You should be creating a donor newsletter. Because they’re a love letter to your donors.
I had the opportunity to talk with a couple of executive directors who are working with a friend of mine, Jenny Mitchell.
Both were interested in the how-to of an annual giving program. I found myself mentioning newsletters often.
Yes, appeals. Yes, great thanks.
But newsletters… newsletters are the trifecta: you get to thank donors, inform them about what their gifts are doing, and even ask for their help again.
And all of that can be presented in a way that’s valuable to donors. Something they see as a benefit.
So is it right for you?
Well, probably. Do you have individual donors?
Do you want to keep them?
While there are some beautiful examples of donor newsletters out there (see Nashville Rescue Mission and Merchants Quay), you can start with not-fancy and still succeed.
I did years ago.
I was working for a small to medium organization at the time. I got the go-ahead from the boss to try this new idea I’d read about. (Probably something from Tom Ahern. He wrote the book on donor newsletters. No, really. You can find it here.)
I did it all myself, in-house. The design was a template in Publisher, tweaked a little to work for me. The name was crowd-sourced among my friends.
We did have some nice photos – but since this was a parks organization, mostly of… parks. I had to search for people’s pictures. (We humans will almost always be more interested in pictures of people than of things or places.)
I wrote it and put it together, printed it on the office copier (making my colleagues a bit unhappy on printing day), then stuffed and mailed it.
The newsletter – even the first one – brought in more donations than our appeals had.
Obviously, our donors liked this idea.
I think yours would, too.
There’s a formula that was tested by the Domain Group years ago. They studied newsletters, and come up with a format and formula that worked.
- Four pages. (Take an 11 x 17 page, fold it in half, then thirds.)
- Include a response form and return envelope
- Mail it in a #10 envelope
If you remember one thing today, make it this:
The newsletter is not about you.
The most important thing – and the thing too many newsletters miss: make it all about donors. This is NOT a PR piece!
You are writing to show donors what their gifts have accomplished. You are not writing to pat yourselves on the back. The credit goes to them.
Then follow Tom Ahern’s advice to make it something donors will read.
Start with the most important parts
Give the most attention to headlines, decks (sub-heads), images, and captions. Many people (most) will not read the articles. If the articles look interesting, they’ll skim. So be sure it’s all very easy to skim.
Many people (most) will not read the articles. If the articles look interesting, they will probably skim. So be sure it’s all very easy to skim.
Write headlines with your donors in mind.
Use “you” – not just because it’s a magic word that grabs eyeballs. Working “you” into your headlines changes your thinking and focus.
Use action verbs. The headline needs to be descriptive, but also captivating. Action does that.
(If there isn’t a verb, it isn’t a headline. So “Our new building” is not a headline.)
Tom suggests this test: cover the article copy and ask someone who doesn’t know your organization if they can tell what the article is about. If they don’t get it, rewrite it.
Your deck – a sort of second headline – can be a little longer than the headline. It can elaborate and explain the headline.
Search for great photos.
Our eyes are always drawn to photos. That’s even more true when a pair of eyes stare back at us from the page.
(Funny how we’re wired, isn’t it? Even on a page, eyes get our attention. Maybe it’s “is that thing going to eat me?” in our lizard brains…)
So the best photo is one person, looking into the camera.
(Please, never use the “big check” picture! They are criminally boring. You don’t want to be boring, right?)
But what if photos are a problem for privacy reasons?
Take a cue from MQI. It’s not always easy, but you can find compelling images that don’t put your subject at risk.
Captions or it didn’t happen.
Another rule: every photo needs a caption. If there’s no caption, the photo doesn’t have context. (Remember that you can’t expect people will read the article.)
Articles still matter.
None of the attention you’ll give to the previous aspects of the newsletter means you can ignore the articles. While many will skim at best, some will read.
(And the people who read everything are probably the people you care most about.)
You’re not writing essays here. 150 – 300 words usually cover it. In fact, it may be harder to distill what you want to say into a snackable few words.
