Does your nonprofit have an email newsletter?
I’d rather see you rock a blog, but let’s talk a bit about your newsletter. Since you already have one, you may as well make it better.
Otherwise, what’s the point?
[BTW: If you don’t have an e-newsletter, go read the article above about creating and rocking a blog. Also read this. A blog can serve the purpose of an e-newsletter, and do so in a more donor-centric, user-friendly fashion. IMHO.]
Okay. Back to improving your newsletter. You can always evolve it into a blog (and doing so will make sense after you read the rest of this article).
Guess what most donors simply won’t tell you about your newsletter?
It’s boring them to tears!
Or at least most of it is.
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
Donors want to be inspired, not anesthetized.
Take a look at your most recent newsletter. Does it commit any of these sins?
- You mostly brag. This fails to create interest.
- You make broad promises. This fails to instill trust.
- You only talk about problems. This drags people down.
- You only talk about major donor gifts and grants you’ve received. This fails to show donors their rightful place in your community.
- You fill it with photos of the “in” group. Ditto. Folks don’t want to see rich philanthropists attending your Gala, board members at your retreat, or foundation representatives presenting a check.
- You only talk about the next dollar to be raised. This seems ungrateful.
Donors want to be uplifted, not disheartened.
Take a look at your most recent newsletter. Does it commit any of these sins?
- You talk more about money than impact. This doesn’t help the donor see what making a philanthropic investment can accomplish.
- You talk more about problems than solutions. This doesn’t reveal to the donor how they can help.
- You report data rather than tell stories. This doesn’t help the donor enter into your content.
- You come across as teachy, preachy. This feels like reading a term paper; you can’t educate donors into giving.
- You appear more hopeless than hopeful. This makes donors want to turn away, rather than towards.
What Newsletters are For
The real point of a newsletter is to stay relevant and top of mind.
You want to instill a sense of hope and promise among your supporters.
Because you want to keep them, of course!
It’s a courtship.
Just like with any relationship, if all you do is whine… or the only time someone hears from you is when you want something from them… they’re not likely to stick around.
And wooing means putting the other person at the center of the developing relationship.
Let’s begin with what newsletters are not for.
They don’t exist so you can:
- Have a platform to tell donors what you want to tell them.
- Brag about how great you are.
- Check something off your list as ‘done’ in order to justify your job
They do exist so donors can:
- Hear from you what they want to hear.
- Learn more about the outcomes they made possible.
- Get useful information that adds meaning and joy to their lives.
- Feel appreciated.
- Feel purposeful.
- Feel special.
- Feel good.
What Should Be Included
1. Well, first off, “news” — of course.
Think about stories that appear in the news media. What makes them interesting? Relevant to the readers?
I’ll tell you one thing you won’t find. Stories about how the news outlet just brought in some new sponsors or advertisers. Or who they just added to their board. Or who they just hired to edit copy. Or how they’ve rebranded their website. These are organization-centric bits and pieces of information about which most of their readers have zero interest.
Are you reporting any of these kinds of “stories” in your newsletter?
2. Which leads to the next thing to include – real, compelling, emotional stories.
Human beings are wired for stories. They draw us in like nothing else.
Remember, a story that draws people in has a beginning, middle and end. You should be able to begin it (at least in your mind) with “Once upon a time.” Then the story should have a protagonist with whom the reader can identify and/or empathize. The protagonist should have obstacles in their way and challenges to overcome. The clear path to victory should be the donor as the hero.
Your stories need not be long. In fact, micro content can be a great way to go. It’s easier for your reader to digest, and takes less time for you to create. If you want, you can write a brief story and then include a link to your website where the story concludes. You can even add a “donate” button on the page to which you send folks (may as well let them act on how moved they feel having just read your emotional story).
3. Which leads right into the next thing to include – a call to action.
Why are you sending this newsletter in the first place?
Remember, it’s not to check it off your list as “mission accomplished.”
It’s to get your reader to feel, think, share, engage, invest or otherwise do something.
Does your newsletter have clear calls to action for every included item?
ACTION TIP: Take a look at your last newsletter, and ask yourself how you could have included an action item. Here are some ideas:
Share this article with a friend (have clear, easy-to-use, share buttons).
Sign this petition.
Phone your representative.
Attend this event.
Connect to volunteer.
Download this free “How To” video.
Get this recommended reading list.
