Hints galore on how to raise money with newsletters

A practical history-of-fundraising lesson from Tom Ahern: The Domain Formula for donor newsletters:

In the 1990s, a Seattle fundraising shop called the Domain Group took the garden-variety donor newsletter, stripped it down to its components, and began testing…. Domain eventually developed a formula that made a donor newsletter HIGHLY worth doing: some Domain clients began raking in more gifts through their newsletters than through their direct mail appeals.

Tom learned these things form the Domain Formula:


  • Page count: no more than 4 pages (in tests, adding more pages did not produce more revenue)
  • Article length: short
  • Write for skimmers (i.e., requires professional quality headlines)
  • Send in a #10 envelope, not as a self-mailer
  • Include a separate reply device
  • Don’t get distracted: be fully donor-committed. Send only to your donors. You have to talk to a single target audience
  • Make the voice personal (the word “you” dominates) rather than institutional; get intimate
  • Focus on “accomplishment reporting” (tell donors how much they have changed the world through their gifts)

I was part of that intrepid Domain Group team back then. It was amazing to watch newsletters transform from a net cost to revenue-generators. Not only did we find that newsletters could pull in donations as well as (sometimes better than) appeals, we also saw that time after time, adding newsletters to the fundraising line-up improved donor retention.

It’s been a long time since those discoveries. Here are a few things I’ve learned about newsletters since then:


  • Page count: newsletters of fewer than four pages have not done well. Cheaper, but the loss in revenue more than undercuts the production savings.
  • Full color: When tested against two colors, four-color newsletters usually at least pay for themselves — though not always. (Back in the 90s, 4-color was not worthwhile; in fact, it often depressed response.) Full color seems to have the most positive impact for larger national organizations. It’s worth testing, but not an automatic winner for everyone.
  • A reply device printed in the newsletter usually gives a meaningful boost to response. Organizations get very few of these printed reply devices back, but they seem to have the function of driving more people to the separate RD that’s in the envelope.
  • Best teaser: “Newsletter enclosed.”
  • Newsletters are not equally effective for all organizations. They work better for local orgs than national ones. They generally work better for religious orgs than non-religious.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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