Yes, nonprofit newsletters can raise money!
And they should delight, retain and upgrade donors too.
How does this work?
It works by using your newsletter to give credit where it is due.
To your donors!
- Great newsletters are the opposite of all about you and your organization. “We did this.” “We’re planning to do that.”
- Great newsletters sustain the joy donors felt at the moment of giving by confirming for them their decision was a good one. “You made this happen.” “Your gift gave a happy ending to this story.”
You see, a charitable gift is not the same as a purchase of a product or service. With the latter, you have something tangible to continue to appreciate (e.g., you use your laptop daily; you continually admire the new paint job on your house). With the former, you’ve got nothing but an initial shot of dopamine … and then a memory. For most donors, this becomes a distant memory. Because most nonprofits don’t consistently and repeatedly report back. With donors, out of sight truly does mean out of mind.
Use newsletters to show authentic gratitude and demonstrate how the donor’s gift made a difference.
You see, once is not enough. Research shows for gratitude to be deeply felt it must be repeated. Repeat gratitude and reporting back accomplishes the following:
Donor feels good
Donor trusts you’re good to your word.
Donor feels inclined to give again.
Donor retention increases
Average gift size increases
Your raise a lot more money over time
Be guided by the “virtuous circle.”
Steven Screen of the Better Fundraising Co. says all fundraising communications should create a “virtuous circle” (Ask. Thank. Report. Repeat.) You don’t just ask, take the money and run. That’s transactional fundraising, and it’s not sustainable. You must create a circular chain of positive events that focus on how to improve the lifetime value of your donor through transformational nurturing.
Once the initial gift is made… think ahead, beyond the next direct ask.
Also build a gratitude + impact donor communication system — showcase a donor newsletter as your ongoing messaging and engagement centerpiece.
Donors need to know how their gift made a difference.
Good fundraising is, as the “Father of Fundraising” Hank Rosso famously stated, “The gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.” Teaching, and learning, doesn’t happen in an instant. It happens over time. And joy, once it fires up, needs to be tended to.
Your nonprofit newsletter fans the flames.
Think of it as a happiness delivery system. And don’t think of this as frou-frou; it’s central to your work.
Donors need you to complete the value-for-value exchange that is core to all fundraising:
The donor gives your organization something of value (treasure). Giving happiness is the value you offer in return (gratitude + impact = meaning).
When you use your articles and features to reward your donors, they’ll think of you warmly and want to repeat their philanthropic behavior.
Magic happens when you connect the dots between the donor’s gift and the impact it created.
To be honest, part of the magic is you helping the donor be the best version of themselves.
This is the true meaning of “donor-centered” communications.
It’s not about pandering to donors.
It’s not about selling to donors.
It’s not about advertising to donors.
It’s not about bragging to donors.
It’s about helping donors find joy.
It’s about helping donors find purpose.
It’s about helping donors feel connected to a community that shares their values.
It’s about helping donors enact their values and passions in a manner they may not have dreamed possible.
How to raise money with your newsletter
Here are three general tips:
1. Center each newsletter on a different theme.
Plan ahead to keep donor interest over multiple issues. This will keep the newsletters fresh and “newsy,” encouraging folks to happily anticipate them.
2. Your core messaging benefits from repetition.
You are your brand.The more often the donor hears from you a need is pressing, the more apt they are to believe it.
3. Don’t inadvertently do anything to cause your donor to unduly deliberate.
This is a correllary of spotlighting different themes in each issue. Don’t try to offer the smorgasbord of the full array of your programs and services in every issue. If you offer too many options for engaging (often because you’re trying to play fair with program staff by showcasing every program every time), you’ll run up against the paradox of “analysis paralysis.” Too many decision points cause folks to make no decision at all. [Learn more about the famous jam study here]. Here’s what you want to avoid: “Gosh, that program sounds good! Wait, so does that one! Oh, dear, which one should I give to? I’ll talk to my significant other later to decide.” Later seldom comes.
8 elements of effective donor newsletters
Here are some donor-delighting, money-raising features to include in your newsletter.
1. How your recent campaign gift made a difference
This is a great feature to include following a targeted, or even a year-end, campaign. It’s good to reinforce for donors how they became part of a caring community that moved the needle on a pressing problem. If it was a matching/challenge campaign, remind them how they were so smart to leverage their gift. This makes them feel good now, and inclines them to give again in the future.
2. Donor spotlight: “why I care/why I give”
Donor testimonials are a great way to recognize and reward individual donors, while also tapping into the power of “social proof.” In other words, it’s more powerful and persuasive when others talk about your impact than when you do.
