The Six Fatal Flaws of Donor Newsletters
One of the main ingredients of a donor newsletter is, well, news. But your newsletter shouldn’t read like a local newspaper rife with lofty objectivism; it should be personal, conversational and intimate -- a lot like good direct mail, says Tom Ahern, ABC, of Ahern Communications Ink.
Donors are interested in reading about three basic things: accomplishments (What did you do with my money?); vision (What could you do with my money?); and recognition (I want to be thanked for contributing my money.).
In his session here yesterday, Ahern outlined six of the most common flaws ailing donor newsletters:
1. No news is NOT good news. Without something “new” or substantial to report, donors often will lament, “Tell me something I don’t know.” You will never bore anyone into paying attention to you, Ahern says, so if you don’t have any news, invent some. Ahern advises fundraisers to troll for “Did you know?” and “from the field” stories -- anything exciting that’s happening with your constituent base. People will read them.
2. Failing to understand that people habitually browse before they read, if they read at all. You must get your message across quickly with photos, captions, headlines, decks, subheads, pull quotes, etc. Most of the people receiving your newsletter are uncommitted, at least at the moment they open it. But Ahern cautions: “A caption is not a place to write another essay, or at the 12th grade level.”
Part of this flaw, Ahern says, is due to the fact that many fundraisers don’t know how to properly design and lay out content.
“Anytime you place black type on anything else but white space, you drastically lose readership,” Ahern says. “But the most reader-hostile technique of all is to use reverse type. On a whole, Times Roman is five times easier to read than sans serif fonts like Arial and Helvetica.”
Ahern also shares a successful format in which newsletters are presented: 11 inches by 17 inches, folding to four 8 1/2-inch-by-11-inch pages; two-color printing; no glossy process; no self-mailers; and tucked in a No. 10 envelope.
3. The use of feeble or “non” headlines. “A headline is the entry point of your story,” Ahern affirms, “and 80 percent [of your donors] don’t go any deeper.”
The ultimate purpose of a headline is to tell the reader the gist of the story. If your headline falls flat and leaves the reader guessing, you haven’t written a compelling enough headline, Ahern says.
Also, unless your headline is “Titantic Sinks,” avoid the use of two-word headlines. Headlines should be eight words or less, and decks should be 14 words or less, employing dramatic action verbs such as “devours,” “mauls,” “sputters,” etc.
“The verb is the story,” Ahern stresses.
4. Relying heavily on statistics to tell the story. Stats lack emotion and a visceral ability to persuade, inspire and motivate people to give.
5. Losing sight of the audience. “Donors have to feel like they’re changing the world,” Ahern says. “The more you do that in your donor newsletter, the more money you will raise.” Remember you are talking to your donors; they know you. Be personal and conversational.
6. Failing the “you” test. “The most powerful word in the English language is ‘you,’” Ahern says. “That word is hard-coded into our systems from parents and teachers always addressing us simply as ‘you.’” It’s a cheap trick, but “you” is glue.
For more information, visit http://www.aherncomm.com.