Make this recipe and pin the results to our Pinterest board.
Donate to help fund this project.
Send us your feedback.
Complete this survey.
4. Information that helps, not sells.
This is the key to successful content marketing.
Jay Baer of “Convince and Convert” and I agree your future success depends on your ability to help people, not “sell” to them.
ACTION TIP: Ask yourself what is relevant and valuable to your audiences. Think in terms of what Jay Baer calls “youtility.” How useful is your content? I’m sure if you look around you’ll find all sorts of valuable, underused content. Stuff that your constituents could use. Maybe it’s “Tips to Babyproof Your Home” that you use in a workshop. Or a “Recommended Reading List” that you share with participants in one of your programs. Or even healthy recipes your staff shares with one another. Get creative!
ACTION TIP: Step into your donors’ truths. Stop talking about why you believe what you’re saying to be true. Instead, take your donor’s point of view and make your arguments with empathy. Stand in their shoes. What’s in this for them?
ACTION TIP: Think carefully about how you disseminate your content. Your newsletter may not always be your best bet. Sometimes a blog, or email or even a tweet may be more effective. [Learn more in When to Think Inside the Box: Choosing the Best Nonprofit Content Marketing Platform].
A picture really is worth 1000 words. More people will look at compelling photos, videos and infographics than will read your carefully crafted prose.
Spend some time taking, or finding, good visuals that will draw your readers in and tug at their heartstrings.
How Often You Should Publish (aka Woo)
Ideally, you should publish when you have news.
After all, it’s called a “news”letter.
Two decades ago, when Penelope Burk conducted her groundbreaking research for Donor-Centered Fundraising, she found donors preferred more frequent, briefer mailings. They’d rather get one page of “news” than a completely filled newsletter jammed with junk. If you think this is starting to sound a bit like a blog, it is! Remember, these weren’t invented at the time of Burk’s study.
- Anything that isn’t news.
- Anything that isn’t useful.
- Anything that isn’t donor-centered.
The problem with using a template.
If your newsletter is templated, and always has the same elements (e.g., “Letter from the E.D.;” “Volunteer Corner;” “Program Highlight;” “Donor Profile;” “Client Profile;” “Events;” “Ways to Give,” and so forth), then you’re committing yourself to filling those buckets every time you publish – be it monthly, quarterly or something else.
I know a template is convenient. It helps to organize you, and seems like a useful management tool. I used to do the same thing. But… I’ve since learned I was making this all about me and my needs, rather than about the readers and their needs.
Does this sound familiar?
- You find you don’t have anything good to include in one or more buckets. So you fill them with stuff even you find boring. You then check this off your task list as ‘done.’
- You’re inundated with other work when your deadline looms, so you fill your bucket with retreaded articles that definitely don’t qualify as “news.” You then check this off your task list as ‘done.’
ACTION TIP: I know you’ve heard advice to publish monthly online, and maybe quarterly offline. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t have a schedule. It’s good to be consistent. BUT… quality trumps quantity. Prioritize quality when it comes to creating newsletter (or blog) content. It doesn’t matter if you publish monthly if no one reads what you write. Or, if no one acts as a result of what you write.
If you’re mostly bragging about how great you are, or what you believe is interesting, then you may be creating “top of mind awareness” among your target constituents. But it will do you little good.
If you inspire folks and actively engage them, they’ll stay interested. They’ll stick around. They’ll give, and keep giving.
Use e-newsletters to stay top of mind and show your donors you care about them for more than their wallets. Properly executed, they can be a great tool to show your donors how much they’re valued – which sets the stage for fundraising.
P.S. A blog accomplishes this even better than a newsletter, because it’s designed to offer up brief, frequent, tasty morsels. SO… give it some thought!
WANT TO ROCK A NONPROFIT BLOG?
You may be interested in my Nonprofit Blogging Playbook. A great blog is one of the best investments you can make in acquiring and retaining more donors. Learn how with this 4-volume set that will teach you:
- blog fundamentals;
- content folks will want to read;
- how to use your content to engage folks, and
- how to promote your blog so it builds momentum and drives more potential supporters to your website.
If you buy all four, I offer a “Bundle Bargain” discount. If you’re a paid Clairification student, you get an additional 50% off! Plus, I stand by all my Clairification products. If you’re not happy, there’s a 30-day, no-questions-asked full refund policy. The only way to lose is by doing nothing.