David Olgilvy’s United Negro College Fund Sales Letter

By Jon Elordi

It’s almost impossible to find a copy of David Olgilvy’s United Negro College Fund sales letter that’s NOT a picture. Nobody wants to do the hard work of actually transcribing it. So I have done. I slaved away for you people to be able to copy and paste sections into your own fundraising emails. You’re welcome!

Ogilvy wrote the sales letter in 1968, and you can tell. It uses plenty of languages and has plenty of assumptions that are no longer considered PC. Nonetheless, it’s a classic in the copywriting world.

If you run this text through the Hemingway app, you notice it’s written at a sixth grade reading level. Oglivy wrote only one sentence in the passive voice.

Ogilvy left this letter on the seat of every train leaving Grand Central Station one evening. Everyone got a copy to read on their commute home to the suburbs.

In just one night, it raised $26,000. And remember, those are in 1968 dollars.

FROM: David Ogilvy
TO: Commuters

When this train emerges from the tunnel at 108th Street this evening, look out of the window.

You may see some of the 1,125 boys and girls from the New York ghettos who are now on vacation from our Negro colleges.

At least you will see some of the homes(?) from which they come. They are “high risk” students–with high potential. Your own college won’t take the, because they cannot quality for admission.

In the New England colleges there re now 300,000 students, How many of them, do you guess, are black? About 2,000–two thirds of one percent. Words fail me.

If you are like most of the commuters on this train, you are a college graduate–and you have supported your college faithfully over the years.

After dinner tonight, will you do something imaginative? Will you write a check for a group of colleges whose alumni, through no fault of their own, are simply unable to carry the whole load of a supporting their alma mater?

I refer, of course, to Morehouse and Fisk and Tuskegee and the 33 other predominantly Negro colleges which belong to the United Negro college Fund.

About 40,000 students–most of them Negro–are now enrolled in these colleges. Their graduates include 85 percent of all Negro doctors, and most of the leaders of the Negro community. The vast majority of them have very small incomes–compared with yours.

Last year 50 predominantly white colleges received $416,000,000 in gifts. For our 36 Negro colleges, we are trying to raise $6,500,000 this year. Will you help?

Without equality of education, these can never be equality of opportunity. This is the heart of the country’s most urgent problem. Will you help?

I dare to suggest that you send our Fund a percentage of the amount you are giving to your own college. Ten percent? Fifty percent? You be the judge. (Don’t reduce your gift to your own college; simply give our Fund something on top.) Here are the guts of the situation:

  1. the doors to our UNCF colleges are open to all–regardless of race, creed or national origin. They are not segregated, not are they educating their students for a segregated world. Their faculties and their Boards are integrated, and the number of their white students is growing every year.
  2. Our average cost of tuition, books, room and board is $1,375. This coimpare with $2,400 at predominantly white colleges. Three out of four of our students are working their wy through our colleges.
  3. On top of that, our colleges five financial assistance to more than half of their students. A great many more need it.
  4. UNCF is the largest fund drive devoted to any Negro cause. Many people feel it is also the most constructive.

Says John W. Gardner, “There colleges have an immensely important part to play in the education of Negro Americans. And the education of Negro Americans is on of the crucial tasks of our time. . .I can tell you with some authority that the predominantly Negro colleges need help.”

Please decide now what percentage of your gift to your won college you wish to send to UNCF, and mail in the envelope I have enclosed. Perhaps you will then sleep a little better during the long hot summer.

Yours sincerely,

David Ogilvy


P.S. A gift of stock would be equally valuable.