Is Your Newsletter Boring?

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There’s a good chance the answer to this question is yes. Many nonprofit organizations use a newsletter as a way to engage their donors, but the opposite is happening. That’s because most donor newsletters can be used as a cure for insomnia. They’re too long and filled with articles that brag about how wonderful the organization is.

Don’t worry. You can create an engaging newsletter your donors will want to read. Here’s how.

Think about what your donors want

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. But ask your donors what they like, and listen to what they say. If a majority of them prefer one over the other, then doing both may not make sense.

You also want 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 Jacob acing his math test after his weekly tutoring sessions? The answer should be obvious.

Your donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference.

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.

Create a story bank that includes at least three client success stories to use every year.

Write to your donors

Write your newsletter in the second person, emphasizing you much more than we. Be personal and conversational. Say – You helped Jacob improve his math skills or Because of donors like you, X number of students are now reading at their grade level or above.

Ditch 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.  

Say thank you

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, 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, 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.

Short and sweet

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 guru 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.

Let’s put an end to boring newsletters. Create one your donors will want to read.

Read on for more information about donor newsletters.

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How to Format Your Nonprofit Newsletter

Photo by Dwight Sipler

 

Can Your Organization Pass the Donor-Centered Test?

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I recently received a newsletter from an organization that focused mainly on themselves, then their clients, and then barely mentioned their donors. There’s no question this organization does good work, but their newsletter failed the donor-centered test. Unfortunately, they’re not the only guilty culprits.

The term donor-centered is pretty self-explanatory. It means focusing on your donors’ needs and interests, acknowledging them in your letters and other communication, and taking into account that not all donors are the same.

Can your organization pass the donor-centered test? Take a few minutes to find out.

Fundraising Appeals

  • Are your fundraising appeals focused too much on your organization – rambling on about how great you are?  Your organization may be great, but let your donors figure that out. Your donors are the ones who are great, and they want to hear how they can help you make a difference for the people/community you serve.
  • Are your appeals segmented to the appropriate audience? Thank past donors or reference your relationship to a potential donor. Maybe they’re event attendees, volunteers, or friends of board members.
  • Are your appeals addressed to a person and not Dear Friend?
  • Are your appeals vague, impersonal, and filled with jargon your donors won’t understand?  Don’t say we’re helping underserved members of the community. A donor-centered appeal would say something like – With your support, we can help low-income families find affordable housing.
  • Do your appeals make people feel good about donating to your organization?

Thank you letters

  • Do your thank you letters come across as transactional and resemble a receipt? Yes, you need to acknowledge the donation is tax deductible, etc, but most donors are more concerned about how their gift made a difference.
  • Do your thank you letters (or better yet, a handwritten note) shower your donors with love?  Start your letter with You’re amazing or Thanks to You!, and not On behalf of X organization.
  • Are you telling your donors the impact of their gift?  For example – Thanks to your generous donation of $50, a local family can get a box of groceries at the Southside Community Food Bank.
  • Do you recognize each donor?  Is this the first time someone has donated?  If someone donated before, did she increase her gift?  Acknowledge this in your letter/note.

Newsletters

  • Do your newsletters sound self-promotional and focus on all the wonderful things your organization is doing instead of showing your donors how they’re helping you make a difference?
  • Is your newsletter written in the second person?  Write to the donor and use the word you more often than we. How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?  BTW, all your donor communication should be written in the second person. It’s much more personal.
  • Does your newsletter include success stories, engaging photos, and other content your donors want you to share?
  • Are you using the right channels?  Perhaps you only send an e-newsletter, but some of your donors prefer print.
  • Are you showing gratitude to your donors in your newsletter?

Always think of your donors first

Use these test questions on other donor communication such as annual reports (these are rarely donor-centered), your website, and social media posts.

How did you do?

Be sure the messages you send to your donors focuses on them and makes them feel special. Staying donor-centered can help you build relationships and keep your retention rate from plummeting.

Read on for more information on how to be donor-centered.

A donor-centered organization, your donors, & relationship building

How to Create a Donor-Centered Fundraising Letter

 

How to Create a Better Annual Report

19523182406_27b919a580_zIt’s annual report season, for better or for worse. Often it’s for worse since many of them are long, boring booklets that put your donors to sleep.

