Deerfield Academy: Bruce Barton’s fundraising letters for letters 9, 10 and 11, from 1948 and 1949

Exhibited by
SOFII
Added
June 08, 2011
Medium of Communication
Direct mail.
Target Audience
Individuals.
Type of Charity
Children, youth and family.
Country of Origin
USA.
Date of first appearance
1948.

SOFII’s view

Bruce Barton had the intelligence and ability to write outstanding fundraising letters, which he did very successfully for the Deerfield Academy for a number of years. Here, Ken Burnett introduces letters nine, ten and eleven in the SOFII collection and tells us why he thinks these letters still hold valuable lessons for fundraisers today.

Background

Barton just gets better. In letter nine he is reporting back, in exquisite detail, on the fruits of recent fundraising for the school. He lets Frank Boyden*, legendary headmaster at Deerfield from 1902 to 1968, tell part of the story for him. Boyden is equally as articulate as Barton, though I suspect Barton schooled the headmaster effectively in the art of creative copywriting or even wrote the thing for him. 'It is wonderful to be able to walk between the aisles in the dining room without falling over boys and tables', he says, in true Barton style. We can see the picture as he writes, so donors will readily visualise the achievements their gifts have wrought. The trick of suggesting that some parents who had seen the transformation had been moved to pledge second gifts is pure Barton and well worth copying. His description of major gift prospects and the lead up to Deerfield's 150th anniversary are also instructive.

Letter 10 has more magic. Just the opening paragraph alone is 'worth bottling', as they would say in Yorkshire. He gets a bit lyrical in this epistle, and the depth of his religious conviction surfaces clearly. It sounds, as even Barton admits, '…old-fashioned, in these days of the atom bomb'. But the story and the way he tells it are downright riveting. And he knows how to pay his readers a compliment. Great fundraising.

How personal Barton makes his letters! Letter 11 says, 'please don't throw me in the waste paper basket, read me through. There is good news later on, and a good story.' What an offer. Hard now, to put this letter down. This is a man who through his writing over the years has made friends of his readers. He talks to them as such. So when he brings up that unseemly subject – money – he can introduce the topic while pulling his own leg, and even make his readers feel sympathy for him. It is finely crafted prose, much to be envied. He then goes on to describe his own giving in such a homely way, with Mrs Barton too, that it would be a hard heart indeed that wouldn't do at least as much as they. Then, with the beguiling art of the master storyteller, he introduces his readers to how others are giving, and why. His use of reported speech is exemplary, a style well worth perfecting.

Brilliant. And now these valuable letters are here, free, for SOFII readers to learn from. The good news is, there's another ten of these letters to come.

Other relevant information

Frank Boyden, Headmaster.

Boyden kept his desk in the hallway of Deerfield Academy's main building so as to keep the pulse of the school. As headmaster, he became known for taking in students who had been expelled from other schools.