I’ve found donors love to be included in these features, especially when you let them know “you’ll do a double good deed this way by inspiring others to follow in your footsteps.”
3. Beneficiary stories
Write real stories of things your donor has changed in the past tense, making this a “closing the loop” feature and not a “fundraising” feature. Tell both the “before” and “after.”
Steven Screen says the sweet spot is three such stories per newsletter. The beneficiary and the donor are showcased as protagonists. The organization is not the protagonist!
Keep the data out of the stories as much as possible.
4. Photos with captions
People are attracted to images, and they “stick” more than prose. This is especially true with people who scan and, heck, that’s just about everyone these days. You only have three to eight seconds to capture attention, so the more you can show the better. Add a quick caption that, combined with the image, tells the whole story – including putting the donor into the story. Maybe you show smiling happy Jimmy eating an apple. The caption doesn’t say “Jimmy eats an apple,” because that adds no value. Instead, try “Your gift assured Jimmy went to sleep with a full tummy.”
What type of photo is best? Photos are best when they’re of one person, ideally their face. With eyes looking right at you. Two people works well too if they’re relating and showing emotion. Buildings generally do not compelling photos make.
5. Legacy giving inspiration
Show people how to assure their values live on. Again, don’t talk about processes like gift vehicles. Try sharing a story from the perspective of either of your two protagonists: the donor or the beneficiary. In other words: “why I care/why I gave a legacy gift” or “A legacy gift made this possible.”
Talking about ways to assure one’s memory lives on is another way to make people feel good. And, since legacy gifts tend to be larger than lifetime gifts, can really amp up the money-raising power of your newsletter.
6. Gift of content
With every newsletter, think about helping, not selling. I always say if you want gifts you must give them. Every nonprofit I know has tons of useful content hiding in plain sight, often based on their area of expertise. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Simply share what you have! See some examples for different types of nonprofits here.
7. How the donor can continue to help
Include a current need that can benefit from the donor’s help. Show the need, describe the solution and tell the donor, specifically, how they can help.
Steven Screen recommends you couple this call to action with a “faux reply device” that mimics a reply envelope using language like “YES! I will send direct life-sustaining aid.” This is where you might indicate a suggested donation amount like “$82 provides a week of meals and five visits to an older neighbor” and a more open-ended option like “Send $___ to help as many seniors as possible.” Pair this with a URL that takes them to a landing page where they can immediately take action. And make sure this landing page repeats the message on your newsletter.
8. And don’t forget that remit envelope
You want to strike while the iron is hot. Many donors will feel warm and fuzzy from the features you’ve included, so it behooves you to make it easy for them to act on their feelings. I always include a remit envelope in mailed newsletters and a donate button (maybe several) in the body of an e-newsletter or blog. And my experience has been that donor-delighting newsletters always raise money – more than enough to justify the cost of creating and sending them, in the short-term and most definitely the long-term. My favorite type of remit to include is a tribute envelope, because it seems more “gift” than “fundraising appeal.” It’s a convenience for donors to use to honor a loved one or commemorate a life event. Use a business reply envelope (in case they don’t have a stamp), but include the option for them to add their own stamp with “Your stamps saves the cost of postage.”
You are a philanthropy facilitator
Donor newsletters have this same philanthropic purpose.
They should be designed to make philanthropy a natural outgrowth of reading and engaging with them. To absorb folks in a “love of humanity journey,” show the donor they’re a vital part of your love-creating community, and make it easy for them to turn their passions into action.
Donor newsletters are not for describing programs, services and processes.
You care about those; donors don’t really. They don’t need to know how the sausage is made. Donors just want to know the outcome: how the sausage helped someone live a better life.
Bottom line: donor newsletters exist to help donors feel good.
They’re not glossy brochures designed to make you and your internal stakeholders feel good.
Next time you sit down to plan your donor newsletter, channel this Maya Angelou quote:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Bring donors joy and significance and they’re likely to give you more money.
Want to learn more about becoming a donor experience transformist?
If you know you could do a better job of keeping and upgrading your supporters then the Donor Retention and Gratitude Playbook is for you! Six volumes with absolutely everything you need to know. I’ve thrown in the whole caboodle — all that I know from my 30 years in the trenches as the leader of teams of development staff and from my 11 years consulting with a range of organizations of different stripes. Buy ’em one at a time, or grab the “Bargain Bundle.” Tons of tips, templates, samples and resources – plus you get a free 15-minute consult. And it’s pennies. Why? I really can’t stand that you’re losing all your donors. Stop just doing things right… do the right things!
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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash