Dr Barnardo’s Homes: four fundrais­ing greats from the dis­tant past

Exhibited by
Marie Burnett
May 22, 2010
Medium of Communication
Direct mail
Target Audience
Awareness, individuals
Type of Charity
Children, youth and family
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance

SOFII’s view

Dr Thomas Barnardo was one of the Victorian era's great philanthropists. These archive examples of his personal fundraising style and efforts are a unique treasure for the body of fundraising knowledge and best practice. Not only does this exhibit show his direct emotive approach when writing to donors, it also contains some of the earliest known examples of several fundraising techniques such as source-code testing and using existing supporters to recruit new donors from family and friends. Priceless!

Creator / originator

Dr Barnardo himself, in at least one of these examples. Otherwise, unknown.

Summary / objectives

Simply, to raise money for an urgent cause and to do it as effectively and thoroughly as possible.


The direct mail and MGM promotions date back to the days when the notorious Jack the Ripper was carrying out his diabolical attacks on women in the streets of Whitechapel, London. At the same time, not far from there, the great Victorian philanthropist and founder of Dr Barnardo's Homes, Dr Thomas Barnardo, was writing direct mail appeal letters to friends and prospective donors that even today are seldom matched for technical excellence, far less for passion, sincerity and fine writing.

This knowledge should shame and spur on fundraisers everywhere to at least match if not surpass the standards of yesteryear.

In the MGM promotion Dr B is offering a solid silver lapel badge to donors who introduce a dozen friends. I'd do it for that! This is a truly worthwhile incentive.

Special characteristics

Bold headline, use of a Johnson box, underlining, short paragraphs, use of a PS… Almost all the techniques of so-called modern direct mail are here. The reply forms from 1939 show one of the earliest examples of split code testing (please prove me wrong, by notifying SOFII of earlier examples).

Influence / impact

Very considerable, (these examples appear in Ken Burnett's 1992 bookRelationship Fundraising, so have been explained to fundraisers all around the world), though the impact would have been more had they been found earlier.


Not available (but his organisation did thrive from those days, so one assumes these things worked).


Aside from its historical value this mailing is a classic example of one person writing to another person with passion and conviction about a cause they both care deeply about. Sadly, you rarely see such sincerity and craftmanship in fundraising letters today.