How You Can Create a Better Nonprofit Newsletter

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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.

Share stories

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.

How to show your donors they matter

HOW TO MAKE NONPROFIT NEWSLETTERS THAT ENGAGE AND ENCOURAGE

7 Nonprofit E-Newsletter Best Practices

3 Pitfalls of Nonprofit Newsletters and How to Avoid Them

Image by Petr Sejba www.moneytoplist.com

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It Takes More Than Luck to Keep Your Donors

422810636_b02ba5dfed_m.jpgDonor retention rates continue to be poor, especially for first-time donors. Donors don’t keep magically donating to your organization and you can’t hope you’ll get lucky and they’ll donate again. You need more than luck to keep your donors.

Pay attention to your donor retention

Many organizations spend all this time and energy on acquiring donors, concentrating more on volume and don’t seem to be concerned that they’re churning through different donors year after year.

If you don’t know your retention rate, figure that out now. A Guide to Donor Retention  If you ’re losing donors, it’s most likely because you’re either not communicating enough or communicating poorly. Fortunately, this is something you can fix, but it will take more than leprechauns granting wishes. If you want to keep reaching that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, you’ll need to work at it.

When figuring out your retention rate, you’ll find you have some lapsed donors. Take some time to reach out and let them know you miss them and want them back.

You need good donor relations

Donor relations should be easier than raising money, and it can be fun, too. Make it a priority, as well as something you do throughout the year.

The biggest hurdle is getting your first-time donors to donate again, so do something special for your new donors like sending them a welcome packet.

That said, don’t take your longer-term donors for granted. Send them a welcome back letter. I’ve donated to several organizations for a number of years, and it bothers me when they don’t acknowledge that.

Donor loyalty is also important

Your goal should be to have high-quality donors who will support you for a long time. Who has supported you for three, five, or even ten years? Go the extra mile for these loyal donors. This takes more work, but it will pay off in the long run. You don’t want to lose these valuable donors.

Keep building relationships

You may be between fundraising campaigns or events. It’s easy to get complacent right now, but don’t do that. You need to work on building relationships. Let your donors know how much you appreciate them and keep doing that again and again.

It takes more than luck to keep your donors. You need to show appreciation and stay in touch throughout the year. You could reach out now by using a St. Patrick’s Day or spring theme, or get inspired by one of the ideas in the links below.

12 Ways to Inspire and Delight Your Donors…With Examples!

The K.I.S.S. Method For Donor Retention Is Best For Most Nonprofits

Get Ready to Show Some #DonorLove

Break Free From Your Generic Communication

4002324674_cc8c5b9d3e_zHow many times have you received an appeal or thank you letter that never mentions your past giving or that you’re a monthly donor? All you get is a generic, one-size-fits-all letter that doesn’t acknowledge who you are. Chances are most of the other donors of that organization are getting the exact same letter.

This happens way too often and it’s a problem. Your donors aren’t the same, so they shouldn’t all get the same letter. Another problem is these letters continue with the generic theme by using vague language and even worse – jargon.

Break free from your generic communication and create something more personal. Here’s how.

Segment your donors

Segment your donors into different groups as much as you can. At the very least, create different letters for new donors, repeat donors, and monthly donors. You can also personalize letters to lapsed donors, event attendees, volunteers, etc.

Strengthen Your Donor Segmentation: 7 Successful Strategies

4 SIMPLE DONOR SEGMENTS THAT WILL MAXIMIZE YOUR FUNDRAISING EFFORTS

Thank your donors for their previous gifts and/or upgrades. Speaking of upgrades, many organizations don’t ask donors to increase their gifts because they’re sending everyone the same, generic letter. If you don’t ask, you most likely won’t receive. One reason (among many) to segment your donors is it can help you raise more money.

You can craft an appeal like this – Thank you so much for your donation of $50 last year. Could you help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75 or even $100? This way we can help more homeless families find housing.

Also, giving donors the amount of their last gift helps them out. Donors are busy and give to other organizations besides yours. They may not remember what they’ve given before.

