The wit and wis­dom of George Smith — Infan­tile musings

In this month’s offer­ing, George Smith mulls over the rea­sons why we might want to change the world – and make a dona­tion in the process!

Written by
George Smith
March 11, 2021

Great news from Smith Towers. Borrowing the first-person announcement plural from Mrs Thatcher, our former prime minister, I can announce that we are going to be a grandfather. The daughter married with such breath-taking expense on the lawn last year has gone for it, succumbed to my frequent readings about the horrors of childlessness from the public prints, witnessed my flamboyant knitting of mittens and collecting of soft cuddly toys, and has announced the arrival of a person and heir next spring. 

And there is suddenly a spring in my step as well. We can change nappies again. We can dandle and make goo-goo noises. We can haunt the Early Learning Centre, study books of likely names (will Ringo and Ziggy again be considered by the memsahib?). We can plan trips to zoos after an earnest discussion about the political correctness of such excursions. We can turn the spare room into a nursery. I can have a Meccano set again. 

I have already reported this programme to the happy young couple. With terse forbearance, they have made the pettifogging point that the child will be essentially theirs and that the role of grandparents is normally expected to be marginal and occasional. I am, in short, not to get too excited and silly about it. 

"As my heart soars, my wallet lightens ... I feel philanthropic and altruistic. This child will hopefully live through a good chunk of the next century, and all my old 'change the world' rhetoric comes flooding back."

What me? Middle age offers serenity and continuous if repetitive delights, but I have to tell you that true excitements get to be increasingly well-spaced. The last time I was as excited as this was when Ian Botham clobbered the Aussies and the time before then was the birth of my second daughter earlier the same year. I debriefed the Headingley score to her minute by minute as she slept soundly in her cot. 

(Editor’s note: George was a huge fan of the bemusing British sport cricket. Ian Botham was a famous cricketer; Australia are England’s great rivals and Headingley is a venue for the sport. I don’t get it either

General elections, Gulf Wars, World Cups, family weddings, Oasis albums, Spielberg movies – I have enjoyed them all. But nothing matches the anticipation of a new nipper, even one-stage removed. And perhaps especially when one-stage removed. 

For the relationship between child and grandparent is famously the most easeful, natural and beautiful in the whole gallery of human relationships. The wrinklies can afford to be indulgent for they have mere walk-on parts in the process of rearing. They don’t have to shout, scold or complain; they can simply beam and dandle at irregular intervals. No wonder children warm to these benevolent old things for they offer kindliness, support and fun with nary a nasty world. At least, that’s what I hope for. 

And as my heart soars, my wallet lightens. 

Being happy, I feel philanthropic and altruistic. This child will hopefully live through a good chunk of the next century and all my old ‘change the world’ rhetoric comes flooding back for now I have a discernible and personal interest in that world. For the moment I am a very warm donor. 

Celebration, private human celebration, is an undervalued asset in fundraising. The death of Diana, the Princess of Wales tells as much about ourselves. It teaches us that we are not totally cynical, that we are capable of unexpected emotion and respect. And it teaches us that many people’s reflex reaction to an emotional event is a charity donation, a thank-offering. It would not be opportunistic to mark the lessons and offer the donor greater help at the happy times as well as the sad times. 

Charities cannot easily be expected to identify these personal moments of serendipity among their supporters, but they might well consider how better they could service those moments. The only time that the key events in human life are listed as fundraising opportunities seems to be in a legacy leaflet where the personal stocktaking that follows a marriage, a birth, a house-move or a retirement is seen quite properly – as a nudge to made a bequest. But why isn’t a charity gift seen as a natural thing to make when something momentously happens? The greeting card business was the only retail sector to emerge unscathed from the recent recession. Think about it. 

I know of only one charity product on the market that matches my current state of mind. Greenpeace has an upcoming scheme for grandparents which targets old farts like me and tells me that the Greenpeace agenda is worth supporting for future generations. I never doubted that, but I guess that they will be writing to me about it soon (probably phoning after this piece is published). Believe me, they will get a result. 

But forgive me if I have to dash. I’m going up to the loft to get my Dinky toys out and blow the dust off those old jelly moulds. So much to do – and only eight months to get ready! 

Even most elderly Brits may have forgotten what Dinky toys are, so here’s a pair of them.

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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