William Quar­ri­er – the most deter­mined fundrais­er of all time?

Using an approach not designed for the faint-heart­ed, William Quar­ri­er went into a room full of wealthy peo­ple and walked out with enough mon­ey to fund a vil­lage for home­less chil­dren in Glas­gow. But how did he do it? And what can we learn from this fundrais­ing superstar?

Written by
Simon Burne
March 17, 2016
William Quarrier

Born in 1829, William Quarrier spent his childhood living in poverty in Glasgow. 

He was just three years old when his father passed away and at the age of six William was already working in a pin factory to help support his family. 

He was just seven and a half when he began as an apprentice shoemaker – there was no time or money to waste on traditional education.

Yet this impoverished upbringing couldn’t hold back someone like William Quarrier. 

When he was still a relatively young man, William already owned three shoe shops and was well on his way to establishing himself as a successful shoemaker and retailer. 

His strength of character and determination meant he worked his way out of poverty – but William never forgot where he came from. 

Not long after his business began to take off, William was travelling home from work when he encountered a young match-seller crying in the street because someone had stolen from him. William gave the boy some money and swore that he would do something to help local homeless children.

He came up with a unique, innovative vision. William wanted to build a village of family-sized houses where Glasgow’s homeless children could be cared for in small groups – rather than the massive orphanages and institutions that were beginning to spring up around the UK.

Of course, though he was now a successful man himself, there was the rather large issue of how to pay for this village. Rather than give up, William worked tirelessly to achieve his vision and – in the 1870s – finally took a risk that is not one for the faint-hearted fundraiser.

He decided to raise all the money needed for the village from the wealthy people of Glasgow. William called a meeting of such people and quite literally fell to his knees. He prayed that God wouldn’t let anyone go before they had committed to funding a house each. 

And you know what? It worked.

William Quarrier was successful in funding his whole village, which opened its door – and its heart – to Glasgow’s homeless children in 1878. 

The beautiful homes William Quarrier built for Glasgow’s homeless children.

Now, I’m not saying we should all drop to our knees and pray – or beg – for donors to give us their support. But William’s success shows that high net worth individuals respond to our passion and our vision for helping people. We can raise phenomenal amounts of money.

In fact, now that income distribution is almost as skewed as it was back in the 1870s, we need to rediscover our mojo for challenging wealthy people to give serious gifts (yes, house-sized donations) – and not let them off the hook. Given the current pressures on other forms of fundraising, this has become ever more important and urgent.

So perhaps, as we set out to do this, we should emulate one of fundraising’s earliest superstars – William Quarrier.

His determination and vision raised every penny he needed to create a village that has provided children with support for well over 100 years. And the charity that bears his name – Quarriers – is now one of Scotland’s largest social care organisations. 

I’d say that’s not bad for a day’s work...

This idea was presented at I Wish I’d Thought of That (IWITOT) in September 2015. You can watch Simon’s seven minute presentation below:

About the author: Simon Burne

Simon Burne (he/him) has worked in the voluntary sector for a number of years, primarily in fundraising and marketing. He established ITDG’s (now Practical Action’s) fundraising operation in the 80s and was director of fundraising/marketing at Acorns Children’s Hospice, NCH (now Action for Children) and The Children’s Society. For eight years, he was a senior consultant with THINK Consulting Solutions. Simon was chair of the Institute of Fundraising from 2000-2003 and has written and spoken widely on both fundraising and marketing.

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