You don’t have to do an annual report, but you do need to share accomplishments with your donors. You may opt to nix 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. These take a lot of time to produce and there’s no guarantee your donors will read it. Aim for something no longer than four pages.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you create a better annual report.

Your annual report is for your donors

It’s not for your board and you don’t have to do it the same way you’ve always done it – no more massive, boring booklets.

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 dazzle them with no more than four pages.

One way to shorten your annual report is to not include a donor list. The Annual Report Donor List is a Stupid Waste of Time If you feel you must have one, put it in on your website.

Show your donors how much you appreciate them

Donors want to feel good about giving to your nonprofit. Think of this as a gratitude report.

Focus on thanking your donors for their role in helping you make a difference. Get inspired by some of these examples from Agents of Good. Annual/Gratitude Reports 

How are you making a difference?

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

They also include a bunch of boring lists, such as number of clients served, You need to share specific accomplishments that show how you are 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 are reading at or above their grade level and now have a better chance of graduating from high school on time.

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 – Jeremy, a fourth grader at Clark Elementary School, used to get a pit in his stomach if he had to read aloud in class. He struggled with the words and hoped no one would laugh at him. Now after weekly tutoring sessions with Kevin, one of our volunteer tutors, his reading is much better and he doesn’t dread reading time.

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 Kevin helping Jeremy with his reading.

Use colorful charts or infographics to highlight your financials. This is a great way to keep it simple and easy to understand. Sprinkle in quotes and short testimonials to help break up any 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.

Write as if you’re having conversation with friend

Go jargon-free. Most of your donors don’t use words like underserved or at-risk, and neither should you. Use everyday language such as – With your help, 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. Of course, use you much more than we.

For more information on creating a better annual report, I encourage you to take time to watch Kivi Leroux Miller’s great webinar Go Short with Your Annual Report

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in Year-End Fundraising – Part Two

In my last post, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in Year-End Fundraising – Part One, I gave examples of how organizations thanked me, welcomed me as a new donor, and recognized my monthly gifts after I gave my year-end donations. In many cases, I didn’t receive anything except a boring, email thank you acknowledgment. With a little extra effort, you can do better than that.

In this post, I’ll give you the good, the bad, and the ugly of how organizations are staying in touch since I made my donations at the end of November. I know it’s only been about six weeks, but organizations should reach out at least once or twice a month in ways in which they are not asking for money. Here’s some of what I’ve received so far.

Holiday greetings

One organization sent an email holiday greeting with pictures of cute kids, a link to a great video, and no donation request. I’ve included the link to their video because I think it does a nice job of capturing what the organization does in two minutes. You could do something like that, too.

Three other organizations sent email holiday greetings. Another was combined with an ask. A couple of organizations sent holiday cards with donation envelopes. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. Sending holiday greetings is a great way to reach out. Don’t ruin the moment with a donation request.

A couple of organizations wished me a Happy New Year and sent a New Year’s update. Some sent New Year’s and year-end thank yous. One large organization sent an email handwritten thank you note.

Thank you so much for your year-end donation to the Sierra Club. During the past two months, you and hundreds of thousands of grassroots supporters have stood up -- and we're now more than 2.5 million strong. This year, we'll be facing unprecedented attac

Yes, it’s somewhat impersonal, but it would have been impossible to send actual handwritten notes to 2.5 million supporters.

Holidays and different times of the year are a great way to connect. Find creative ways to say thank you and update your donors on Valentine’s Day, St.Patrick’s Day, the first day of spring, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.

Getting donors involved

I donated to several social justice organizations. Some are keeping in touch with regular updates and advocacy alerts. Encouraging people to contact their legislators about important issues is another great way to engage without asking for donations.

Two organizations just sent short, five-question surveys by email. One asked what issues are most important to me and the other was a combination of questions about issues and gathering some personal information. This is yet another great way to connect, and you could also ask questions about communication preferences –  Do your donors prefer print, email, social media, or a combination of those?

The key is to keep your surveys short. Those five questions took no time to complete.

All or nothing

Speaking of print communication, I do think organizations should communicate by mail a few times a year. Some smaller organizations don’t use direct mail because they think it’s too expensive. This is a mistake. Your donors are more likely to see a print piece than an email or social media message.

