Monday, July 18, 2011

Ben Franklin - inventor, statesman... fundraiser

I had the opportunity recently to read Ben Franklin's autobiography, and was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

Spurred by the Saturday morning "history lessons" of my youth, my thoughts regarding Ben Franklin have been based on visions of an old man running in the rain with a kite and a key in New England by night, engaging in debate and helping to write the founding documents of this nation by day.  As romantic as this vision may be, it is actually merely a small part of all that Franklin accomplished.

While it is true that Mr. Franklin was a statesman, author and inventor nearly without peer, he was also a dedicated fundraiser.  In his autobiography, particularly chapters 10 and 11, can be found the evidence that he was not merely satisfied with helping to shape the new nation through debate and politics, but through industrious action and monetary support.    contains his own description of his efforts to fundraise for and build a church, a library and a school, among other things.

Also of note is the fact that he, himself, was a donor.  (True of all excellent fundraisers)  In chapter 10, he describes the circumstance of listening to an appeal of a preacher for donations to build a new orphanage, the exact plan for which he disagreed:

"I happened soon after to attend one of his sermons, in the course of which I perceived he intended to finish with a collection, and I silently resolved he should get nothing from me, I had in my pocket a handful of copper money, three or four silver dollars, and five pistoles in gold. As he proceeded I began to soften, and concluded to give the coppers. Another stroke of his oratory made me asham'd of that, and determin'd me to give the silver; and he finish'd so admirably, that I empty'd my pocket wholly into the collector's dish, gold and all."  - The Autobiography of Ben Franklin, Chapter 10

Some may remember his advice regarding saving, such as "A penny saved is a penny earned," and feel that this is at odds with his own frequent philanthropy.

However, he answers this in his definition of "frugality," which he lists as a virtue -

"Frugality.  Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing."
                                                - The Autobiography of Ben Franklin

This is, after all, perhaps a better definition of being frugal than the ones with which we are more familiar.  By spending our money wisely, ensuring that it is used to do good to others or ourselves, we are being frugal - hence, a donation to help another is never a waste - which is why Franklin could donate all the gold he had in his pockets for an orphanage and continue to extol the virtues of saving pennies.

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