It’s boring them to tears.
Actually, let me rephrase. Not to tears. That would mean they’re feeling an emotional connection. Sadly, they’re not.
Most donor newsletters are boring to the point of numbness.
You’re not making the impact you need to make to keep your donors, let alone get them to give more the next time you ask.
Let me tell you what I learned from Penelope Burk, Donor-Centered Fundraising author, about 15 years ago. It fundamentally changed the way I communicate with donors. Her groundbreaking research found that donors, fundamentally, simply want you to promptly and personally thank them and send them information about the impact of their gift.
That’s it. Not tons of donor recognition, events, annual reports or (ahem) newsletters.
That being said, Burk found donors would in fact sometimes appreciate a newsletter. But it would have to be “donor-centered.”
Donors told Ms. Burk they’d rather get a one-page newsletter, occasionally, when something newsworthy transpired. And they preferred news that was relevant to their particular interests (an argument for segmenting your list according to interest information you may have stored in your database).
Most donor newsletters are produced for the masses.
And they’re organization-centric. You put them out on a pre-ordained schedule (e.g., quarterly; monthly), without regard to whether there’s any “news” to report. A generic one-size-fits-none model. They’re mind-numbingly impersonal, and there’s little that speaks specifically to the donor and the donor’s interests.
In other words, most nonprofit newsletters are the antithesis of what donors crave.
But it’s not all bad news.
Donors weren’t really saying they didn’t want to hear from the organizations to which they’d given. They wanted to hear from them – but about the impact of their gift; not your latest board member, new staff hire, building renovation are recent grant award. And certainly not about your need for more money!
Donors want to be reminded they made a good decision by giving to you.
They want to feel good. It’s your job to reward them for their act of philanthropy.
This doesn’t mean you can’t plan a vigorous donor communications schedule in advance. Nor does it mean you can never suggest that additional gifts would be welcome.
Remember that Ms. Burk’s research came out well over a decade ago — before the digital revolution and the total disruption of consumer communication as we’d previously known it. Today, there’s just too much competition in the marketplace to go radio silent for any period of time and expect folks to remember you. So an occasional one-page newsletter is probably insufficient contact.
It’s imperative for nonprofits to stay connected to their constituents by developing and implementing a robust content marketing strategy, complete with an online social strategy.
Your nonprofit must strive for a balance of communications in a range of platforms. If the only time your donor hears from you is when you ask, then making your newsletter about asking rather than relationship-building is going to backfire. If the only place they hear from you is in their mailbox, and they’re online most of the day, you’re missing a huge opportunity to connect with them. You need a strategic, multi-faceted donor retention strategy.
I recommend consistent donor “touches” throughout the course of the year. Offline and online. About 3 – 4 doses of gratitude + impact (“here’s what you made possible, and why we’re so grateful”) to every one ask.
What does this mean for nonprofit “newsletters?”
You’ve got to think about them on your donors’ terms; not yours.
You’ve got to make some news (pretty frequently if you want to stay top of mind) – and it better be centered on your donor!
I’m not suggesting you fabricate stuff. I’m suggesting that you think differently.
Rather than think of them as “newsletters” think of them as “short stories.”
I’ve never met a nonprofit that didn’t have a ton of interesting, compelling, heart-wrenching stories to tell. It’s just that many don’t know where to look for them or how to tell them effectively.
Make it a priority to tell and collect stories across your entire organization.
Enroll your staff. Enroll your volunteers. Enroll your donors. Tell stories at all your meetings. Write them down. Put them in the form of “once upon a time… this happened… then that… then, just when all looked hopeless… your donor stepped in to make the happy ending.”
Always think about your mission and how these stories make your work a compelling necessity. Talk about the people, places and causes that are crying out for change; then talk about how your donors make this possible.
This is what your donors will tell you they want to see, hear and feel if you ask them.
Telling your stories in newsletters is a useful way pump up your supporter base, as is social media. Learn more about how to tell compelling stories so that folks will share what you’ve published.
In fact, consider putting all your stories into a blog on your website.
Making a blog (which can easily take the place of an e-newsletter) your central communication hub is smart because it’s easy to share your posts on social media and drive new traffic to your website from such platforms as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, G+, Instagram and Pinterest. If you prefer, you can use a blog as a foundation for all communications; then use a newsletter as mostly a digest of the blog rather than a separate project. What’s good about this is that it puts information people want where and how they want it. You understand you won’t get folks to read every blog post, especially those that don’t interest them. Instead, you allow them to click on ‘read more’ for the areas that are of most interest to them.
Why is an online strategy like this important? Because it gets new people to sign up for your email list so that you can communicate with them directly moving forward. Don’t forget, you need both a donor retention and a donor acquisition strategy.
If you don’t have enough folks with whom to share your compelling content you’ll have no one to inspire, let alone bore.