Deerfield Academy: Bruce Barton’s fundraising letters from 1956 and 1957, letters 18 and 19

Exhibited by
SOFII
Added
June 27, 2011
Medium of Communication
Direct mail.
Target Audience
Individuals.
Type of Charity
Children, youth and family.
Country of Origin
USA.
Date of first appearance
October, 1956.

SOFII’s view

Here at last are letters 18 and 19 – shorter than usual too – the penultimate batch from this marvellously instructive and entertaining but overall too short series. Though we may wish for more, nevertheless these Bruce Barton Deerfield letters are a treasure trove for all fundraisers. And their value is not limited by any means to those with a special interest in direct mail. For this series shows real understanding of donors as each letter builds upon its predecessor to paint a charming, captivating picture of what it takes to secure the reader’s interest and engagement and to keep him or her warm, on side and giving all the while. This throughout the period of nearly two decades that’s covered by these letters, during which time the school is entirely transformed. While we may look through a historian’s eyes at these relics of a bygone age it is the really wise fundraiser who realises that, within these carefully constructed lines, there’s a foundation course in donor relationship development being shared here and now, thanks to SOFII, for the benefit of fundraisers everywhere.

Creator / originator

Bruce Barton.

Summary / objectives

I love writing about these letters because they never disappoint; they are such fine examples of Barton’s consummate skill as a communicator. Consider the phrase, ‘Frank, with his New England thrift, has always kept a little something tucked under the bed…’

I just want to give them money.

And don’t you love the name of the lawyer, Mr Logan Fulrath? Be better if he was a fire and brimstone preacher, with a first name like Eternity, but that’s just fantasising. Dickens would have loved him.

After this pair, sadly, there remain but two of these splendidly crafted letters still to be posted and shared on SOFII. Ah well, all good things must end, I suppose.

Then, hooray! I find while writing this exhibit I’ve miscounted (maths never was my strong suit) and there are actually three more letters still to come. Oh joy! The series it seems is not 21, but 22.

Woohoo!

Background

Letter 18 was sent in October 1956. Letter 19 isn’t dated (which may explain how I missed it) but was sent before Christmas 1957.

The opening of letter 18 is literally priceless.

‘Frank Boyden has a fine piece of news to announce. A wealthy and big-hearted woman, Mrs Amelia McAlister Upshur, has died.’

No sensitively beating about the bush there! Good old Mrs McAlister Upshur, we say. She did, of course, die in a good cause as she left a huge legacy to Deerfield…

But I like the trouble Barton takes to describe the process in all its small details. And there is no doubt as to the joy this gift occasioned. Frank Boyden immediately put some men to work digging a big hole. The new dormitory is begun.

Now there’s fine news indeed, as would warm the heart of any donor over the breakfast table. And Bruce Barton then quite specifically and deliberately does not ask for money. What might Deerfield donors make of that?

Then this nice Mr Barton gives us a map of the campus (which sadly we don’t have) but I’m sure it completed the day for many of his readers. In my mind’s eye I can see Mr William Platt, the architect, labouring lovingly to craft it for us, deploying to the task a quill pen, stencils and a wooden ruler. This is first-class feedback and Bruce knows it. He also makes in this letter a quite remarkable boast. He says, ‘I am told by people who are in the profession of money raising (that’s us folks, 56 years ago) that there is no record of any other institution having raised so much money by mail.’

Woopee! This is history.

Similarly in letter 19 Barton mentions the sending of a picture book, which like the map, tragically we don’t have. And it’s not just a picture book, it’s a picture book and Christmas card combined. I sulked for days. This sounds to me like exemplary stewardship. It should have been conserved, to shame future generations of ‘professional money-raisers’.

It does sound a bit biblical though, doesn’t it, put like that? Would you want to live next door to a professional money-raiser?

If he or she wrote like Bruce Barton does I’d move in tomorrow.

BB then makes the softest of asks such as many fundraisers today would castigate as missing an opportunity. But I think Barton knew what he was doing, full well.

There’s no trickery in these letters, no artifice, no phoney PSs. Just direct, honest talking put in such an endearing and charming way as to become irresistible for those recipients who share the writer’s enthusiasm for the place and passionate belief that it should be simply as good as it possibly can be for the young people it will turn out.

The $2 million+ that these letters raised back then, from a small group of donors, stands as testimony to the wisdom of the Bruce Barton approach.

Other relevant information

It’s not every day one finds a whole extra Bruce Barton letter. What more do you want?