Fundraising: the Old School Way

One of the biggest changes in the role of a senior academic administrator in recent years is the amount of time spent fundraising. It can be easily be 30% of one’s time and for many it can be considerably more.

Fortunately, we all get training and follow the advice of professionals in the field. Development staff have proven techniques and well-honed practices that help us do the right thing.

It wasn’t always like this.

Consider how the University of secured a $1M donation to support the building of its new library in 1968.

Albert Thornbrough

Albert Thornbrough

Albert Thornbrough was the Chair of the Board of Governors at the time and responsible for raising money for the Library. He decided to visit his friend Sam McLaughlin to ask for support.

Thornbrough was CEO of Massey Ferguson and McLaughlin, fondly known as Colonel Sam, had founded a car company that became General Motors of Canada.

Thornbrough drove to McLaughlin’s estate to make his pitch. As he pulled up in front of the house McLaughlin came out to meet him.

Samuel McLaughlin

Samuel McLaughlin

The two men greeted each other and McLaughlin said to Thornbrough:

“Punch me. I’ve been getting in shape. Punch me in the stomach.”

At that time Colonel Sam was in his 90s so Thornbrough had no intention of hitting him, not even playfully.

“Come on” McLaughlin insisted “punch me. Hard!”

So, Thornbrough punched the very man he had come to ask money from. Not hard but not playfully either. Enough to satisfy McLaughlin.

Apparently contented, Colonel Sam guided Thornbrough into the house where he immediately wrote a cheque for $1M, the single largest donation to the Library and the reason it is called the McLaughlin Library.

Yes, fundraising has changed.


So, how do I know this story? Some years ago I visited Albert Thornbrough at his home in Boca Raton. Over a wonderful lunch at his club he told me this and many other stories. Perhaps it’s apocryphal but, hey, it’s a good story. For another good, and likely less suspect story, ask me about Thornbrough and Conrad Black someday.

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