The wit and wisdom of George Smith - introduction and contents

There were few better writers in the world of fundraising –and beyond– than George Smith. Dive into this brilliant showcase to learn about how to ‘overwhelm the negatives with positives’.

Written by
Joe Burnett
Added
October 23, 2022

Joe Burnett introduces a new special series on SOFII featuring the wit and wisdom of legendary fundraising guru, George Smith. Among his many other gifts and attributes (as you will learn, dear reader) George Smith gave our fine profession ‘the best book on creativity – the book most likely to be stolen from the Bluefrog library’, or so Mark Phillips said.

George Smith knew my father

George Smith and Ken Burnett met back in 1982 and quickly became firm friends, then business partners soon after, creating a double act that lasted 20 years. I had only just been born, as Ken recalls from their first meeting. He told me George had asked my name. Ken told him. ‘Hmm’, George mused, ‘Joe Burnett. Sounds like a good name for a saxophone player’.

I never learned to play sax, but I did know and love George and regarded him as an honorary uncle for most of my formative years. 

Bent inevitably over his ubiquitous portable bottle-green Olivetti manual typewriter George Smith didn’t just write about fundraising and direct marketing. He wrote lyrically about innovation and passion, he wrote about humbug and pomposity, inflated egos, lofty ambitions and ideals, base self-serving, snootiness, snottiness and shallowness.

Fundraising and marketing were just the subjects he happened to work with. Whatever his field, George would be perceptive, uncompromising and waspishly funny.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a comment from someone who knew George well and had the pleasure to work with him. 

Fine writing is always in short supply in fundraising, particularly in these days of emails, twitter and such like. Fine writing combined with fine thinking and a puckish wit is sufficiently rare and valuable that it should be preserved, treasured and shared just as widely as can be with as many people as possible.’ - Tony Elischer, top international speaker on all things fundraising.

And a taste from the intro to his book Up Smith Creek, a collection of George’s columns from the magazines Direct Response and Professional Fundraising in the 1980s and 90s, the heydays of British direct marketing and fundraising.

‘Such is Smith’s facility with words that he’s able to create a silly but troublingly realistic parallel world and populate it with ridiculous but thoroughly believable types of the advertising, marketing, supplier and client varieties. He then imbues the actions and ramblings of these sorts with pace, power, pathos, beauty, insight, sharpness, wisdom and a range of other emotions. So it’s the best of this that we’ve lovingly assembled for you, here.’ 

And that, dear SOFII reader, is just a smidge of a taste of what we are assembling for you here to share the unique content left by George Smith. We’ll be including here some of the best writings about fundraising, direct marketing and communication that you could find anywhere.

This special SOFII series is the brainchild of Stephen Thomas, doyen of Canadian fundraisers. Steve explains below why he felt compelled to encourage SOFII to share more of the wit and wisdom from the written legacy of George Smith, so much that he put up a useful grant to the SOFII Foundation to make this series happen.

A message from Steve Thomas, fundraising expert and chairman of Stephen Thomas Ltd.

Direct mail fundraising in Canada isn’t very good these days. It’s not sexy to young fundraisers, so they don’t learn to do it properly. They don’t learn the craft.

But, funny thing, it’s still very, very important for charities, at least here in North America. As part of an integrated strategy it still raises gobs of money. Millennials get their mail and then they go online to give. And older folks respond as they’ve always done.

I believe that todays charities can raise a lot more net money if they do direct mail properly. And now we get to George Smith. He was a master of the craft of direct mail copy, design and strategy. It really tickles me that SOFII is going to reprint much of George’s best stuff.

I implore everyone to read it and learn. You won’t regret it. And a final word on George – he was a mentor to me. He is sorely missed.

Available now on SOFII

Who is this George Smith?

Some of Smith’s observations about fundraising

Smith on writing right

Smith on an odd business

Some exhibits George posted

Please note: It is well to remember that Smith was writing his best pieces before the invention of the Internet, i-technology, even before the advent of the fax machine. A mobile device back when George was at peak power was a briefcase, in which one kept one’s sandwiches. Tipp-Ex and stapling machines had been invented though and the post-it note was the coming thing in offices up and down the land. We tell you this merely to set the coming tales and features in the context of their time. 

About the author: Joe Burnett

Joe Burnett

Joe Burnett (he/him) cut his teeth as an intern at the Association of French Fundraisers, he then embarked on a career in advertising before returning to where his heart lay: in the charities sector. Joe is passionate about fundraising and how it can be a force for positive change in the world. 

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