A newsletter can be a great way to engage with your donors, but the key word here is can. How often does that actually happen? Unfortunately, not very much because most donor newsletters can be used as a cure for insomnia. They’re too long and filled with boring articles that brag about how wonderful the organization is.
It’s possible to create an engaging newsletter your donors will want to read. Here are a few ways to create a better nonprofit newsletter.
Think about what your donors want
You need to include content that will interest your donors. Do you think they would rather read an article about your CEO receiving an award or one about the Turner family moving into a home of their own after shuttling between motels and shelters? The answer should be obvious.
Your donors want to hear about how they’re helping you make a difference.
A print newsletter can be a good investment
You may opt not to do a print newsletter because it’s expensive and takes too much time, but you’re making a mistake if many of your donors prefer print.
I think you’ll have more success if you can do both print and electronic newsletters. I recommend a short e-newsletter once or twice a month and one to four print newsletters a year.
Many organizations put a donation envelope in their print newsletter. This is a proven way to raise additional money and you may be able to recoup your expenses.
You can also save money by creating a shorter print newsletter (maybe two pages instead of four) or only mailing once or twice a year. You can print them in-house, as long as it looks professional.
Donors are more likely to read a print newsletter. But ask them what they like, and listen to what they say. If a majority of them prefer print, then you need to find a way to accommodate them.
Each newsletter needs to begin with a compelling story. Client stories are best, but you could also do profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Focus on what drew them to your mission (more on that below).
Create a story bank that includes at least four client success stories to use every year.
Don’t veer away from your mission
A common article I see in many nonprofit newsletters is one about a foundation or major donor giving a large gift. This may be accompanied by a picture of someone holding a giant check. Of course, you should recognize these donors (and all donors), but why is this gift important? How will it help the people you serve. For example – This generous $50,000 grant from the Helping Hands Foundation will allow us to buy much-needed new computers for our afterschool program.
Something else I see a lot is a profile of a new board member. Instead of focusing so much on their professional background, let your donors know what drew them to your organization. We welcome Jane Simpson, Vice President of the Lewis Company, to our board. Jane has a brother with autism and is very passionate about finding ways for people with autism to live independent lives.
Write to your donors
Write your newsletter in the second person, emphasizing you much more than we. Be personal and conversational. Say – You helped the Turner family move into a home of their own or Because of donors like you, X number of families have been able to move out of shelters and into their own homes.
Leave out the jargon and other language your donors won’t understand. Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend.
I’m not a fan of the letter from the CEO because those tend to be organization-centered instead of donor-centered.
Show some #donorlove
Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors. Every one of your newsletters needs to show gratitude and emphasize how much you appreciate your donors.
Make it easy to read (and scan)
Most of your donors aren’t going to read your newsletter word for word, especially your e-newsletter. Include enticing headlines and email subject lines (if you don’t, your donors may not read it at all), at least a 12-point font, and lots of white space so your donors can easily scan your newsletter.
Stick to black type on a white background as much as possible. Colors are pretty, but not if it’s hindering your donor’s ability to read your newsletter. Photos can be a great way to add color, as well as tell a story in an instant.
Use the inverted pyramid and put the most important story first (client success story or profile), keeping in mind your donors may not get to all the articles.
Very important – make sure your donors can read your e-newsletter on a mobile device.
Keep it short
Your print newsletter should be no more than four pages. Limit your monthly e-newsletter to four articles. Some organizations send an e-newsletter twice a month. Those should be even shorter – two or three articles.
You may find you have more success with shorter, more frequent email updates.
Send it to the right audience
Fundraising expert Tom Ahern recommends sending your print newsletter only to donors. This can help you keep it donor-centered, as well as cut down on mailing costs.
Send e-newsletters only to people who have signed up for it. They may or may not be donors, but an e-newsletter can also be a good cultivation tool. Quality is more important than quantity. Not everyone will want to sign up for your newsletter and that’s okay. Focus on the people who are interested in it.
If you’re a larger organization, you could create different newsletters for different programs or one specifically for monthly donors.
Create a better newsletter that your donors will want to read.
Read on for more information on how to create a great donor newsletter.