Tips to Energize Your Donor Newsletter
Flaw 1: The biggest flaw of donor newsletters is weak or "fake" headlines. "Big type is not a headline," Ahern said. A headline should tell readers what the story is about so they don't have to even read the story. Ahern said elements of a good headline are enticing words, action verbs, a summary of the content and a hook that pulls readers in. He recommended using a deck (or subhead) or eyebrow (above the headline) to supplement the headline and to not be afraid to use longer headlines. The typical Wall Street Journal headline is 25 to 30 words, he said.
Writing a good headline
Ahern suggested these three tips:
- Write down the key points of the story.
- Figure out why a donor would care. What's the WIIFM (What's In It For Me)?
- Summarize the gist and the donor angle in 25 to 40 words and two sentences, using plain English and small words that are clear and simple. That's your headline. Ahern said the bottom-line goal is to be as clear as possible as fast as possible.
Ahern said most nonprofit newsletter headlines use boring verbs such as establish, list, win, use, write, reach, give back, plan, unify and build, and he suggested alternatives like those he sampled from issues of The Wall Street Journal, including loom, spark, threaten, embrace and sputter.
He said the point of a donor newsletter, first and foremost, is to cultivate and retain donors. According to recent figures from Mal Warwick Associates, seven out of 10 first-time donors do not make a second gift, Ahern said. Organizations can — and should — use their newsletters to step up donor cultivation by:
- reporting results;
- thanking donors copiously for making a difference in the world;
- offering donors other ways to give, volunteer and make a difference; and
- showing that the need is still great.
He shared Merkle's tried-and-true newsletter formula, which specifies sending the newsletter in an 11-inch-by-17-inch format that folds to four 8.5-inch-by-11-inch pages; not using glossy paper; mailing in a No. 10 envelope — not a self-mailer — that has a teaser like "Your Newsletter Enclosed"; sending exclusively to current donors; including a reply envelope and reply device; and using the newsletter for "accomplishment reporting."