Why should God have all the best ideas?

The concept that inspired the creation of SOFII.

Written by
Ken Burnett
Added
June 26, 2010

Plagiarism, we all know, is the most sincere form of flattery. Why trouble to think of your own big idea, if you can steal – or, perhaps better, borrow – someone else’s? Of course you should always properly acknowledge the original; and seek in adapting it to improve, and certainly not debase, its original concept.

The idea for SOFII came to me on a train to London’s Heathrow airport on my way to visit Pareto Fundraising in Australia. But what inspired the SOFII idea was an innovation I’d introduced some months before for a tiny charity called Book Aid International. This was that they should start a monthly giving scheme called The Reverse Book Club (you pay £6.00 per month and three books get sent, in your name, to Africa, where they are needed).

​Mostly plagiarism is frowned upon, and rightly so. But because fundraisers are willing to share their successes and failures so openly, SOFII can encourage creative plagiarism. It’s a quick and effective way to change the world.

Now, several years later, I am held in high regard at Book Aid International because the Reverse Book Club, it turns out, has saved them. Their main funding source, the UK government’s Department for International Development (DfID), told Book Aid that they were going to withdraw their financial support. So, we set up the RBC in advance. Now it brings in as much as DfID did; soon it will be more. And it’s reliable and growing. And it will lead to legacies.

So, a truly big fundraising idea.

But I didn’t have the original idea. I borrowed it. Well, I stole it actually, from the American Bible Society.

As far back as the 1970s, I just happened to know, they had a scheme calledThe Reverse Bible of the Month scheme. You pay $3.00, they send a bible in your name to someone in China. It functions just like a normal monthly book club such as The History Guild, only in reverse. You the customer don't get the books, someone overseas who really needs and can use them gets them instead, in your name.

Well, I thought, why should God have all the best ideas? So I pinched it. And adapted it. And gave it to Book Aid International.

Book Aid International: the Reverse Book Club
​Great ideas come in all shapes and sizes. Click on the pic to read about Book Aid International’s camel-based mobile library in Sub–Saharan Africa, in their latest donor acquisition pack.

This was of course before SOFII. I was just lucky that I knew someone who knew someone who knew about the Reverse Bible of the Month scheme. I like to believe that the folks at Book Aid International won’t think any the less of me because I borrowed, rather than originated, this idea that means so much to them.

Recently I had lunch with the director of Book Aid International, Clive Nettleton. He told me, ‘Without the Reverse Book Club, Book Aid as it is today would not exist.’ He also said, ‘It gives us the potential to do what we want to do.’

That made me feel rather pleased.

Also, click here for a PDF of the original SOFII email sent to fundraising leaders.

But it also reinforces what a single idea borrowed from SOFII can do. It can replicate the Book Aid success story, hundreds of times, all over the world. And lots more like it.

So of course, why should God have all the good ideas? But, equally, if he or any of his representatives want to visit SOFII at any time, they are most welcome. It’s free. It’s always there. And among all the many ideas on SOFII, he’ll find one or two good ones that he can borrow too.

That’s only fair, I think you'll agree.

So there you have it. That’s how SOFII got started. And why we think it is so useful, and important. And why we urge you to share your good fundraising ideas too, on SOFII.

But its potential value to you and your organisation, you have to find for yourself. Just be warned; correctly used, it could make a very big difference indeed.

© Ken Burnett 2009

See the original Book Aid International story.

See the latest RBC cold acquisition pack.

About the author: Ken Burnett

Ken Burnett

Ken Burnett is author of Relationship Fundraising and other books including The Tiny Essentials of an Effective Volunteer Board (The White Lion Press Limited, London, UK) and The Zen of Fundraising, (Jossey-Bass Inc, San Francisco, USA). His latest – and in his view, most important – book is Storytelling can change the world, just published by The White Lion Press.

Ken is also SOFII's managing trustee.

Related case studies or articles

Book Aid International: the Reverse Book Club

RBC is just like a normal book club, only its members never receive the books – instead each month four books are sent on each member’s behalf to people in the developing world. Donors love this scheme for its tangible accountability. For a small weekly outlay that most will never miss, they can see what their help is achieving and can readily imagine the impact of their gift, month after month, on small children and struggling students, eager to learn and to work their way out of poverty.

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