Ben Franklin tour­ing edu­ca­tion and fundrais­ing shows

Exhibited by
GregRobin Smith.
June 06, 2011
Medium of Communication
Target Audience
Type of Charity
Community & social services
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance

SOFII’s view

Fundraising is about finding effective ways of engaging and inspiring people, then introducing them to a cause and showing them how they can become involved and make a difference. This creative example of fundraising educational entertainment seems to SOFII to be very flexible and potentially easy to copy. It may involve quite a lot of effort for what some might consider to be limited returns, but if the event can be staged by enthusiastic volunteers, they too can get a great deal out of it. The 'messages' that come through the shows can either be directly linked to the beneficiary cause or incidental to it, depending on the preferences and experience of the event organiser.

Creator / originator

GregRobin Smith sponsored by Five Rivers Fundraising (a nonprofit support group), sponsor Hardwick & Sons, Inc and the Interactive History Company.

Summary / objectives

These events offer a tool for nonprofit groups to raise money, while inspiring and educating the general public about the importance of individuals becoming involved with their community and illustrating the power of small groups to change the world.

The objective is to offer a popular public event that the hosting nonprofit sells tickets to, keeping the majority of the proceeds while connecting with, inspiring and educating members of the public through a series of carefully presented lessons drawn from the life and experiences of this or other historical characters. This is not a lecture, but more like sitting down with your favourite uncle as he tells tales of how things really were in the war. The presentation allows participants to relive the intimacy of the moments where history changed, revelling in the joy of discovery of electricity's secrets and revealing much else besides that is, perhaps, not relevant here. The audience feels, and remembers, the experience as if they had shared an evening with this great person. Children and adults love joining in the charade and appreciate the truth of what they hear about the humane risk of trying to do the best one can with what one has at hand. Imagination is inspired, questions sparked, thoughts hatched as history comes alive. All this, and the hosting nonprofit is seen as a provider of not only an essential service, but as a steward caring for the social and intellectual needs of its community.

Benjamin Franklin (in this example portrayed by GregRobin Smith) brings his Chautauqua presentation to any local stage or venue. The host nonprofit arranges for the presentation space, advertising and ticket sales. Imagine, 500 tickets at US$10.00 each = $5,000.00.


'Chautauqua' is a unique type of theatre, where someone portrays a famous (or infamous) person from history weaving together stories of his or her life, all in the first person and interactive, including a lengthy question and answer period between the audience and the presenter. The style of educational entertainment was founded in 1878 in the Chautauqua Lakes region of New York.

Chautauqua presentations are done without a script. Improvised but thoroughly researched, they offer an audience the opportunity of speaking directly with history. Attendees leave with a much deeper understanding of those who have lived and the legacy they have left for us.

GregRobin Smith is a student of Clay Jenkinson ( the father of the modern Chautauqua movement, who advised Smith to take on and present Ben Franklin. Smith is a lifelong performer, musician, fundraiser, author and educator. Pioneering work in all aspects of hands-on interactive education, he now adds using his performances as Ben Franklin to raise monies (and social consciousness) for various nonprofits, including the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the Society for Creative Anachronism, Rotary International and others.

Smith's inspiration for working with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society can be found at

Special characteristics

The performances are flexible and adaptable to various venues (gymnasiums, theatres, lecture halls, libraries, etc). Chautauqua needs little in the way of props, sets, lighting, or other production expenses.

Influence / impact

Every time they are staged, these shows influence dozens of people both young and old because they allow connection with the past, the learning of useful social lessons and, in the process, contribute to a worthwhile fundraising success.


Costs vary between $100 to $1,000 per performance, depending on travel and corporate sponsorships. Promotional costs are kept low through building and refining mailing lists and using volunteers to sell tickets and spread publicity.


One show can typically raise between $1,000 - $5,000 in an evening, depending on the audience.


It is quite easily replicable, perhaps using other figures from history. It can be staged with local talent who work up a character of note for the performance. Clay Jenkinson, for example, returns to Seattle several times each year, every year, for repeated performances.

Other relevant information

See GregRobin Smith has been involved in hands-on education programmes since 1973. On this site he explains his current passion for fundraising for nonprofits and spreading the wisdom of Dr Franklin.

Smith joined a historical recreation group in 1981. Being an actor and usually out of work they put him in charge of public education outreach. Combining his knowledge of hands-on classes with a student's natural tendency for learning by doing (it's easier to teach how to spin wool by giving students a spindle than to just show them a slide show) the new programmes were very successful. Now, 27 years later, in addition to school programmes and fundraising events, Smith's nonprofit fundraising company also does period weddings, parties, birthdays, movie openings and more.

A hero from history: Ben Franklin takes to the stage again to entertain and educate while raising money for a range of good causes.
A handy thing, this electricity.
Ben with his alter ego, GregRobin Smith. Can you guess which is which?
A happy audience of future donors. And their parents have money now.