In search of baubles

Written by
George Smith
December 17, 2012

George Smith is revered by UK fundraisers and, through a substantial body of his work already posted on SOFII, he’s recently attracted a large following around the world too. Now, as part of SOFII’s continued commitment to fine writing we further celebrate the brilliance, wit and wisdom of George here with a series of articles taken from his last book, Up Smith Creek. We start with a seasonal article that first appeared in Professional Fundraising magazine in February, 1997. The UK’s honours system is an idiosyncratic, not terribly PC tradition peculiar to the British Isles, but the points George makes are, as always, universal.

Many UK fundraisers aspire to something like this.

Now you know and I know that twice a year the honours lists are earnestly scanned by many in the voluntary sector just to check which of their colleagues or acquaintances have secured a gong.

They pretend otherwise, of course, but I have seen many a fundraiser in early January put on thick spectacles so as to scan the published lists from top to bottom. And I am quite willing to believe that newspaper readerships soar on the days in question, such is the interest among charity wallahs.

But would settle for this.

I love this annual ritual for it combines prurience and spite, two qualities that characterise a young and growing profession. There are those amongst us to whom three palace-awarded letters after their names confer lifelong serendipity. Indeed, there are some who begin to express growing impatience – out loud at that – at their continued absence from the rolls. Actually, an awards system that seems to prize a veteran volunteer above an upwardly mobile, well-connected professional strikes me as entirely proper. But I can still sense gritted teeth in some quarters when the good lad who chairs the Halesowen branch goes to the palace and the high-profile charity executive doesn’t.

Two of my direct marketing mates turned up on the honours list this year. Not for services to junk mail, I hasten to point out, but for that most mysterious and delicately phrased of commendations – ‘public and political service’. Far be it from me to record that at least one of them has single-handedly been keeping the Conservative Party going in Scotland these last troubling years. He is an all-round good egg who richly deserves (see how quickly the pusillanimous language sets in!) his new initials.

Though, despite their formidable talent, this’ll be as close as most get.

You’ll probably remember that (former UK prime minister) John Major tried to open up this process a few years back bidding all of us to write in with nominations, sort of an awards charter, probably. What you may not know is that he and I share a Brixton background and that, indeed, we coincided on Lambeth Borough Council – from slightly different political perspectives, you understand. And, if the other buggers can flaunt the old school tie, why shouldn’t I? On the basis that ‘you don’t get what you don’t ask for’, I wrote up. And, at risk of breaking the 30-year rule and probably incarceration, I want to share the correspondence with you.

Did George really know a man who once touched the hem of Tony Blair’s duffle coat? Did Tony Blair even have a duffle coat?

Dear John,

Remember me? Other side of the council chamber, long hair, foul-mouthed. You were on housing, I was on libraries. Remember the bacon sandwiches?

Anyway, John, I made my way in life. Went into advertising, wrote a lot, went into fundraising, became a columnist on Professional Fundraising magazine. Which is why I’m dropping you this line.

Any chance of an award this year? Anything will do. If there’s the odd K knocking around, I wouldn’t complain. But a nice little OBE would do. I’m not proud.

Do let me know. If you want dozens of letters saying how much I deserve it, I can easily write them (it’s what I do for a living) – Ken Livingstone will probably put in a word.

Look forward to hearing. Love to Norma.

George Smith

PS I still think Chelsea are crap!

Imagine my dismay at the reply I received in response (below) to this well-crafted missive.

Dear Mr Smith,

The Prime Minister has received your letter of the 8th inst and begs me to inform you that he remembers you well.

He also asks me to tell you to sod off. Further, he wishes to make clear that Chelsea under the aegis of Mr Ruud Gullit are magic and will wipe the floor with your bunch of tossers from White Hart Lane.

Yours faithfully,

Malcolm Timeserver, Private Office

Okay John, if that’s the way you want it!

Chances are, the follow-up will go to Prime Minister Blair in any case. I think I’ll start networking New Labour – I know a man who once touched the hem of Blair’s duffle coat. Then there’s abroad with a glittering array of possibilities. I just heard that Charlotte Grimshaw* has been offered the vacant throne of Albania. But it’s probably only a rumour.

© George Smith 2012

*Charlotte Grimshaw, former head of fundraising at Greenpeace UK, wrote George’s profile for SOFII’s The Great and the Good feature. See here.

About the author: George Smith

George Smith

A legendary marketing/fundraising guru and curmudgeon.

Related case studies or articles

Words count: Why fundraisers have to change what they say and how they say it

Over the last decade, the direct marketing industry has been smitten by data base gurus who have touted the segmentation of donor files as a process akin to the magical mystery tour.

Read more

What’s next in fundraising?

SOFII and The Agitator joined forces with Revolutionise to identify, foster and develop new journalistic talent in fundraising. We offered five free places for the 2014 Annual Lectures to aspiring fundraising writers, who submitted a short piece on ‘what’s next in fundraising?’ Here’s one of the winning entries…

Read more

Copywriting and design strategies for better donor newsletters: a before and after success story

Fundraising copywriter Lisa Sargent and designer Sandie Collette, of S.Collette Design, discuss how copywriting and design go hand-in-hand to make a Dublin-based charity's newsletter overhaul a success. Discover the strategies that helped make it happen in this case study of a nonprofit newsletter.

Read more

Infantile musings: on the relationship between children and their grandparents

You’ll see a softer side of ace-curmudgeon George Smith when he announces he is about to become a grandfather. Though that doesn’t stop him from wondering why charities don’t make more of such joyous events. He says you should look at the greeting-cards industry, which rarely feels the cold wind of recession.

Read more

A letter that parades fine thoughts with fine language

You’ll see a letter here that George Smith thought one of the best he’d ever read. No, he didn’t write it. But he wished he had.

Read more

Reader knowledge, real voices, great stories and big points of view

Writer Liz Loudon shares the difference between really writing to move donors, or just typing.

Read more

Also in Categories