Search TXNP

< More How to's

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Share: facebooktwitterdigg

Why you is glue
Tom Ahern

September, 2009

A reader writes: What's the "you" limit? Is "the monthly giver" a different donor animal?

Once I'd posted a critique of her donor newsletter on my website, Kate Lucas, grants and communications coordinator at truly wonderful Common Hope in St. Paul, MN ...

... emailed some terrific follow-up questions.

Below: her queries, my answers.

Kate asked (1) How many "you's" do you need in order to pass the "you" test and (2) Don't the donor profile stories touch on this as well, in another way?

Most pages in Kate's newsletter failed the "you" test. The pronoun was simply not there in the headlines, captions, and stories in enough abundance, liberally sprinkled across every page and article, to reliably trap readers.

Kate wondered, though: When you talk about donors, as she does in her profiles, isn't that sort of the same as using the pronoun "you"? Aren't they both forms of donor love?

Donor love is never a bad thing; keep doing the profiles, Kate. But using "you" is not about donor love. It's about rank, day-to-day, practical psychology. It's about using a particular pronoun (in Twitter-talk, "u") to stimulate a mechanical, Pavlovian response in a reader.

It works. And here's why it works, in my view.

We are addressed by the word "you" from our earliest days.

It begins with: "Aren't you the most beautiful baby in the world? Oh, yes, you are!"

And it never quits. Every day, many times a day, you'll hear the pronoun "you" and know you're being spoken to.

Multiply that stimulus/response over the years and decades ... and that's why the word "you" is so reliably magnetic. You is glue. Each time we see the Imperial Pronoun in print or hear it aimed our way, the programming in our brains insists we respond.

Then Kate asked: My other question is, Would you approach a donor newsletter any differently knowing that it receives a large amount of its revenue through recurring monthly gifts?

A reading audience comprised of monthly givers is maybe a bit different. After all, they've shown their commitment to your mission in a profound way. They've made you part of their regular life.

Other donor newsletters hope extra gifts come back in the enclosed reply envelope; a charity well supported by monthly gifts might not need to. Maybe that's a difference.

Where another donor newsletter might highlight a matching gift offer, hoping that would spur added immediate response, you might not care to. Maybe that's a difference.

But here's what a good donor newsletter always does, whether the audience is monthly givers or not: it give ample helpings of credit to the donors, in part by using the word "you" copiously, like pepper on steak au poivre.
Most nonprofits talk the wrong way. They say: "We did this great thing. We did that great thing. And, oh, by the way, if you sent a gift, thank you very much."
The proper (i.e., more profitable) way to speak to donors is this: "Thanks to your support, we did this great thing and that great thing. AND" -- just as important; you have to make room for donors on your team -- "without your help we can't."

You don't have to distort stories to do this, by the way. Your stories can run just as they are.

But the donor must see her presence in high-visibility locations like headlines.

I sometimes just insert what's called an "eyebrow" above the headline. The eyebrow is a few words in small type that say something like "Your donor dollars at work...." That introductory phrase helps donors see the connection between their gifts and your activities.


Takeaway: Charity newsletters are not about what the charity finds interesting. Charity newsletters are about what your donor/investors find interesting, namely: What kinds of good did you do with my gift and other gifts like it?

Profitable charity newsletters all have one thing in common: they shovel joy, promise, and proof into their donors' hearts and heads.

Many charities never tumble to this fact and wonder why their newsletters seem like such a waste of time and money.

Tom Ahern is just plain great! I could go on and on but - all you have to do is go to his website and see for yourself -


Your TXNP Weekly E-Newsletter is made possible by the generosity of:

FROST in many Texas cities

TXNP Professional Members Are Dedicated to Texas and Texans.

Aurora Grants & Consulting |Dawson Murray Teague Communications | ELITE Research | FOR THE PHILANTHROPIST | Graystone Consulting | J A Churchill Associates | John F. Lewis PC | McConnell & Jones LLC

Sign up for your personal TXNP E-Newsletter

at-t Meadows Foundation express news HOBLITZELLE FOUNDATION v greenly zachry foundation w b h b bank of america southwest airlines Sid W. Richardson Foundation forst