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.

Shhh! Secret Formula for Donor Newsletters That Delight

3 Pitfalls of Nonprofit Newsletters and How to Avoid Them

HOW TO CREATE A BETTER NON-PROFIT NEWSLETTER

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

 

Let Your Donors Know How Much You Appreciate Them

 

16317995822_f23087f3eb_z-1Valentine’s Day is coming up and it’s a perfect opportunity to thank your donors and show how much you appreciate their support. Okay, maybe you think doing something for Valentine’s Day is hokey, but you should still do something fun and creative to show appreciation this month. The holidays are over, winter isn’t, and the world doesn’t feel like a very nice place right now, so we could all use a little pick-me-up.

This is also a good opportunity to stay in touch with the people who gave to your year-end appeal, especially first-time donors. If you haven’t shown any donor love since your year-end appeal, then you definitely need to reach out now.

Here are some ideas.

Create a thank you photo

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

 

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. Here are a couple that I received recently by email.

To Our Friends, With Gratitude

What You Made Possible in 2016

You’ll notice that both are short (and they need to be short), donor-centered, and show the organization’s work up close and personal.

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, Jenna won’t go to bed hungry tonight.

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.

Another idea – Send a small number of thank you cards every month, ensuring that each donor gets at least one card a year. Spreading it out may be easier on your budget.

Thank You 101

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.

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 can also look for additional sources of unrestricted funding to cover cards and postage.

Maybe you need a change of culture. Getting your board, all staff, and volunteers involved in thanking your donors will make a huge difference.

Keep thinking of ways to surprise and delight your donors! Get creative.

20 Unique Donor Thank You Ideas

21 IDEAS TO REFRESH YOUR DONOR STEWARDSHIP

You can’t say thank you enough. Make a commitment to thank your donors at least once a month.

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

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

 

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?

Say Thank You Like You Mean It

 

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Year-end fundraising season is underway and many of you may be working on your appeal letters. But have you given any thought to how you’ll thank your donors? If you’re thinking that’s something you can worry about after your appeal letters go out, you’re making a huge mistake.

Thanking donors often takes a back seat in fundraising campaigns, but it’s a crucial component that you need to start planning now. It’s often poorly done and I feel as if organizations thank their donors because someone told them they had to instead of it being something they want to do.

You can rise above the mediocrity and thank your donors like you mean it. Here’s how.

Do something special for your donors now

Do something special for your donors before you send your appeal. This could be a short thank you update you send by mail or email (mail is better). I received a couple of donor-focused updates recently. One had a big Thank You in the middle. The other opened with Your Giving in Action...

This post includes a great example. Knock it Out of the Park You could also send a postcard or give a special shout out to your donors in your newsletter, although all newsletters should be gratitude-focused anyway. Another option is to hold an open house. Why Having an Open House Makes Sense

Handwritten notes and phone calls make a huge difference

Make your donor’s day by sending a handwritten note or making a phone call. Start recruiting board members, staff, and other volunteers to help you with this. If you can’t send cards or make calls to all your donors, choose the ones you will reach out to. Calling new donors can help ensure they’ll donate again. You should also consider reaching out to long-term donors. Retention rates are still shaky, so you want to make an effort to keep your donors.

Here’s a sample phone script, which you can modify for a thank you note.

Hi, this is Paul Wilson and I’m a board member at the Lakeside Community Food Bank. I’m calling to thank you for your generous donation of $50. Thanks to you, we can provide a family with a week’s worth of groceries. This is great. We’re seeing more people coming in right now because of cuts to food stamp programs. We really appreciate your support.

Write a stellar letter  

If you can’t send a handwritten note or make a phone call, then take the time to write a stellar thank you letter. All donors should get this letter, even if they’ve donated online. Getting something in the mail is more personal and your donor will be more likely to see it. Email thank yous tend to be more like receipts, although they don’t have to be. More on that later.

Your letter should not include the usual, boring “On Behalf of X organization…..” Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend and leave out vague jargon such as at-risk or underserved.

Don’t send the same letter to each donor. Recognize past gifts and upgrades, and give a specific example of how the donation will make a difference.

Something like this.

Dear Janet,

You’re amazing! Because of your generous donation of $50,we can provide a family with a week’s worth of groceries.

Thank you so much for being a longtime donor!

You can also write personal notes on the letters. Think about including an eye-catching photo as well.

Here are some more ways to do a better job of thanking your donors.

5 Clever Ways to Improve Your Thank You Letters

4 More Clever Ways to Improve Your Thank You Letters

Steal This Thank You Letter! A Sample Donor Thank You Letter for Your Non-Profit

Give your donors an outstanding online experience

Many people donate online and that includes donating on a mobile device. Your landing page is your first chance to say thank you. It should be personal and not look like an Amazon shopping cart.

Open with Thank you, Diane! or You’re incredible!  Include an engaging photo or video and a short, easy to understand description of how the donation will help the people you serve. Put all the tax deductible information after your message or in the automatically generated thank you email.

Speaking of the automatically generated thank you email, be sure it’s warm and personal. Make it slightly different than the thank you landing page. It only needs to be a few sentences, but make it good.

Just because your thank you email is automatically generated, doesn’t mean it needs to sound like it was written by a robot. Take time to write something nice.