Lisa Sargent, who writes the wonderful newsletter from MQI, suggests you vary the article length. Some can be longer, some just quick snippets of information.
Either way, keep the copy moving. That means a lower grade level: shorter words, shorter sentences, easy to understand, and skim.
Also, the format for speed-reading: is large enough, in a serif font, with enough space between lines. (Lisa suggests 11 point type with 13-point leading – that’s the space between lines.)
Tell people what they’re getting up front: use a brief “contents” on the front page to tell people what they’ll find inside.
Design tips from a non-designer
I know you could easily get lost in the design of this newsletter. And if you don’t have access to a designer, you might want to give up. You can find templates for many applications and adjust them to suit. It’s helpful if the newsletter is obviously your organization’s – your logo, your colors if you have them.
Don’t. You can find templates and adjust them to suit. But it’s helpful if the newsletter is obviously your organization’s – your logo, your colors if you have them.
But if you can afford it, do ask a designer to create a template for you – it’s worth the expense.
Whatever you do, keep it easy to read. Sometimes designers treat text as just another visual element.
Keep the easy reading front of mind. Remember that if readers have to work – well, they won’t.
Newsletters should be a treat.
You want your newsletter to be something your donors look forward to. Help them by giving it a good name. Then create a strong masthead. Include a description that tells donors this publication is for them.
Then build gratitude into everything you write. Thank, thank, thank. The entire publication should be filled with “this is what your gifts did!” and “we’re so grateful to you!”
This isn’t just the facts, ma’am reporting, either. Don’t hold back on the emotion. Donors give because of it. They want their generous impulse to be validated by your news. “I did something wonderful!”
Gratitude and asks go hand-in-hand.
Part of helping donors feel great is encouraging them to give again – and feel wonderful again.
So don’t be afraid to ask. But the ask is softer here – this isn’t primarily a solicitation. Show them the good they do with a gift. Then make it clear that the need continues.
Donors like to solve problems. Unless your organization’s problem (mission) is solved, it’s more than fine to continue to show donors the part they can play in solving it.
Then including a response form and an envelope makes giving convenient if they choose to give. (I also included a quick request for feedback on the back of the response card. Sometimes I got that instead of a gift – still good!)
Who gets your newsletter?
It stops being much of a donor benefit if you mail to non-donors. And those non-donors will probably understand they’re not the audience and tune out.
So create this for and send this to donors. You can stretch the “current” definition a little.
Don’t exclude your monthly donors just because there’s an ask inside! Ditto your major gift donors. While I didn’t intend my newsletter as a solicitation for those groups, I found some donors sent second or third gifts.
And that makes perfect sense: your monthly donors, your larger donors… they care – a lot. So when offered the opportunity to help again, they may do just that. Just be sure not to gloss over their status when thanking them. Let them know their “over and above” giving is a wow.
If you’re not already doing a newsletter, it is really worth a test.
If you are sending one, but it’s not performing for you, I urge you to take advantage of some of the resources in this article. Read Tom’s book. Read what Lisa and Jeff Brooks have to say about creating a great newsletter. Read about what Michelle Sanders Brinson has created at Nashville Rescue Mission.
Newsletters are great.
Don’t miss the opportunity to make your donors feel loved and needed.
Photo credit: Big check – By Virginia State Parks staff (The big check! Uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Jayne Cravens says
I respect that this is seen as a newsletter for cash-donating-donors only. But I really think it should go to current volunteers as well. Because you are writing what their gifts have accomplished as well, and it will not only make them feel better about their very valuable time that they are donating to the org, it’s very likely to cultivate them as cash donors. It turns them into even stronger advocates for all you do.
Mary Cahalane says
I don’t disagree, Jayne! We ought to think of volunteers as donors, too. And I do think they might find value in this as well.
What probably doesn’t work is trying to use a donor newsletter as an acquisition appeal.