How to raise money with newsletters
Tom Ahern provides this lesson:
In the 1990s, a Seattle fundraising shop called the Domain Group took the donor newsletter and began testing to see if they could come up with something better. Domain eventually developed a formula that made a donor newsletter HIGHLY worth doing: some Domain clients began raking in more gifts through their newsletters than through their direct mail appeals.
Answer: A newsletter might well be more welcome than an appeal. It can bring joy. It can bring fun. It can flatter the reader shamelessly; in all sorts of ways (deeply recommended).Whereas a direct mail appeal almost always seems like “duty calling” … not to mention an intrusion, with the intention of relieving one’s wallet of its burdens. Tom learned these things from the Domain Formula:
- Page count: no more than 4 pages (in tests, adding more pages did not produce more revenue)
- Article length: short
- Write for skimmers (i.e., requires professional quality headlines)
- Send in a #10 envelope, not as a self-mailer
- Include a separate reply device
- Don’t get distracted: be fully donor-committed. Send only to your donors. You have to talk to a single target audience
- Make the voice personal (the word “you” dominates) rather than institutional; get intimate
- Focus on “accomplishment reporting” (tell donors how much they have changed the world through their gifts)
Jeff Brooks provides additional insights based on the test of time:
- Page count: newsletters of fewer than four pages have not done well. Cheaper, but the loss in revenue more than undercuts the production savings.
- Full color: When tested against two colors, four-color newsletters usually at least pay for themselves — though not always. (Back in the 90s, 4-color was not worthwhile; in fact, it often depressed response.) Full color seems to have the most positive impact for larger national organizations. It’s worth testing, but not an automatic winner for everyone.
- A reply device printed in the newsletter usually gives a meaningful boost to response. Organizations get very few of these printed reply devices back, but they seem to have the function of driving more people to the separate RD that’s in the envelope.
- Best teaser: “Newsletter enclosed.”
- Newsletters are not equally effective for all organizations. They work better for local orgs than national ones. They generally work better for religious orgs than non-religious.