Is the donor newsletter at risk of extinction?

My mailbox has been alarmingly empty lately.

Sure, I got a flurry of letters in November and December, and a smattering of renewal mailings in January – despite that, I’ve noticed a distinct absence of donor newsletters.

Is the noble and (potentially) effective print donor newsletter at risk of extinction?

As a donor to a number of smaller, locally based organizations, I fear that many are succumbing to external pressure to “cut costs” from boards and leaders who don’t understand fundraising.

(A quick aside: It always baffles me when private sector leaders on non-profit boards want fundraising growth with little to no investment. You wouldn’t expect any business venture to be successful without investing adequate resources in it…why would fundraising be any different?)

If you have a print newsletter and it’s not performing as you’d like, don’t succumb to the temptation to “save costs” by going totally digital. For most organizations, it’s not mail OR digital – it needs to be mail AND digital. And that will be the case for a long while yet.

Have a look at these four features fantastic newsletters have in common, and see how yours measures up.

They spell out how donors make a difference

Great donor newsletters spell out how donors make a

difference – and they do it through compelling photos (no giant cheques please!), attention grabbing headlines and great storytelling.

Your print newsletter is an ideal place to share compelling, well-structured stories about the people donors have helped, the supporters who have made a difference, and the issues you are tackling thanks to the help of your generous readers.

We all know we’re supposed to be telling more stories in our fundraising – but why are so few of us doing it, or doing it well?

It can be challenging to break the cycle of same-old, same-old self-congratulatory nonprofit communications – especially if your boss or board didn’t get the memo about the power storytelling has to deeply connect with, and motivate, your donors.

If you‘re a new reader, and missed this failproof recipe for a compelling story, you may find it a useful resource – you can download your free template and checklist here.

Donors see themselves reflected back

Even when organizations get over the impulse to use every square inch of copy to toot their own horn, when they do feature donors, their newsletters end up looking like the society pages – glittery galas, lots of ladies who lunch, and grip and grin, suit and tie corporate cheque presentations.

And typically, not a lot of diversity of race or ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or socio-economic status when you’re looking at who is being represented as a donor.

When certain groups of donors are always missing in your communications, we receive a clear message (whether it’s one you intend to send or not):

This organization is not for me.

There are countless amazing donor stories from diverse communities of supporters out there – and be sure to go beyond major donors and include monthly donors, long-time donors, and bequest donors (especially bequest donors!).

They’re easy to read

Even if you’re doing a great job telling compelling stories, and showing donors how they made a difference, none of that’s going to matter if your aging supporters aren’t able to read it.

Seniors now outnumber young people here in Canada. And this trend isn’t unique – the UN forecasts that the number of people in the world aged 60 years or over is projected to grow by 56 per cent by 2030.

Here are some great, easy to implement tips from CNIB Canada to make your print materials as clear and readable as possible for all people with vision loss, including seniors:

  • Create contrast: use high contrast colour for type and background. Print is most readable in black type on a white background - if you’re using coloured text, restrict it to headlines, titles, and highlighted material.

  • Bigger is better: keep your text large, preferable between 12 and 18 points, depending on the font. Avoid complicated or decorative fonts, and choose one with easy to recognize upper and lowercase characters.

  • Give ‘em space: leading (the space between lines of text) should be at least 25 to 30 per cent of the point size. Lots of white space, and shorter paragraphs, mean an easier read - for everyone!

They have four pages, an outer envelope, and a reply device

If you’re serious about upping your newsletter game, it’s time to have a look at Tom Ahern’s book, Making Money with Donor Newsletters.

In it, Tom delves into a tested approach that has helped charities of all sizes raise millions of dollars with their donor newsletters.

Among other things – including telling donors about how their gifts have changed the world – it turns out the size, envelope and enclosures all make a difference in the performance of your donor newsletter:

  • Skip the self mailer - newsletters sent in an outer envelope (specifically, a #10) outperform self mailers.

  • Include a separate reply device, and a reply envelope.

  • Keep it short and sweet. Four pages is the sweet spot for print newsletters. Keep your articles short too, and make your newsletter skimmable by writing great heads and subheads.

Does your organization understand the important role a print newsletter can play in your fundraising, and improving your donor retention? Do you have a favourite donor newsletter – one that is doing all of the above, and more? Share your standout newsletters by leaving a comment below, or dropping me a line at [email protected].

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