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Cheryl and Kathy ask good grassroots questions
Tom Ahern

March, 2012

About donor newsletters & more 



Cheryl and Kathy wrote to ask me about a few things...


1. What is the difference between marketing and fundraising in the nonprofit community?


So I said.... Your question could be interpreted two ways.


(Way #1) Are marketing and fundraising different? No.


Fundraising is a type of marketing and sales. Fundraisers might be surprised to hear themselves described as sales people, but that's what they are, technically speaking. Their customer is the donor.


(Way #2) Is the nonprofit audience different than, say, the commercial audience? Yes and no.


Consumers buy products and services because those items will benefitthem in some way. You buy detergent to clean your clothes, for instance.


Donors "buy" missions (i.e., they donate) ... and for their hard-earned money receive nothing really tangible (leaving aside the trinkets that infest direct mail appeals).


Yet donors receive benefits, even so.


Part of that benefit is simply dopamine: it feels good to give, neuroscience has discovered. But there are many other emotional benefits possible: the donor reaffirms her values; the donor feels like a good person; the donor believes she has a better shot at ascending to heaven because she's charitable, as her faith tradition prescribes; the donor fulfills what she perceives as her duty; the donor feels she is paying back for a good life, etc.


2. What is the most important tip that you would offer grassroots nonprofits for using newsletters and e-mail in their marketing programs?


Learn how to write great headlines (for print newsletters) and great subject lines (for e-newsletters).


Eighty percent of your target audience will never read past the big type (i.e., headlines), studies show. If you want any messages to penetrate -- messages like "Your support is hugely important to us..." -- those messages must be in the headlines. If you don't get headlines and subject lines right, your messaging will consistently fail to penetrate.


3. What is the biggest pitfall that nonprofits should be aware of when using newsletters and e-mail for marketing?


Stop talking about how great the organization is. Start talking about how great the donor is.


Ninety-nine out of 100 charities that I encounter -- and I look at stuff from all over the world, all the time -- focus on what is basically self-promotion. "We" is their favorite pronoun. The thinking is, I guess, "If they know we do great work, they'll support us." Logical ... but not particularly true. 


In fact, the most profitable donor newsletters focus HEAVILY on the donor instead. "You" is their favorite pronoun.


Bottom line: virtually all charity newsletters that I see are built to fail, because they do not adequately flatter supporters. And you cannot OVER-flatter, by the way. As the Neuromarketing blog reported, "Even when people perceive that flattery is insincere, that flattery can still leave a lasting and positive impression of the flatterer." 


4. What are the top three resources you recommend for nonprofits wishing to use newsletters and e-mail for marketing?


Subscribe to two blogs and eventually buy a book.


Blog #1: Jeff Brooks' Future Fundraising Now. Jeff is among a handful of top fundraising copywriters in the US, and he shares all his secrets.


Blog #2: Kivi Leroux Miller's Nonprofit Communications Blog. Kivi targets smaller and grassroots nonprofits and is a political and environmental activist herself.


The only book about charity newsletters that I know is my own: Raising More Money with Newsletters, but it is badly out of date and I am writing the new version, fully redone, with great examples, right now. It should appear before the end of 2012.


Why the book? You really want some advice. You can't guess your way to success on this one. I've reviewed hundreds of charity newsletters. Of that crowd, maybe a half-dozen were any good, from a marketing standpoint. The odds of getting it right without help are next to nil.


Good luck!!!


And that's what I told Cheryl and Kathy.... 


Check out Tom's work at 


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