more peripheral character.
Watch that seven-minute clip, where a Cambridge historian narrates the fascinating history of teenage fundraising in 1950s America. During an era when polio, a painful, crippling disease was taking its toll on youth, a common misconception among teenagers was that polio wouldn’t affect them. It was prime time to debunk dangerous myths, the kind that could prove deadly. And it was time not only to target and reach a challenging demographic, but to galvanize them.
Empowered by a powerful campaign spearheaded by Franklin D. Roosevelt and his law partner, Basil O’Connor, teens were awoken, motivated and inspired. It resulted in massive engagement. They stepped up to serve as awareness ambassadors. As fundraisers, educators, grassroots activists and community organizers, teens learned how to access available public resources to take control of their own health and communicated the importance of polio prevention to their peers, encouraging them to take action in the fight against polio.
Take a close look at why the campaign—March of Dimes—was such a raging success, and how this history sheds light on a vital, timeless truth about fundraising: Reaching your donors through effective, direct communication is crucial, and it is as important today as it was decades ago.
Pamela Grow is the publisher of The Grow Report, the author of Simple Development Systems and the founder of Simple Development Systems: The Membership Program and Basics & More fundraising fundamentals e-courses. She has been helping small nonprofits raise dramatically more money for over 15 years, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Fundraisers by Civil Society magazine, and one of the 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants by The Michael Chatman Giving Show.