Although, even if you ask for an upgrade, it may not happen if you ignore your donors or only blast them with appeals. You need to practice good donor relations, too.

Top 10 Ways to Upgrade Nonprofit Donors

And let’s stop sending Dear Friend letters, as well. You’re not being a good friend if you don’t even use your donors’ names.

Yes, this will take more time, but it’s worth the investment. So is a good database to help you with this. Your donors will feel appreciated and may give you more money.

Generic language is uninspiring and confusing

If you’re bombarding your donors with vague, generic language or jargon, you’re going to bore and/or confuse them pretty quickly. Most of your donors don’t have a medical or social services background. They don’t use terms like food insecurity, at-risk populations, and underserved communities and neither should you.

Use language they’ll understand. Instead of talking about food insecurity, give an example of a family choosing between buying groceries and paying the heating bill. What you mean by at-risk or underserved?  Are high school students less likely to graduate on time? Do residents of a certain community not have good health care nearby? Get specific, but at the same time, keep it simple.

Deconstructing Your Jargon

Green Eggs and Ham. The quintessential primer for nonprofit donor communications.

Another way to burst past generic language and jargon is to tell stories. Most people respond better to a human-interest story than a bunch of boring statistics.

If You’re Making a Difference, You Have Stories to Tell

How you can do better

You may be between fundraising campaigns right now and have a little more time (or maybe not). If so, now is a good time to start segmenting your donors in your database, if you haven’t already done that. Also, segmenting your donors isn’t a one-time deal. Make changes if you need to. For example, some of your single-gift donors may have upgraded to monthly.

In addition, dust off those templates and freshen up your appeal letters and thank you letters. Create letter templates for different donor groups and replace your vague, generic language with something clear, conversational, and specific.

Have someone outside your organization, a friend or family member, look at your messages. Something that’s clear to you may mean nothing to others.

Take time to break free from your generic communication with something that will show your donors how much you appreciate them by recognizing who they are and giving them content they can relate to.

Rethinking Your Annual Report

99535218_fdfab8c28b_mWhat do you think of when you hear annual report? As a donor, you might think boring, long, a waste of resources, something I’m not going to read. As a nonprofit professional, you might think time-consuming, something we always do, something our board wants.

These are all negatives, but an annual report can be a positive experience for your donors and also doesn’t have to be something that’s going to stress you out when you put it together.

First, you don’t have to do an annual report, but you do have to share accomplishments with your donors. You might want to ditch the annual report and send short progress reports a couple of times a year or monthly e-updates instead.

If you decide to do an annual report, I encourage you to move away from the traditional multi-page one. Aim for something no longer than four pages.

Here are a few ways to rethink your annual report so you won’t put your donors to sleep and also make it a little easier for nonprofit staff.

Your annual report is for your donors

Keep your donors in mind when you create your annual report and include information you know will interest them.

You may want to consider different types of annual reports for different donor groups. You could send an oversized postcard with photos and infographics or a two-page report to most of your donors. Your grant and corporate funders might want more detail, but not 20 pages. See if you can impress them with no more than four pages.

Make it a gratitude report

Donors want to feel good about giving to your nonprofit. Think of this as a gratitude report. You may want to call it that instead of an annual report.

Focus on thanking your donors for their role in helping you make a difference. Get inspired by these examples that celebrate the donor.

Oregon Zoo Gratitude Report

What’s in my Mailbox | “Annual Report”…or “Gratitude Report?

How are you making a difference?

The theme of many annual reports is look how great we are. Are You Boring Your Donors By Bragging Too Much?

They also include a bunch of boring lists, such as the number of clients served. You need to share specific accomplishments that show how you’re making a difference.

Focus on the why and not the what. Something like this – Thanks to you, 85% of the students in our tutoring program have improved their reading skills and can now read at their grade level.

Phrases like Thanks to you and because of you should dominate your annual report.

Tell a story

Donors love to hear about the people they’re helping. You can tell a story with words, a photo, or a video. Share a success story.