Larger organizations don’t have a problem with print communication; the problem lies in what they’re sending. It’s unlikely I’m going to read your wordy 10-page newsletter, so you might want to bump that down to four pages or make it very visual with photos and infographics. One of the new organizations I donated to sends a bi-monthly magazine, which I just skimmed through.

Remember, your donors are busy, and less is more. Handwritten notes, postcards, and two to four-page newsletters and annual reports are great. Anything longer than that may go directly in the recycling bin. 

Also, give some thought to the content. Include donor-centered updates filled with gratitude. And, make sure it’s easy to read. That teal background may be pretty, but it makes it hard to read. So do does your small font.

Another donation so soon

By far the most communication I’ve received in the last six weeks were additional donation requests with no indication that I had donated recently. I know the end of December is the busiest time of the year for fundraising and sending multiple fundraising requests to people who haven’t given yet is necessary. But what about the people who have already given their year-end gift?

Try to personalize these requests. Either don’t send one to people who have already given or include a thank you to those people. A couple of more palatable ways organizations asked for an additional donation this year was to request one on behalf of someone as a holiday gift or to give a specific need. For example, one organization cited a recent fire that left 32 families homeless.

Otherwise, it looks like you’re treating your donors as if they’re money machines when you send a continuous stream of impersonal donation requests. The Worst End-of-Year Email of 2016  Give some thought to your year-end requests and intersperse them with holiday greetings, thank you messages, and engaging updates.

While I’ve seen examples of good, bad, and ugly communication, I should add another category – nonexistent. Some organizations aren’t communicating at all, and if that continues you’re not making a good impression.

I’ll write another post in a couple of months to see how these organizations continue to communicate with me.

 

What You Can Learn from Your Donors

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Do you know why your donors give to your organization? Most likely they feel a connection to your cause. Most of us are good people and we want to help others.

I’m very upset about the results of the recent U.S. presidential election, which prompted me to donate to organizations that will help people/communities who will be left behind in the next administration.

There’s no question that nonprofit organizations do good work, but as a donor, I feel that many aren’t good at communicating this or making a personal connection with me.  

You hear a lot about how important it is to be donor-centered, but organizations need to practice this. You need to think from your donors’ perspective. This is what’s important to us.

Why should I give to your organization?

Why is it important to give to your organization now?  It doesn’t matter to me that it’s your annual appeal, #GivingTuesday, or the end of your fiscal year. I want to hear how you’re helping people or the community.

I don’t want a bunch of boring statistics either. Tell me a story. Show me how I can help make a difference for someone or in the community.

I also don’t need to hear about how great your organization is. If I’m a current donor, I wouldn’t have supported you if I hadn’t thought highly of you.

Do you really know me?

I’m barraged with fundraising appeals, especially at the end of the year. Some of them are from organizations I support and others aren’t. There’s not much difference between them. Most are generic with no regard for who I am. I guess I expect that from organizations I don’t support.

But it bothers me when organizations I’ve supported for many years never acknowledge that. It’s not that hard to segment your letters or add a handwritten note.

I’m always thankful for the few organizations who take the time to be more personal.

Let me know that you appreciate my gift

The generic automatically generated thank you email doesn’t cut it. I need something better. Let me know how much you appreciate my gift.

If I’m a new donor, welcome me.  If I’ve given before, thank me for my continued support.  Surprise me with a phone call, handwritten note, or at the very least, a heartfelt letter. Say Thank You Like You Mean It

I made a number of first-time donations this year, many of them monthly gifts. I’m curious to see how many of these organizations welcome me and do anything special for monthly donors.

Use language I understand

I don’t use words like at-risk and underserved and neither should you. Your jargon is boring and makes me gloss over your letter. Instead of using the term food insecurity, tell me families have to choose between buying groceries or paying the heating bill. Use plain language to help me understand your messages.  10 plain English principles for writing better web content

This feels like a transaction

Many fundraising appeals focus more on the transaction than the relationship. Yes, you’re trying to raise money, but you should also try to build a relationship with me.

I make a majority of my donations on #GivingTuesday. I almost dread opening my email inbox because there’s a relentless stream of Donate Now messages.

As a donor, I like the idea of #GivingTuesday and I’m always happy if there’s an opportunity for a matching gift, but it’s very transactional, and that includes the thank you experience or lack there of.

Whether you participate in #GivingTuesday or not, please keep your relationship with me front and center.

