In 1925 Bruce Barton asked 24 businessmen to provide scholarships for students in a struggling local college, and in response he got 24 gifts of at least $1,000.
A 100 percent response rate is unheard of in fundraising direct mail, and the letter has been praised as perhaps the best fundraising letter ever.
“The letter is a brilliant example of what is often neglected in direct mail appeals today,” wrote Ken Burnett, a veteran fundraiser and consultant. “It addresses perfectly the four key aspects of direct appeals: audience, offer, format as well as the creative, which is often the main focus of today’s appeals and in response terms generally the least important.”
It’s long but worth a read. Click here to access this masterpiece.
Barton, inset photo, was an advertising agency founder, author and member of Congress.
“While extolling the lessons we can learn from Bruce Barton’s classic copywriting, it should be pointed out that this fine letter is flawed in some ways too,” Burnett wrote. “Though Barton was, we understand, a lifelong moderate Republican, viewed by today’s standards at least, some of his references might be considered racist or sexist. Attitudes obviously were different back then, though we’re not sure that this allowance excuses the comment (about immigrants) which even then many might have found offensive.
“The offer is powerful and distinct, promising donors the ‘best time you ever bought for $1000’. And having built readers’ interest to a crescendo the end paragraph allows no element of doubt that they will want to donate, with Barton posing the question in the last line: ‘What will you have, ten boys or ten girls?’
“This letter is a classic and is an absolute jewel of donor/fundraiser communication that offers many lessons for today.”
For more comments on the letter, see the post from Cheryl Chapman, managing editor of Philanthropy UK here.