For example –  Leah, a third grader at Turner Elementary School, hated reading. She struggled with the words and the worst was when she had to read out loud in class. “Sometimes the other kids tease me,” she said. “Why do we have to read books anyway.” Then Leah started meeting weekly with Julie, one of our volunteer tutors. It was a struggle at first, but thanks to Julie’s patience and encouragement, Leah’s doing much better with her reading. She even requested a book for her birthday.

Make it visual

Your donors are busy and don’t have a lot of time to read your report. Engage them with some great photos, which can tell a story in an instant. Choose photos of people participating in an activity, such as Julie helping Leah with her reading.

Use colorful charts or infographics to highlight your financials. This is a great way to keep it simple and easy to understand. Include some quotes and short testimonials to help break up the text.

Be sure your report is easy to read. Use at least a 12-point font and black type on a white background. A colored background may be pretty, but it makes it hard to read. You can, however, add a splash of color with headings, charts, and infographics.

Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend

Keep out the jargon. Most of your donors don’t use words like underserved or at-risk, and neither should you. Use everyday language such as – Because of you, we found affordable housing for over 100 homeless families. Now they no longer have to live in a shelter, a motel, or their cars and have a place to call home.

Write in the second person and use a warm, friendly tone. Use you much more than we.

Plan ahead

One problem with annual reports is organizations send them out months after the year is over and by that point the information is outdated.

Yes, putting together an annual report can be time-consuming. One way to make it easier is to set aside a time each month to make a list of accomplishments. This way you’re not racking your brain at the end of the year trying to come up with this list. You can just turn to the list you’ve been working on throughout the year.

You also want to create a story and photo bank and you can draw from those when you put together your annual report.

Of course, a shorter report or an infographic postcard will help ensure your 2018 report doesn’t arrive in your donor’s mailbox the following spring or later.

Rethink your annual report to make it a better experience for everyone. Read on for more information about creating a great annual report.

NONPROFIT ANNUAL REPORTS: 7 BEST PRACTICES [TEMPLATES]

7 Tips for Creating an Effective Nonprofit Annual Report

8 Annual Reports We Love


Get Ready to Show Some #DonorLove

32497267743_0b58581e37_mWhen was the last time you thanked your donors? I mean really thanked them. That lame, automatic thank you email you sent after your year-end appeal doesn’t cut it. And even if you were one of the few organizations who did a good job of thanking their donors, gratitude is not a one-time deal.

#DonorLove is a yearlong endeavor and with Valentine’s Day coming up, it’s a perfect opportunity to thank your donors and show how much you appreciate their support.

8 Top Ways to Send Nonprofit Donors Love on Valentine’s Day

12 Ways to Send Your Donors Love With a Valentine

Okay, I get it, maybe you would rather not to go for a Valentine’s Day theme, but you should still do something fun and creative to show appreciation this month (and every month). The holidays are over and it’s been a cold winter for many of us. We could all use a little mood booster right now.

This is also a good opportunity to keep in touch with the people who gave to your year-end appeal, especially first-time donors. If you haven’t shown any #DonorLove since your year-end appeal, then you must reach out soon.

Here are a few ways you can show some #DonorLove.

Create a thank you photo

Make your donor’s day with a great photo, like one of these.

Image result for pictures of people holding thank you signs

Image result for pictures of people holding thank you signs

You can send thank you photos via email and social media, use one to create a card, and include one on your thank you landing page.

Make a video

Videos are becoming an increasingly popular way to connect and you don’t need a Hollywood production team to create one. Here are some examples of thank you videos.

4 Inexpensive Examples of Saying Thank You With Video

A Thank You Video to Promote Donor Retention

Obviously, the purpose is to thank your donors. A simple video showing a bunch of people saying thank you will do the trick. You also want your video to be short, donor-centered, and show your organization’s work up close and personal.

Your thank you landing page is a perfect place to put a video (or a photo). This is your first opportunity to say thank you and most landing pages are just boring receipts. You can also put your thank you video on your website and share it by email and social media.

