Why a donor newsletter?
For much of the past decade, I worked for nonprofits that are on the smaller side.
We needed maximum results from minimal staff.
I’m always on the look-out for great ideas that I can copy, DIY-style. So it’s fortunate that I’ve been a fan of Tom Ahern and his e-newsletter for so long.
He turned me on to this tested format, developed by the Domain Group in Seattle. (The Domain Group was acquired by Merkle in 2005.)
Domain created and tested a newsletter formula – something most smaller nonprofits have neither the time, money or numbers to do.
So I swiped the model.
And you should, too. Because it works!
Donor newsletters are useful as a retention tool. Reporting back to your donors is an important part of your stewardship efforts.
Your newsletter should focus on what your donor has accomplished by supporting your organization. It should confirm your donor’s decision to give to you in the first place.
You do that by using the newsletter to make your donor feel GREAT.
I think of the newsletter as one great big thank you/love note. It is NOT about your organization. It IS about your donor. (How many times have I said that already? It still bears repeating!)
It’s also a useful way to inform your donor. But be careful here – make sure it’s information the donor wants, not just what you want to tell her!
Here’s the format, as described by Tom:
The Domain Formula demonstrated that newsletters could produce significant revenue as well as good will. Key features of the formula include:
- Page count: no more than 4 pages (in tests, adding more pages did not produce more revenue)
- Article length: short
- Write for skimmers (i.e., requires professional quality headlines)
- Send in a #10 envelope, not as a self-mailer
- Include a separate reply device
- Don’t get distracted: be fully donor-committed. Send only to your donors. You have to talk to a single target audience
- Make the voice personal (the word “you” dominates) rather than institutional; get intimate
- Focus on “accomplishment reporting” (tell donors how much they have changed the world through their gifts)
I didn’t get too hung up on this. Truth be told, I used a canned layout in Publisher. I changed the colors to match the organization’s, added a logo, and got on to the important stuff. It wasn’t particularly well-designed. But it was very effective.
If you’re particularly good at design and have the time, go for it. But otherwise, don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.
Create the template for a tabloid-size piece of paper. That’s an 11 x 17 sheet. (You know, that drawer on the very bottom of your office copier?)
When it’s printed on both sides, you’ll fold it in half, and then in thirds. It will fit nicely in a #10 envelope.
Start with pictures
While the calendar may drive some story ideas, I start with pictures. What great shots do I have that might tell a story of my donor’s impact? I look for a story right in the picture. I also look for (as Tom puts it) “eyes and teeth” – that is, someone smiling right into the camera. We can’t help it – we’re hardwired to look at that!
I look for a story right in the picture. I also look for (as Tom puts it) “eyes and teeth” – that is, someone smiling right into the camera. We can’t help it – we’re hardwired to look at that!
(Oh and please? NO big check pictures. And while I’m at it – no “letters from the Executive Director”. Sorry, but no one wants to read that.)
Once I find pictures, I start fitting them into the template. My newsletters generally have one or two stories on the front page, 4 or 5 inside, and another couple on the back.
Write the headlines
This is so important!
As much time as you may spend on writing each article, this headline may be all they skim. So make it very easy to skim! Use action verbs. Get “you” in there. And keep it short. Use a subhead if you need to explain a little more. But ideally, your donor will get the idea just from your headline.
Write the picture captions
This is the other item your donor is likely to look at – especially if the picture is a grabber.
Make it good. But not just descriptive! This is your chance to get your message across. It could also be a great opportunity for a call to action. It’s a powerful piece of the newsletter’s real estate. Use your power for good.
THEN write the articles
Keep this active and easy to read, too. You’ll find, after great pictures, captions and headlines, that you don’t actually have much room. But that’s good. It forces you to be concise. Make every word count!
Here’s what I found
When I started doing these, I created three newsletters a year. (At the end of the year I sent a thank you mailing, instead).
Our newsletters were an instant hit. (I know because our donors told me so!)
I was happily surprised by how many gifts they inspired. I found the newsletter could easily bring in more money than one of our appeals. (Yes, I did take that to mean the appeal needs work.)
They also generated many second and third gifts from a group of donors who were in the habit of giving only once a year. And additional gifts from our monthly donors!
It’s not hard to create a newsletter.
I started by printing what I’d done on our office copier. I’d fold and stuff them myself. It’s definitely a worthwhile DIY project.
But you might find that it does so well you can make a case for spending the money to have them printed and mailed.
You might need the time to send out more thank you letters!