Newsletter looks great, full of donor love … but barely breaks even. Why? [Newsletter Tuesday]

Newsletter Tuesdays: A series about doing more with your donor newsletter.

Guest blogger: Tom Ahern

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I have before me today a wonderful-looking newsletter. It’s nicely donor-focused. It follows the tested Domain Formula.

But this newsletter isn’t raising much money.

Why? Because it’s missing something very important.

Let me show you what I mean by describing the spread of pages 2 and 3 of the newsletter. (I’m not going to show you the spread, because I don’t want to embarrass the wonderful people who create the newsletter. But you’ll get the picture.) Here’s what you’d see if you looked at the spread:

  • Upper left, a bold subhead: Starving? Not anymore…
  • Below that, the BIGGEST type on the spread, a dominating headline that says: You are feeding this widow’s children.
  • Bordering all of that to the left is a large, color photo of a mother and child. They look healthy and hopeful.
  • Across the bottom of the entire spread is another color photo showing the village where the family lives.
  • Also on the spread: a large map of where on earth your donation has gone to work.
  • Key messages: “You have made all the difference for this widow and her family.” (Her husband died of starvation.) “When your amazing gift of food arrived, [her] life changed. She no longer has to spend hours foraging for food.”

So … pretend you’re one of their donors. You’re staring at the spread. Your brain is idling, ready to zip around, wondering what to look at first, what’s the story here?

The story: Okay, job done! Phew. I can relax. The work was done …

But that takeaway was in fact just half the story. The full story is this: Progress made, but the work is NOT yet done. It requires commitment, and staying with the work.

“Buried” in the text of the spread is this: We’re talking a drought of Biblical proportions. We’re talking a stream that was once the village’s essential source of water … and is now a dry dirt road. We’re talking about a land where the money an average American might spend on morning coffee can feed a family for a week.

We’re talking continued need.

YES! Donor newsletters are about delivering emotional gratification to your compassionate family of donors.

But that’s not the whole story. Another part of the same story is the continued need for your help. For the compassionate reader who has shown they care and are willing to donate to make a difference to give again if they can. That’s important too.

Your donor newsletter should mainly be about the amazing things the donor has already done. But it’s also about the things they still can do to make a difference.

Newsletters that include the element of need are usually good at raising money. Sometimes as well as appeal letters.

Remember this: Donors want to donate. Giving them a chance to keep making a difference speaks directly to their hearts.

Not every donor receiving your print newsletter will respond with an additional gift. But if you open the door for donations, you get more donations.

Subscribe to Tom Ahern’s fundraising newsletter here.

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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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About the blogger

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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