Remember, you’re not done yet. Even if someone donates online she should receive a thank you card, letter, or phone call as soon as possible, preferably within 48 hours.

Here are some more ways to give your donors an outstanding online thank you.

5 ways to improve your online donation thank you page

21 Ideas For Your Nonprofit’s Donation Confirmation Page

Make your new donors feel welcome

Retention rates for first-time donors are awful. You want them to stay and your first step is to make these new donors feel welcome. Roll Out the Red Carpet for Your New Donors

Keep it up

Thanking your donors is a year-round commitment. It’s not just something you do after you get a donation. It needs to be a  priority, and you need to thank your donors like you mean it.

Photo bShih-Chieh “Ilya” Li

Stand Out With an Amazing Appeal Letter

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Year-end appeal season is about to start. In some cases it already has. Many nonprofits rely on their fall fundraising campaign to raise a good chunk of revenue.

It’s never easy to raise money. It’s it even tougher when you’re competing with scores of other organizations for your donors’ attention, although many of these appeal letters are mediocre at best, as Fundraising Consultant Mary Calahane pointed out in a recent post. Warning: bad mail coming to a box near you

You can have an advantage if you stand out by creating an amazing appeal letter. Here’s how.

Make a good first impression

First, you need to get your donor to open your letter. Give some thought to the outer envelope. That doesn’t mean a teaser that says 2016 Annual Appeal. Instead, say something like Learn how you can help Jason boost his reading skills.

You want to be both personal and professional. If hand addressing the envelopes isn’t feasible, make sure your mailing labels look clean, are error-free, and aren’t crooked. Use stamps if you can.

Create an inviting piece of mail.

Tell me a story

Start your letter with a compelling story. Focus on a person or family and not your organization. Your donors want to hear about the people they’re helping. For example, you could tell a story about Jason and his struggles in school.

Include a photo

Include an engaging color photo in your letter or on your pledge form. Photos can tell a story in an instant.

Here’s more information on creating stories and photos.

Dazzle Your Donors With a Great Story

Capture Your Donors’ Attention in an Instant by Using Visual Stories

Don’t bury your ask

Ask for a donation at the beginning of the next paragraph (after the story). Also, ask your current donors if they can give a little more this year.

Phrase your ask like this – We’re so grateful for your previous gift of $50. Could you help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75?

If you’ve been doing a good job of engaging your donors throughout the year, they shouldn’t mind if you ask for a larger gift. BTW, including the amount of your donor’s previous gift is helpful since people often don’t remember what they gave before.

Be donor-centered

Don’t make your letter all about your organization. Show how you’re making a difference and how much you appreciate your donor’s role in that. Make your donor feel good about supporting your nonprofit.

Share your success

Highlight a few accomplishments from the year and show how you plan to continue your good work with your donor’s help. Remember to stay donor-centered!

Give it the personal touch

Send different letters to people who have donated before and thank them for supporting you. You can also tailor letters to other groups such as lapsed donors, people on your mailing list who haven’t donated yet, event attendees, volunteers, and friends of board members.

Make every effort to do this, especially for people who have given before. Go the extra mile for your donors, so they’ll continue to support you.

Your letter should also have a personal salutation and not be addressed to Dear Friend.

Make it easy for your donors

Include a return envelope with amounts to check off or an envelope and a pledge form. Show what each amount will fund. Do this on your donation page, too. Using Giving Levels to Drive Donations

Some donors may prefer to donate online. Direct them to a user-friendly donation page on your website.

Offer a monthly or recurring giving option

Monthly gifts can generate more revenue. Encourage your donors to give $10 or $20 a month. If they do, you’re getting gifts over $100 each!

It must be easy to read (or scan)

Use short paragraphs and bulleted lists, along with bold or color for key words, but keep it tasteful. Make it easy to read and scan. Use a simple font and 14-point type.

It’s fine to go over a page, especially if you’re breaking up the text with a photo and short paragraphs, but I wouldn’t go over four pages. You can also add a quote or short testimonial. These can be powerful and it helps break up the narrative.

Have a conversation with a friend

Use a conversational tone and keep out jargon like at-risk youth and underserved communities. Be specific and use everyday language. Refer to your reader as you and use you a lot more than we. How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?

Too many editors spoil the appeal

Generally, the more people you involve in writing your letter, the worse it becomes. Fundraising Consultant Tom Ahern refers to this as letter writing by committee.

Your best writer should craft it and then turn it over to your best editor. Whoever signs the letter (your Executive Director?) can take a quick look at it, but don’t send it to a committee.

Besides weakening the content, involving more people takes extra time.

All’s well that ends well

Repeat your ask at the end of the letter. Don’t forget to say please and thank you.

Add a PS

Give some thought to this. People often gravitate to the PS as they scan the letter. Here you could emphasize monthly giving or ask if their company provides matching gifts.

Get your pens out

Include a short handwritten note, if you can. Make it relevant to each donor, such as thanking her for a previous donation or letting him know it was nice to see him at a recent event.

Hand sign the letters in blue ink.

Are you ready?

Stand out with an amazing appeal letter that will capture your donors’ attention and bring you the donations you need. Good luck!

Read on for more inspiration.

How to Write a Better Fundraising Letter

Cutting Through the Clutter of Year-End Appeals

[INFOGRAPHIC] How To Write An Annual Fundraising Appeal Letter

Photo by Modestas Jonauskas