Can the Old Standby Newsletter Help Meet Today’s Donor Loyalty Challenges?
Donors tell us over and over again that what makes them give is that they care about a cause, yet donor loyalty is somewhere south of Antarctica. So how can fundraisers help people care more about your cause—not just any of the multiple causes doing similar work?
At the risk of sounding out of touch with 21st-century reality, I believe one important tool—recently overlooked at worst, haphazard at best—is the newsletter. Sure, some readers will say a newsletter is old-fashioned and irrelevant, but let’s consider some realities:
- In most nonprofits, the best donors, as in "they give the most"—are older.
- Older people are online, but they also appreciate—and respond to—offline communication.
- Older people may have more discretionary time as they phase out of child-raising and into retirement.
But many nonprofit organizations have gotten haphazard about how they communicate to people of all ages that they have a solution to a problem donors care about and are making great changes possible because of their donors' financial support. Maybe it’s the fallout of having so many more platforms now where we have to have an active voice. So we post a lot on Facebook and feel like we have accomplished something—everything a donor might want to know is right there for the taking.
I can only speak for myself, but there is so much in my Facebook feed that it’s almost a full-time job to keep up with it. And since I have limited time to devote to Facebook, I tend to focus on good friends and family, not your nonprofit. (Of course, Facebook helps that along by deciding what I should and shouldn’t see based on my past actions.)
In our work, we often use phrases, like "we give people access to clean water." The assumption is that we can’t force them to drink it, so we have to waffle a bit and not come right out and say, "Because of us, people drink clean water." It’s the same with our information; donors have access to it, but some, for any number of reasons, are not accessing it.
Maybe it’s because scarcity makes us want something more, but I find myself looking forward to the few newsletters I still regularly receive from nonprofits I support. I read stories showing results. I see photos showing results. I feel good because of the results that my gifts helped make possible.
Tom Ahern, a proven practitioner of donor communications, wrote, "Your newsletter is the single best way I know to deliver extraordinary experiences into every donor's home on a regular basis.” Three things stand out in those 21 words:
- Extraordinary experiences. These are not the photos from the latest gala or long profiles of board members. They are amazing stories that only were made possible because someone donated. If that someone was me, I’d be inclined to want to read about what I did.
- Into every donor’s home. I don’t have to go searching for these extraordinary experiences. They come to me. I may not read them the minute they arrive, but I can set them aside and read them later. They will wait for me—and then tell me good news: I made a difference!
- Regular basis. Frankly, newsletters seem to be afterthoughts these days. We send them out when we get around to it. Print newsletters that come so infrequently are like going to a restaurant every six months or so; I have to reacquaint myself with the menu every time. E-newsletters are more regular from some nonprofits, but for others, they too fall victim to the busyness of nonprofit employee life.
But when your newsletter is packed with extraordinary experiences and comes right to me on a regular basis, it’s like greeting an old friend. I want to sit down and catch up on the news—maybe not this minute, but soon.
Maybe I am romanticizing the lowly newsletter. I admit that I am an audience of one. But I find myself spending a lot more time these days thinking about why donor loyalty has declined so severely in the last decade or two. Yes, there is a great deal more competition for the charitable share of a wallet. Yes, skepticism of whether or not nonprofits do what they say is fueled by scandals and negative press. And yes, a large segment of people are more interested in doing charity rather than giving to charity.
But judging by my mailbox and inbox, there are a lot less extraordinary experiences coming regularly into my home. This old dog loves social media (well, some of it) and spends way too much time online. But that doesn’t mean I’m reading your website or Facebook page, or watching your videos on YouTube.
But bring the good news right to me? Now that’s worth noticing.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.