Newsletters Done Right
I’m convinced that most of the donors who support social-enterprise organizations today would give more tomorrow if they clearly understood the impact of their gifts — if they could experience the power of their support.
And this is exactly why donor-focused newsletters are such a vital part of the donor-communication mix. Newsletters sent to all active donors can do what the typical appeal letter can’t (and shouldn’t) do — educate, nurture and affirm, and report specific accomplishments. As a bonus, newsletters also are excellent fundraising tools.
- Educate. Newsletters give you the space and format to educate your donors about your work: what you do, why you do it and what you believe. A well-written newsletter is the perfect vehicle to convey your organization’s core beliefs. It’s a printed soapbox that will give your donors the information they need to understand the power of their giving.
- Nurture and affirm. Newsletters give you an opportunity to encourage your donors by explaining their vital role in accomplishing your mission — a mission your donors believe in as much as you do. Newsletters accomplish this affirmation by openly expressing gratitude; for example, at the end of an article about a successful project: “Supporters like you helped make this project such a great success.”
- Report accomplishments. The most important function of a donor-focused newsletter is reporting your successes. Donors almost always are subconsciously asking themselves, “I wonder what my gift accomplished?” They want to know how their gifts are used and what’s happened as a result of their giving. The more you acknowledge and answer these questions, the more fundraising success you’ll achieve.
- Raise money. A newsletter can raise money for your work. The most effective newsletters almost always will achieve an ROI ratio of 2 to 1 or better. A simple reply coupon and reply envelope, along with newsletter pointers about giving, are all you need. You’ll be even more successful if your newsletter themes are closely integrated with your direct-mail appeal-letter themes.
So, how do you do it?
How can your organization publish a newsletter that will accomplish these core purposes and raise positive net revenue? Here are a few practical tips:
1. Recognize you’re not in the magazine- publishing business. A donor-focused newsletter should only be four to eight pages, no more.
2. Write for busy donors. You’re not publishing Time or National Geographic. Wri te at a fourth- or fifth-grade reading level to accommodate a quick read, just like most daily newspapers. Your educating, nurturing, affirming and reporting will be more effective if you connect to core emotions.
3. Tell stories. We learn from stories. We communicate values through stories. So, tell stories about the people you’ve helped, about the projects you’ve completed, about the changes you’ve prompted. Link your donors’ gifts to these stories.
4. Work hard to maintain a donor orientation. Ask yourself, “What do our donors want to know today?” Speak about their values and beliefs, and how your organization shares the same values and beliefs.
5. Work equally hard to resist the temptation to shift to an organization orientation. You’ll know you’ve succumbed to this temptation if your newsletter is filled with articles and photographs about your board of directors, your president, your building, your internal management structure or processes, or your work methodology. Most donors care very little about these internal matters; they want to know what you’ve done with their gifts to accomplish what you said you would accomplish. Period.
Donor-focused newsletters are a perfect vehicle for communicating the passion of your work, nurturing and affirming your donors’ passion for your work, telling your success stories, and raising more money.
Timothy Burgess is co-founder and senior strategist at direct-response fundraising firm Merkle/Domain. Contact: email@example.com.