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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

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Trust = Giving + Retention
Tom Ahern

November, 2007

"Dear Uncertain" wants to know: What purpose do donor newsletters really serve? Must we have one?

"Our donor newsletter now costs the agency $3,000 a year in design costs alone. My ED is getting fidgety about the expense. She wants to hear some justification. What does a donor newsletter really do for us, anyway?" Signed, Uncertain.

Welcome to another installment of the Dear Tom advice column.

The topic this time: What is a donor newsletter really for?

Donors have four main questions:

1. What did you do with my money? What has your organization accomplished that matters? (This is where you talk about your program results, the things your organization has done that prove you're achieving your mission. Merkle/Domain calls this "accomplishment reporting.")

2. What if I gave you more money? What could you accomplish if I continue or even expand my support? (This is your promise or vision.)

3. Do you really need help (such as donations, volunteers, or even good word of mouth) to complete your mission? (I.e., Are donors critical? A case for support isn't really about "telling your story." It's really about why you can't achieve your wonderful mission without donor investment.)

4. Are you efficient as a business? (Translation: Can I trust you to spend my money wisely?)

To keep donors satisfied and committed, a charity (local, national, community foundation, hospital, university, whatever you might be) must answer those four questions over and over, for eternity. Those are the four pillars of donor loyalty.

And that, Dear Uncertain, is what your donor newsletter is really for: To answer those four questions in a thousand different ways. Your goal: with each issue, to build trust in your charity and its operations.

Why? Because as trust rises, donated income rises and donor retention improves. Trust is directly linked to giving and retention. T = G + R.

In a nutshell.

Tom Ahern is recognized as one of North America’s top authorities on nonprofit and donor communications. His "Love Thy Reader" workshops win rave reviews at fundraising conferences across the U.S. and Canada. Tom's workshops have trained thousands of nonprofit staff and board in the revenue-building secrets of psychology, marketing, writing, and graphic design. In 2005 he joined other world-class experts as a faculty member for the IFC's weeklong conference in the Netherlands, attended by fundraisers from 80 countries. He is the author of The Mercifully Brief, Real World Guide to Raising More Money with Newsletters Than You Ever Thought Possible, released in October 2005 by Emerson & Church. A second book titled How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money. John Wiley & Sons, the premier publisher of books for the nonprofit industry, in January 2006 contracted with Tom (and his wife, consultant Simone Joyaux) to produce a new book with the working title, Nonprofit Fundraising Communications: A Practical and Profitable Approach. Tom is also an award-winning magazine journalist, for articles on health, women's rights and other social justice issues. Visit


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