Many organizations now use newsletters to communicate about their work. That’s good!
But I see so many organizations produce fancy pieces that aren’t doing their job. Do newsletters right and they can be a serious source of income – by delighting your donors. Miss the mark and you’re throwing money away.
So, inspired by my mailbox, here are some questions you should ask:
1. Is your newsletter a self-mailer?
Are you trying to save money by making your newsletter a self-mailer? You may actually be losing money. Mail it in an envelope. Include a response card and return envelope.
2. Is there a letter from your CEO or board chair?
Unless your boss is a celebrity, your readers are not going to find the letter compelling. Remember, donors are reading for themselves. “Where am I in here?” will be their unconscious thought. Believe me, you can’t bore donors into submission.
3. Are your headlines really headlines?
As Tom Ahern points out in his terrific articles on newsletters (and his book), many newsletter headlines are not headlines at all. He suggests this test. Cover the story and leave the headline. Then ask someone not familiar with the organization what the article is about.
Try this: next supermarket trip, read the cover of the tabloids. Yes, I know they’re odious. But they know how to write a headline that gets attention.
4. Is the newsletter all about your organization?
Does that sound like a trick question? It’s not.
Make the newsletter about your donors and what they’ve made happen. Focus obsessively on that. Don’t be pulled off toward organizational horn-tooting. This piece is not about your organization! Your newsletter is all about your donors.
5. Do you address your donors?
Look for the word “you” throughout the piece, particularly in those headlines. You should see it often – even always. This isn’t a one to many communication – or shouldn’t be to each reader. It should feel like it’s directed to them alone.
6. Are you listing accomplishments?
I love a good to-do list – especially when I can check off a whole bunch of items. But you wouldn’t find my list quite as interesting.
Same with your donors. Instead of telling them what you’ve done, use stories to show them what they’ve done. Remember, it’s about them, not you.
7. Are your pictures boring?
Here’s one rule of mine: if you include a big check picture, you automatically lose.
But even if you don’t, what images are you using? Along with your headlines, those images will carry the weight of your newsletter. They grab the eye – so make them grab-worthy. That means each image tells a story. What story do your donors want?
8. Did you skip the caption?
If you have wonderful images but haven’t captioned them, you’ve missed the third great chance to engage people. Captions are the headlines to the story your photos tell. They explain where some explanation is needed. They pull people into the image.
9. Did you forget to ask for help?
Celebrate your donors’ accomplishments. But don’t forget to remind them how important their support is. It’s probably the oldest saying in fundraising, but if you don’t ask, you won’t receive. And if donors don’t know they’re needed, most won’t raise their hands.
Build your ask in throughout the newsletter. Remind donors there is more work to be done. Ask them to stay with you. Ask them to give.
10. Is your marketing department in charge of the donor newsletter?
Your newsletter is for donors. So your fundraising staff needs to be in charge of this publication.
This isn’t an exercise in promoting your organization. Need to make that case? Here is it: don’t let the funding opportunity be squandered! Make sure you’re working toward that one goal – donors. Thanking donors, encouraging their interest, asking for more help.
Newsletters can be great for your organization.
There’s actually a tested formula that works. (See also Jeff Brooks memories from the Domain formula’s creation.) Use it and your newsletter should both please your donors and help your bottom line.
Put the resources into it, because it could become very important!
Years ago, I introduced a very “homemade” newsletter to the organization I worked for. Our donors loved it. How did I know? It was soon bringing in more gifts than our appeals had. And it was generating second and third gifts from our donors – including monthly donors!
Do you want to see what happens when an organization goes all in? Read about Michelle Brinson’s organization, Nashville Rescue Mission.
If you haven’t added a print newsletter to your mix, you should think about it.
You can do it – even with a small organization and sparse resources. Try it and let me know how it goes!
Photo by Ryan McGuire