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Abou Ben Adhem: we are living in an era of transactions.

Remember, from your school days, the poem "Abou Ben Adhem," by James Leigh Hunt? It began:
 ABOU Ben Adhere (may his tribe increased
 Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
 And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
 Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
 An angel writing in a book of gold: ...

OK, what does that have to do with contemporary nonprofit fundraising? Plenty. We can learn much from Leigh Hunt, the early 19th century journalist and poet remembered today primarily for this one humanitarian poem.

Abou, in the poem, was the ultimate altruist. That attitude can't be said to apply to 21st century society. But the value of an ultimate reward certainly does apply. The simple but often underused equation: Transaction begets satisfaction.

When your solicitations aren't pulling as they used to ... when dependable multi-donors aren't as dependable as they used to be ... when competing organizations seem to be siphoning off dollars, euros, pounds, and yen that should be coming to you ... consider that three-word maxim for the latter half of the first decade of the 21st century: Transaction begets satisfaction.

What it means is that except for the most dedicated co-religionists, an apparent transaction has power the classic appeals no longer can muster.

When "Will you let this happen?" or "I know you won't let this happen" become too commonplace to provide dependable octane, consider replacing them with a transaction:You give us this. We give you that.

Recognition of donors certainly isn't new. Their names are printed in a registry, mounted on plaques in the lobby, and etched on bricks in the entranceway. But has this been made a transaction, a major selling point? Have you told them you're saving a position in your Book of Gold (which might be your Golden List of 100, or our Benefactors of the Year list, or your Leadership Squadron, or your whatever you call your top-level donor group)?

That's just part one. Part two is the value of the transaction. Just as transaction begets satisfaction, value = benefit. What is the benefit to the individual?

We operate in an emotional universe. Viewing through a businesslike window what we deliver, in exchange for what we get, could strike some as cynical. Maybe so, but realists always have an edge over naifs.

If we point out that only 100 names can appear in the grateful acknowledgment that will appear in the newspaper, we increase both willingness and speed of response. If we test enclosing a certificate instead of promising the certificate, we might generate that oh-so-difficult motivator, guilt, and extract contributions that otherwise would lie dormant or be picked up by more aggressive competitors.

Parenthetically, a quiet patrician voice on the telephone reminding a prior donor that a current certificate simply awaits the person's approval can jog loose the missing contribution. Just make sure it's quiet and patrician. A stupefying amount of eleemosynary telemarketing defaults to semi-literate mumbling or too-obvious scripting.)


Analyze the entire poem and you'll quickly see that Leigh Hunt, were he alive today, could be a highly effective professional fundraiser. You might have had to memorize the poem in fourth grade. You may have forgotten most of it. But for both entertainment and educational value, an oasis in a publication loaded with serious and pedantic opinion, here it is:
 Abou Ben Adhere (may his tribe increased
 Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
 And sam within the moonlight in his room,
 Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
 An Angel writing in a book of gold."

 Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
 And to the Presence in the room he said,
 "What writest thou?" The Vision raised its head,
 And with a look made of all sweet accord
 Answered, "The names of those who love the Lord."
 "And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
 Replied the Angel. Abou spoke more low,
 But cheerily still; and said, "I pray thee, then,
 Write me as one who loves his fellow men."
 The Angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
 It came again with a great wakening light,
 And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
 And, lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest

Warming, isn't it, even if you don't agree with the tie to contemporary nonprofits? That's the ultimate point. You're telling people their name will lead all the rest. And you? You're the happy publisher of Books of Gold.

Herschell Gordon Lewis is the principal of Lewis Enterprises, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, consulting with and writing direct response copy for clients worldwide. His newly published 30th book is "Hot Appeals or Burnt Offerings." Among his other books are "Open Me Now", "Asinine Advertising", "How to Write Powerful Fund Raising Letters "; "On the Art of Writing Copy"; "Marketing Mayhem"; and "Effective E-Mail Marketing." His Web site is
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Title Annotation:BURNT OFFERINGS
Author:Lewis, Herschell Gordon
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 15, 2007
Previous Article:Cyber journey: a real-world look at online fundraising.
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