A let­ter that parades fine thoughts with fine language

Here’s one of the best fundrais­ing let­ters I have seen in recent years. It is on one sheet of paper, it is dat­ed 30 April 1993 and it comes from the Unit­ed Farm Work­ers in the Unit­ed States, a union then in peren­ni­al dis­pute with landown­ers and bosses.

Written by
George Smith
September 26, 2013

I buried my husband this afternoon.

Yesterday, thousands of us walked in funeral procession through Delano, the same little town where so many years ago it was only Cesar, only Cesar and a faithful few walking door to door with a dream.

I never stopped being amazed by Cesar. Somehow, from those first lonely days in Delano, he managed to plant his dream into many, many caring hearts. He was the kind cultivator, the compassionate sower, the gentle field worker, working in rocky soil where few believed justice could ever bear fruit.

I suppose I was the toughest one to organise. With eight children and only a beat-up ’53 Mercury wagon, I wondered how far a dream would take us. But, with Cesar, if something was not worth giving your life for it was not worth doing. And in the end, he gave his last ounce of life to his beloved cause.

People say Cesar is with God now, but to me Cesar has always walked with God. He led us from fields of sorrow to the edge of the Promised Land.

I know that, truly, Cesar would not have left us without knowing that one day, working together, we will reap a safe and just harvest.

The work of the Union has now been given to farm workers who first learned that their voice could command change. This work has been passed on to our many friends who helped build our Union with unfailing generosity. And it has been entrusted to the Union’s leadership who worked daily with Cesar and learned that action and commitment are the ultimate signs of love.

I ask you now, as we begin to look forward, to continue to help sow and harvest that dream that has brought us together. It is what Cesar wanted for the Union.

You can send gifts, in Cesar’s memory, to the Cesar E Chavez Non-Violent Action Fund.

Thank you

Helen Chavez

Robert Kennedy described Cesar Chavez as ‘one of the most heroic figures of our time’.

I do not think that Mrs Chavez wrote this letter. I think it is the work of a consummate professional, prepared to arouse a sense of hope and inspiration from a man’s death. It has integrity, dignity and warmth. It is prepared to deploy touching personal details – that sentence about the children and the beat-up Mercury wagon. It is prepared to parade fine thoughts with fine language – ‘…learned that action and commitment are the ultimate signs of love’. And it has an opening sentence to which no reader can possible be immune.

It is also, of course, rhetoric. It sounds like a funeral oration, which is an entirely fitting style to adopt. It has a ‘sense of event’, but it also conveys hope, the continuation of the struggle. It has the courage to talk of the ‘dream’. Above all, it lacks any hint of apparent ‘technique’. Mrs Chavez’s message would barely be enhanced by underlinings.

View original image
Cesar Chavez’s funeral procession.

(Taken from George Smith’s book Asking Properly, The White Lion Press, London.)

About the author: George Smith

George Smith

The late George Smith (he/him) wrote his first fundraising ad for Oxfam in 1962. In his twenties he was appointed European coordinator for a major-league American advertising agency and, in contrast, was elected as a local councillor in an inner-London borough. He formed the Smith Bundy direct marketing agency in 1973 and served as chief executive for 20 years. During those two decades his copywriting skills were applied to many diverse commercial direct marketing clients, yet fundraising was always a specialism. In 1990 he was awarded the UK’s DMA Gold Award for work on Greenpeace.

Between 1987 and 1993 George was chief executive of the International Fund Raising Group, responsible for the celebrated Noordwijkerhout conference and a growing number of events around the world. He was also a director of Burnett Associates Limited. His monthly articles in Britain’s Direct Response magazine were published in 1987 as a collection called By George. He became chairman of the UK’s Institute of Direct Marketing (IDM) in 1997 and is an honorary fellow both of the IDM and the Chartered Institute of Fundraising.

George Smith also wrote Asking ProperlyTiny Essentials of Writing for Fundraising and Up Smith Creek.

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