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Fundraising Legend Don Kuhn Passes Away

January 16, 2006

(Jan. 17, 2005) Direct-response legend Don Kuhn, who pioneered the use of computer databases in fundraising, passed away in late 2005.

Kuhn, who began fundraising in the 1950s, spent more than 30 years with the National Tuberculosis Society, which would later become the American Lung Association (ALA).

When Kuhn joined the ALA, it was one of the few mass direct-mail charities in the United States, using a system of 3-inch x 5-inch cards as a database and metal Speedamat plates to imprint names and addresses on envelopes. He was one of the first fundraisers to utilize the power of computers in developing and maintaining databases.

In the 1970s, as national director of development for the ALA, Kuhn led the effort to convert state and local chapter databases, about 14 million people, into two major computer systems. When he went into consulting in 1980, he would use his experience in developing the ALA database to help other national health organizations unify their own databases, including the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, Easter Seals and many others.

When Larry May first joined Walter Karl Inc., a direct-response firm, Kuhn was his first boss. 'There are probably several dozen fundraisers who would consider Don a mentor, and I'm certainly one of them,' said May, who is CEO of Direct Media Inc. and May Development Services in Greenwich, Conn. 'He was an amazing teacher and very inspirational.'

One of May's best memories of Kuhn was his eternal optimism. 'It's always been amazing to me how easily discouraged fundraisers can be,' he said. 'When something bad happens, a lot of fundraisers seem to just throw up their hands. But Don was just the opposite, and he always thought that people were generous. If you respected people, and were honest and straightforward, you would come out a winner. I try to convey Don's optimism everyday in my own work.'

Kuhn, who won the 1991 Direct Marketing Association Fundraising Achievement Award, was working part-time for May Development Services when he passed away.

A group of Kuhn's colleagues and friends has established the Don Kuhn Fund for Research and Education at the Direct Marketing Education Foundation in his honor. People interested in supporting the fund can contact May at (203) 532-2546 or at

Some of Kuhn's fundraising philosophy and strategy can be read in two documents he created: Direct Response Bedrock Philosophy--The Mindset and How to Encourage Donor Longevity and Enhance Long-Term Value. Both documents are available on the Direct Media Inc. and May Development Services website.

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