Send a card

A handwritten note will also brighten your donor’s day. If you don’t have the budget to send cards to everyone, send them to your most valuable donors. These may not be the ones who give you the most money. Do you have donors who have supported your organization for more than three years? How about more than five years? These are your valuable donors.

That said, I do think you should make every effort to send a card to ALL your donors. More on that below.

Share an update or success story

In addition to saying thank you, share a brief update or success story. Emphasize how you couldn’t have helped someone without your donor’s support. For example –Thanks to you, the Taylor family can move into a home of their own.

Phrases like Thanks to you or Because of you should dominate your newsletters and updates.

Thank you basics

Make this the year you do a better job of thanking your donors. Thank your donors right away and send a thank you note/letter or make a phone call. Electronic thank yous aren’t good enough.

Be personal and conversational when you thank your donors. Don’t use jargon or other language they won’t understand. Write from the heart, but be sincere. Give specific examples of how your donors are helping you make a difference.

Thanking your donors needs to be a priority

I’m a big proponent of communicating by mail, even if it’s only a few times a year. It’s much more personal. Yet, many nonprofits balk at spending too much on mailing costs.

If your budget doesn’t allow you to mail handwritten cards, is there a way you can change that? You may be able to get a print shop to donate cards. You could also look for additional sources of unrestricted funding to cover cards and postage.

Maybe you need a change of culture, and this comes from the top. Fundraising Consultant Pamela Grow recently gave an example of an organization that “is moving away from the 48-hour written thank you receipt letter to quarterly email thank you receipts” because the Executive Director thinks “most people just trash the letter without reading it.

This is wrong on so many levels and to quote Pamela, “you never get a second chance to make a great first impression.” You need to get your board, all staff (especially leadership), and volunteers invested and involved in thanking your donors. Leave a good lasting impression.

You can’t say thank you enough. Make a commitment to thank your donors at least once a month. Create a thank you plan to help you with this.

Keep thinking of ways to show some #DonorLove. Get creative.

10 Ways to Thank your Nonprofit Donors

Your Donors Want Stories, Not Baubles

How to Thank Donors — and Bring Them Closer to Your Cause

You don’t even need to wait for a holiday or special occasion. Just thank your donors because they’re amazing and you wouldn’t be able to make a difference without them.

Are You Shortchanging Your Donors?

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Your donors made a commitment to your organization by giving to you. Are you making the same commitment to them?

Donors have a choice. There are many nonprofits they could donate to, but they chose yours, along with others I’m sure.

Donors can also choose to stop giving to your organization and this could happen if you shortchange them by not giving them the recognition and appreciation they deserve.

Here are a few examples of ways you could be shortchanging your donors. Are you a guilty party?

Treating all donors the same

Your donors are not the same, yet many organizations send the same appeal and thank you letters to all their donors.

Don’t do that. At the very least, send different communication to new donors, current donors, and monthly donors. Welcome new donors, thank donors for their previous support, and acknowledge those ever so important monthly donors.

To take it a step further, get to know your donors better. A survey is a great way to do that. You could pop one in an e-newsletter or include one in the welcome packet you should be sending to new donors.

You can survey donors about what drew them to your organization, what issues are important to them, or what their communication preferences are. This way you can share information you know they’ll be interested in. Also, if you find out your donors don’t spend much time on social media and prefer email, you can concentrate your efforts there.

Some organizations allow donors to give to different initiatives. If you’re one of them, send communication specific to that program. For example, send one group an engaging update on early education and another something on childhood hunger.

Strengthen Your Donor Segmentation: 7 Successful Strategies

3 Examples of Nonprofit Donor Surveys

Not communicating enough

Funny how nonprofits go all out during appeal time and after that you hear almost nothing. You need to communicate throughout the year. Make a point to reach out to your donors between once a week and once a month. A communications calendar will help with this.

Some organizations do a good job of thanking and updating throughout the year. Others, not so much. Your donors were drawn to your organization because they’re interested in the work you do. Let them know how they’re helping you make a difference.

Find creative ways to stay in touch. One organization sent me a quiz by email, which was a great, interactive way to find out more about a certain issue.

