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Thursday, January 18, 2018

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Are you taking your newsletter readers to a "special place"?
Tom Ahern

July, 2010

Okay, gather the team.

Everyone here? Cell phones off? Distractions to a minimum? (You brought jelly doughnuts?!? Cripes; another setback for my diet.)

I need to tell you something:

Your newsletter for donors is NOT really about your organization.

It's not, for instance, about your staff. It's not about how great your organization is. It's not even really about your programs. (Can we speak frankly for a moment? Those programs of yours, amazing and distinct as each most certainly is to insiders, are all kind of interchangeable to the outside world.)

A great donor newsletter, one that raises more money and retains more donors, is about just one thing, I'm pretty sure:

The journey you take your donors on.

You advance that journey -- you cut new trail, you take your donors by the hand to new places -- in every issue.

How? Through:
  • boldly-stated offers (i.e., offers that pop like ads; NOT offers whispering meekly at the end of an article, "For more information, call...");
  • unquenchable outpourings of donor love ("Zawadi says 'Thank you!' for her two new feet");
  • neat, easy to absorb, little stories told crisply through words and pictures;
  • charming photography (anyone working in communications really needs to know something about using photography well; How to Design Cool Stuff by John McWade is eye-opening, but that's just one of many helpful guides)
  • and (the #1 weakness of donor newsletters) effective headlines with sharp little hooks.
A headline that take your reader's safe assumptions by the throat and shakes them:

Is Your Baby Racist? Exploring the Roots of Discrimination (Newsweek)

A headline that speaks volumes to every mortal:

Merchandise King: Death need not get in the way of a successful career (BBC)

I'm thinking of a slight rewrite for that last one, by the way; a rewrite that takes the donor on a journey from impotence (sure, we all die) to triumph (but we can still be a powerful force for good, even so):

A gift for charity in your will? Death need not get in the way of a lifetime of service to your beloved community

Or, for you daredevils out there...

Good news? You can change the future. Bad news? You will have to die to do it.

(Feel free to test either of these headlines. Let me know how it goes.)

One of the easiest "journey-ish" features you can lean on is the update. In the update, you offer a new chapter of an unfolding story.

For instance, I've just received my latest disaster e-newsletter from Save the Children, a charity I give to. It has five items for me to consider including, "Haiti Update: Your Connection to Carina." Carina, so you know, is a real girl -- but she's also the poster child who sums up the entire tragedy. The teaser copy goes on to read, "Carina, Save the Children's Haiti Hope Child is being sponsored by donors like you. Read how she touched the heart of one of our staff." And then there's a link to the full story.

Dr. Adrian Sargeant lists 7 key factors in donor loyalty. One of those key factors is this: "Make sure your donors are learning. Take them on a journey."

Scott Bedbury, the marketing genius behind Nike's "Just Do It" campaign, says, "Great brands are stories that are never completely told." In every newsletter, give your donors more to learn and see and feel. Don't just tell them what is pretty much the same old story over and over and over.

>>> Takeaway>>> When you accept that your primary responsibility in a donor newsletter is to take your donors on a wonderful, inspiring, satisfying, gratifying journey ... you will, I guarantee it, raise FAR more money and retain FAR more donors.


Check out Toim Ahern at


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