In theory, a newsletter can be a great way to engage with your donors. In reality, that doesn’t often happen 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.
The good news is you can create an engaging newsletter your donors will want to read. Here’s what you need to do.
Think about what your donors want
You need to include content that will interest your donors. Do you think your donors would rather read an article about your CEO receiving an award or one about Tina, a single mother who is having trouble making ends meet, but is grateful because thanks to your generous donors, she can get food for her family at the Westside Community food pantry?
The answer should be obvious. Your donors want to hear about how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community.
If you’re a larger organization, you could create different newsletters for different programs or one specifically for monthly donors.
A print newsletter is a must
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 email newsletters. I recommend a short email newsletter once or twice a month and one to four print newsletters a year.
Donors are more likely to see any communication that comes in the mail, as opposed to the excessive volume of email most of us get.
Follow the Domain Formula, which was developed by the Domain fundraising group. A couple of things they recommend is to send your print newsletter only to donors and to put it in an envelope, not send it as a self-mailer.
They also recommend putting a donation envelope in your print newsletter. This is a proven way to raise additional revenue 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 it once or twice a year. You can print them in-house, as long as it looks professional.
Be sure you have a clean mailing list. If you can get rid of duplicate and undeliverable addresses, that’s another way to save a little money.
Remember, 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.
Give some thought to your email newsletter
Your print and email newsletter are separate entities. Therefore, you shouldn’t email people a PDF of your print newsletter. Use an email service provider and a newsletter template to create the best experience for your readers.
Send your email newsletter to anyone who signed up for it and only to people who signed up to receive it. This can be both donors and non-donors. It could be a good cultivation tool for future donors. Give people ample opportunities to sign up for your email newsletter, but understand not everyone will want to receive it.
Use an engaging headline (not April newsletter) so you can stand out in your donor’s inbox and be sure people can read it on a mobile device.
Share your stories
Stories are the most important part of a nonprofit newsletter (print and email). Each newsletter needs to begin with a compelling story. If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell.
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 stories to use every year.
Don’t stray 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 your clients/community?
For example – This generous $50,000 grant from the Westside Community Foundation will help us serve more students in our tutoring program. Many students have fallen behind since the pandemic started and are struggling to catch up.
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 Jennifer Davis, Vice President of First National Bank, to our board. Jennifer 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 Tina feed her family or Because of donors like you, X number of families have been able to get healthy food every week.
Leave out 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. If you feel you must include one of these, be sure to thank your donors.
Pour on the gratitude
Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors. You couldn’t do your work without them. 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 email 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 some color, as well as tell a story in an instant.
Use the inverted pyramid and put the most important story first (client story or profile), keeping in mind your donors may not get to all the articles.
Keep it short
Your print newsletter should be no more than four pages. Limit your monthly email newsletter to three articles. Some organizations send an email newsletter twice a month. Those should be even shorter – maybe just two articles. People have a lot going on and don’t want to be bombarded with too much information.
Shorter, more frequent updates, are often better.
Do the best you can, but do something
For some of you, putting together a newsletter may be too much to take on. You don’t have to do an actual newsletter, but you do need to keep your donors updated.
Do what you can, but be sure to update your donors at least once a month. You may find you have more success with shorter, more frequent email updates and postcards with an infographic a few times a year. You could also send a Donor Care Letter.
Take time to create a great newsletter that will engage your donors.