Deerfield Academy: Bruce Barton’s fundraising letters from 1957 and 1958, letters 20 and 21

Exhibited by
SOFII
Added
July 04, 2011
Medium of Communication
Direct mail.
Target Audience
Individuals.
Type of Charity
Direct mail.
Country of Origin
USA.
Date of first appearance
May, 1957.

SOFII’s view

This really is the penultimate batch. What can SOFII say about them? Well, it’s not hard to be just as enthusiastic about these two as all the others. Which is probably all that needs to be said.

Letter 20 proves conclusively that SOFII’s collection of Bruce Barton fundraising letters is far from complete. He says he’s written 40 letters already over the nearly 30-year span the letters cover. We only have 22. So if you can shed light on the missing pages, please do.

Creator / originator

Bruce Barton.

Summary / objectives

To raise money through writing occasional letters to a carefully selected group of well-disposed friends.

Background

Letter 20

It’s mid 1957, more than six months since Bruce Barton last wrote to these special friends, the parents of pupils of Deerfield Academy. Barton still writes in his relaxed, easy-going, very accessible style and though letter 20 isn’t one of his best it’s still really very good.

From the start Barton assures his audience that, because they have been so patient this may be the last letter he sends them. Or, near to the last (we know there are another two still to come, at least).

Two verys and a lot of underlining follow. He’s getting his readers on his side, as he’s done so often before. ‘It’s that nice Mr Barton writing again’, I hear my legions of imaginary donors saying over their Cheerios and maple syrup. This is all about their achievement, for the school their offspring attends or has attended, so it’s welcome news packed with flattery, tales of the selflessness and fine motives of others, even deploying words of encouragement from the late president. So when the writer sets out what still needs doing, of course this is going to work.

There follows the gentle direct request that is so the Barton hallmark. Still needed is $2,000,000 and Bruce Barton is not about to let anyone escape his or her share of that obligation if he can help it. But the reader still likes the writer by the end of the letter – maybe even a bit more – and that’s a sure sign of effective fundraising.

We don’t have the enclosures, sadly. But, I’d be willing to bet they were interesting. And welcome.

Letter 21

Eighteen months have passed since that last letter and if there have been others in between they are lost to us now. So this epistle has to stand on its own. And it does. In fact it seems the others might never have been written at all. Bruce recognises the short memory that characterises most people and makes no assumptions of them. He wants, in time, to remind them all again of all they have achieved. That means he has to help his readers picture what life was like before his letters started to flow.

So with some typical verbal picture painting he effortlessly takes his readers back 14 years to the founding of their voluntary fundraising committee. His storytelling pulls no punches; we can picture Frank Boyden all those years ago sitting in his office praying no one drops a match, for the dormitory is made of wood and there is no infirmary.

The donors who made this possible are undoubtedly the heroes of this letter. But I love the gentle reproach for all of them that Barton administers when on page two he tells them that holding classes in the basement infringes some local bylaw. A hint of blackmail, perhaps? Curiously the sum needed is still $2million, but most will have forgotten that too, of course. He then borrows some remarkably familiar phraseology from letter 20, confident I suppose that that’s been forgotten also.

It must have worked.

Barton’s good news ending reminds everyone of what’s being safeguarded here. And a bit of legacy fundraising in the third-to-last paragraph hints at what is likely to have killed off the need for these letters, or at least supplanted their urgency – the gentle and sensitive encouragement of bequests.

Other relevant information

The next episode in the saga of Buce Barton and the Deerfield letters will be the last. Just one letter to come, and it’s a full two years behind its predecessor. I’ll miss them, these wonderful letters, though I suppose, like you, I can always revisit.