Not communicating well

I could write an entire post about poor communication. Okay, maybe you have a newsletter, but it’s not very good. Yes, you thank your donors, but all you send is an organization-centered, generic email.

Thank your donors like you mean it. Share stories in your in your newsletter that your donors want to read (remember the survey I mentioned above). Ditch your jargon and write in a conversational style your donors will understand.

Another problem is getting bogged down in the details with a bunch of long-winded text. Get your donors interested right away. They’re busy and aren’t going to read a long, boring newsletter or annual report.

Short and more frequent is the way to go. If you email a short, and of course engaging, update every two weeks or so your donors shouldn’t get the impression you’re not interested in them.

You also want to communicate by mail periodically. You could write an amazingly personal email, but it’s so easy for that to get lost in your donor’s inbox. And what if you find out some of your donors don’t use electronic communication very often?

At the very least, make a point to send at least one non-ask piece by mail. One suggestion I like to recommend for organizations with tight mailing budgets is to spread the love throughout the year. Send a small number of handwritten notes or postcards each month ensuring that every donor gets one. Also, imagine their surprise when they get a note from you in May or September when they’re not expecting anything.

Your donors are important and they need to know that. Don’t shortchange them by treating them all the same, not communicating enough, and doing a poor job of communicating with them.

Are You Boring Your Donors By Bragging Too Much?

2614924934_df1befa254_mI’m sure you’ve been stuck in a conversation with someone who brags about all the wonderful things he’s done or talks too much about herself while ignoring you. As they drone on and on, you think – “Hey, I’m part of this conversation, too.”  

Imagine your donors having the same reaction when all your communication sounds like one big bragfest that’s all about your organization and doesn’t even acknowledge them. Then imagine all your hard work going to waste when your boring appeal or newsletter goes straight to the recycling bin.

Yes, you want to share your accomplishments, but you don’t want to annoy your donors by focusing too much on your organization. It’s possible to do this without bragging. Here’s how.

Be donor-centered

You don’t need to tell your donors your organization is great. They wouldn’t have given you money if they didn’t think highly of you.

Let your donors know they’re great because they helped you make a difference for the people or community you serve. Give specific examples. Because of donors like you, the Coleman family can move out of a shelter and into a home of their own.

All your communication should be donor or audience-centered. One way to ensure this is to use the word you more than we or us.

Why is it So Hard to be Donor-Centered?

Share a story

Telling a story is a great way to share accomplishments. Whether it’s in the first or third person, you can give a personal account of how you’re making a difference. Remember to focus on the people you serve and keep your organization in the background.

If You’re Making a Difference, You Have Stories to Tell

Photos and videos featuring the people you serve is another good way to share accomplishments.

Why is what you do important

Instead of the usual laundry list you see in annual reports, such as we served over X number of students in our tutoring program, focus on why that’s important, too. Students in our tutoring program are now reading at their grade level and have a better chance of graduating from high school on time.

Instead of focusing on what you do, let your donors know why it’s important.

Show don’t tell

Too many newsletters and annual reports ramble on about how an organization is number one in such and such, or there was a crisis and X organization came in to solve it.

Go back to stories and examples. You can’t ignore your organization altogether, but instead of saying we were the first organization to come in and help the flood victims or we’re the number one hospital in the community, say Thanks to you, Fuller county residents now have access to clean drinking water and can start rebuilding their homes after the devastating flood or Thanks to you, the Brookfield neighborhood has a new outpatient clinic so residents don’t have to travel far to see their health care providers.

How you made a difference is more important than being first or best.

Current donors want to see the results of their gift. Potential donors may be more interested in your reputation, but they also want to see how their donation will make a difference.

How to do better

Before you share accomplishments in an appeal letter, thank you letter, newsletter article, social media update, annual report, etc, ask yourself these questions:

-Is this donor/audience-centered?
-Are we focusing on the people/community we serve?
-Are we showing results?
-Are we saying why this is important?
-Are we bragging too much about ourselves?

Read on for more about the perils of bragging.

Bragging Versus Mission

Are you thanking donors, or just using the moment to brag?