Harold Sump­tion: the shy pioneer

Written by
Joanna Culling
May 12, 2016

In this addition to SOFII’s Fundraising Legends series, Joanna Culling talks to Ken Burnett, who proudly shares the full text of Harold’s only published material – Yesterday’s trail-blazing and pointers for tomorrow

Scroll down to see the pamphlet in full.

There is no question that Harold Sumption is a fundraising legend. He was, in Ken’s view, the first relationship fundraiser, who lived the term long before it was coined.

He continues, ‘Harold was not only an inspiration to me he was a mentor. It was a privilege to know him, work with him and most of all – be taught by him. That’s because Harold was not only a lovely person, he was a pioneer of so many of the fundraising methods that we use today. 
‘And it’s such a shame that, today, so many fundraisers have never heard of him.’
Fortunately, last summer Matthew Sherrington posted a brilliant blog about Harold and some golden nuggets from his only published material, ‘Yesterday’s trail-blazing and pointers for tomorrow’. It was a wonderful addition to George Smith’s profile of Harold and it made us realise that we need the whole pamphlet on SOFII for everyone to enjoy and make use of. 

So if you do only one thing today, please print out Harold’s pamphlet below. Read it, digest it and file it safely alongside your other ‘go to’ fundraising books and resources.

Here are a few gems you’ll find inside, just to get you started:

Inside most people there is a good Samaritan, waiting to get out. The fundraiser’s job is to understand that sentiment, find the key to releasing the latent goodwill, and then to sustain it and nourish it. Page 11.

We learned that big usually isn’t better, and results don’t double with the size of your ad. Frequency and position within the paper and on the page were most important. Next to the crossword was best of all. Page 25.

It pays to read donors’ letters. They often contain wonderful copy ideas. Page 26.

Anniversaries can be used for introverted self-congratulation, to confirm a place in the Establishment, or as a peg for something more ambitious. They are slender reasons for giving to charity. Page 31.

The ads looked far from prestigious: paper set, crowded with copy that anticipated the likely questions – ads that were made to look as if they had been put together by dedicated amateurs on the scullery table. Page 51. 

Harold Sumption died not long after writing this pamphlet and the fundraising world lost a true pioneer. It is SOFII’s hope that by sharing Harold’s complete recollections today even more fundraisers will have the chance – as Ken did – to be inspired by his brilliance.

About the author: Joanna Culling

Joanna Culling (she/her) returned to SOFII in 2019 as a project manager, after a stint as a contributing editor in 2016. Her career began in healthcare marketing in the USA, where she worked for The George Washington University Hospital and the American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM). Joanna later joined RNID in London, her first role in charity fundraising. 

But her love for the sector really took off during five years in the creative team at specialist fundraising agency Bluefrog – first as a copywriter and later as head of copy. During this time Joanna was lucky enough to work on campaigns for a wide range of clients and find a treasure trove for creative inspiration – which, of course, is SOFII. 

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