Twelve tips for a better donor newsletter

publication date: May 16, 2012
 | 
author/source: Alan Sharpe

The difference between a good donor newsletter and a poor one comes down to donors and dollars. A good newsletter retains donors and makes money. A poor one doesn't. Here are 12 ways to improve your donor newsletter so that it works harder for you. Alan Sharpe photo

1. Make your donor the hero of every story

Take the focus off your institution and put it where it belongs: on the person who pays your salary. Donors want to read about themselves, not your charity.

2. Make each issue a report card to your donor

Prove that you are using donors' gifts wisely and as intended. Show how their donations are making a difference. Act as if you won't get another dime of support unless your donor gives you an A grade, an A for Accountability.

3. Don't celebrate another anniversary

Donors don't care that you're celebrating your 20th anniversary, or that you did something special in 1968. They give to organizations that look ahead, not backwards.

4. Make your donors reach for the Kleenex

Stir the emotions of your supporters so that they identify even more closely with the people you help. Help them feel at a visceral level that they are touching lives with their support.

5. Give your donors the "because"

Doctors Without Borders in Australia has a page in its newsletter entitled "Why We Do What We Do." It doesn't tell you what they do. It explains why they do it, the "because." Do likewise and you will retain more donors and raise more money.

6. Fine yourself $1,000 for every cliché photo

No more ribbon-cutting ceremony with the over-size scissors, cheque-passing ceremony with the over-size cheque, ground-breaking ceremony with the people in suits putting shovels into the ground, or the grip-and-grin photo with the awkward-looking host handing over the plaque to the equally awkward-looking recipient. If the photo has been done to death, bury it.

7. Write about people, not programs

People give to people to help people. No more stories about your board retreat, awards your staff have won, or staff promotions. Make sure every story has a strong human-interest angle.

8. Put captions under all photos

No photo is worth a thousand words. Otherwise silent movies would still be silent. And People magazine wouldn't need a proofreader.

9. Write photo captions that tell the reader what she can't see

If the photo is of a child riding a horse, don't write, "Children in our program ride horses." Instead, write, "Billy didn't talk until he rode his first horse, Presidente. Now he speaks in full sentences, thanks to our therapeutic riding program, which is funded by our generous donors."

10. Put your donor in your headline, subhead or opening paragraph, or all three

Example: "Thanksgiving dinner at the mission beats all records with 1,865 homeless served, thanks to our donors."

11. Answer the one and only question

Make each newsletter article, column, news story, editorial and profile answer the only question your donors have: "What good have you done with my donation?"

12. Offer your donors many ways to donate

Include a tear-out coupon. Enclose a business reply envelope. Print your website address on every page. Supply a toll-free number for donations.

Alan Sharpe is a fundraising practitioner, author, trainer and speaker. Through his weekly email newsletter, books, handbooks and workshops, Alan helps nonprofit organizations worldwide to acquire more donors, raise more funds and build stronger relationships. Alan is the senior strategist at Harvey McKinnon Associates.


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