Don’t ignore me

After I give a donation, I want you to stay in touch, and that doesn’t mean blasting me with appeals. Send me updates on how my gift is making a difference.

Very few organizations do that and do it well. I’m always grateful when I get an endearing update like the one in this post. Knock it Out of the Park

Remember, your donors give to your organization because they care about what you do. Show them that you care about them, as well.

Your Appeal is Just The Beginning

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Many of you are immersed in your year-end appeal, but if you think you can rest easy once the letters have gone out, think again. Your work has just begun.

In fact, what comes next is even more important, especially if you want to to keep your donors for a long time.

Do a good job of thanking your donors

I write a lot about the importance of thanking your donors, but I think this bears repeating. Your first step after you receive a donation is to thank your donors within 48 hours, preferably with a handwritten note or phone call. Don’t send the same old boring, generic thank you letter. Take time to create an awesome thank you. Say Thank You Like You Mean It

Create a welcome plan for your new donors

Approximately 70% of first-time donors don’t make a second gift. This is unacceptable. We have to do better.

Research by fundraising expert Penelope Burk states that first-time donors who receive a thank you call are more likely to donate again and give at a higher level the next year. Get a group of board members and other enthusiastic volunteers to call your new donors, or send them a handwritten thank you card.

*Make sure these are actually new donors. A good database will help you avoid any embarrassment.*

A week or two after the initial thank you, send a welcome package. You can do this by mail, email, or a combination of both.

Welcome your new donors. Thank them again and show them other ways they can connect with you. Invite them to subscribe to your newsletter and join you on social media.

Your welcome package can include a warm introductory message and a brochure or fact sheet. Get to know your new donors better. Pop in a short survey to find out how they heard about you and if they prefer print or electronic communication. You could also direct people to your website for more information about your organization.

Be careful about how much information you send. Donors want to feel welcome not overwhelmed.

I don’t recommend sending unsolicited swag. You could offer your new donors a gift and they can let you know if they want to receive it, but it’s not necessary.

What donors really want from you is to know how they’re helping you make a difference.

New Donor Welcome Kits | Your Next Gift Strategy

How to Welcome New Donors and Keep Them Engaged

Make your current donors feel special, too

You may think your most valuable donors are the ones who give the most money, but what about the people who have supported your organization for three, five, or even ten years? These are your valuable donors, considering repeat donor retention rates are about 65%.

Imagine how you would feel if you gave to an organization for over five years and they never acknowledge your long-time support.

This is why segmenting your donors and personalizing their correspondence is crucial, so is a good database to help you with this. Let’s Stop Putting Donors Into A Bucket Your donors are individuals and not a collective bunch.

Don’t skimp on donor communication

I know you’re swamped with your year-end appeal right now, but this is not the time to scale back on your donor communication. Continue to send your newsletter and other updates. Keep them donor-centered.

Send your donors Thanksgiving and holiday greetings, either by mail or email. Intersperse your fundraising appeals with messages in which you’re not asking for donations.

Keep spreading the love

Your first New Year’s resolution can be to communicate with your donors more. Keep reaching out to them  – at least once or twice a month. Show appreciation and update them on your success.

Think of other ways to do something special for your donors, such as offering tours of your facility or holding an open house.

You want to keep your donors for a long time and making them feel good about supporting your organization will help with this.

Are You Bragging Too Much?

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Have you been to a party and ended up stuck in a conversation with someone who talks too much about herself or brags about all the wonderful things he’s done? You roll your eyes in frustration and plan your escape to the drinks table.

Imagine your donors having the same reaction when all your communications sound like one big bragfest that have nothing to do with them. Okay, maybe your appeal or newsletter won’t drive them to drink, but it may end up in the recycle bin, unread.

Yes, you want to share your accomplishments, but you don’t don’t want to sound like that boring person at the party. 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, Jane now has a home of her own.

All your communications should be donor or audience-centered. One way to ensure this is to use the word you more than we or us. Is Your Organization Donor-Centered? Find Out by Taking This Quiz

Tell 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. Dazzle Your Donors With a Great Story

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.  Why you should probably trash your general brochure

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 Y 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, residents of the flood -ravaged town now have access to clean drinking water and can start rebuilding their homes or Thanks to you, the new outpatient clinic can serve more people in the community.

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.

A quick checklist

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?