Make Your Newsletter a Moneymaker
Last week, I jumped on my soapbox and made a plea for a recommitment to the newsletter—what Tom Ahern referred to as “the single best way I know to deliver extraordinary experiences into every donor's home on a regular basis.” Some of you rolled your eyes (yeah, I know you did) and thought, “Does she have any idea what it costs to send out a newsletter?”
Yes, I do. But I also know that done right, a newsletter is a moneymaker for your organization. It’s a win-win—more net income and more opportunities to build loyal donors. In other words, a newsletter is one of the remedies we can apply to dwindling donor-retention rates. Done well, a newsletter can be a dollop of glue to bind your donors to the organization.
So what’s "well-done" in the parlance of a newsletter?
A well-done newsletter informs. The stories you put in your newsletter are packed with information the reader (donor) cares about. The reader can quickly see what has happened through the work of your organization. The donor puts it down with a mental image of what’s going on—out "in the field," which is what he or she cares about. It’s not about what’s happening inside the office; it’s what’s happening to accomplish the mission that the donor bought into when he or she made her donation.
A well-done newsletter gives credit to the donor. These same stories talk about what your staff is doing, but they never forget that the donor makes that possible. I’ve become a huge fan of "The Fundraising Paradox," a diagram put together by Mark Phillips, CEO of Bullfrog. (If you haven’t checked it out yet, do so; it is totally worth the time.) The bottom line is that of all the things donors want to know, and nonprofits want their donors to know, the one they come together on is: "How we helped solve a problem." Your newsletter is the perfect place to show and tell how the donor and your organization together made a difference. Need is what raises money, but donors have needs, too—they need to know that the money they gave wasn’t wasted. That’s an important newsletter job.
A well-done newsletter challenges. Donors deserve to know the scope of the problem and the obstacles you face. They may not fully understand a situation and so aren’t ready to give to support it—yet. Your newsletter can give them the bigger picture and help them both understand what the need is—and how your organization can help meet it. Over time, you can remove barriers to giving as you gently educate your readers by mixing in some articles or factoids that help present the bigger picture.
A well-done newsletter asks. Yes, the donor—partnering with you—helped solve a problem, but there is still more to be done. That’s the message of your newsletter. “Mary has hope now, thanks to you and the proven work of XYZ organization. But every day, there are many other people who are still hoping, desperately needing the same kind of help Mary received. Your ongoing support will make it possible for us to be there with the same kind of life-changing assistance that Mary received.” Then be sure to include an option to give to that need on the reply form; otherwise, you are missing an opportunity to let your donors respond to something that moved them enough to want to give.
A well-done newsletter shows up. All the above is useless unless we commit to regularly delivering a newsletter to a donor’s inbox and mailbox. The sad reality is that most of our donors don’t think about our organizations very often. They love us, sure, but are busy with their own jobs and lives. So, our job is to make sure we get some of their mental bandwidth by putting something in front of them that reminds them of how they are solving problems with the relatively simple act of making a donation. Don’t expect donors to get all excited about the e-newsletters that arrive less often than a utility bill, or a print newsletter that shows up just once or twice a year. Donors deserve information, and they deserve to have it provided to them as a means of thanking them for their support.
This old dog has found that expecting donors to seek out information on their own and then consume it is assuming our donors have no one and nothing in their lives except us. While that may be true for some, the majority are busy, active people. We have to interrupt life and show them that the interruption is worth stopping for a minute. By giving our supporters something to look forward to in our newsletters, we add another important layer of glue to help hold together the important relationships we have with our funders and partners.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.