What your next newsletter should be like

newsletter.

It’s time to get tactical.

We gave you a couple of big ideas for how to think about your newsletter. (If you want to delight your donors and raise more money, that is.)

Now as we move into the details, here’s a summary for the elements of your newsletter:

  • Send it in a #10 or larger envelope (not a self-mailer)
    • Teaser should be “Your newsletter enclosed”
  • 4 pages long (1 tabloid-sized sheet, folded in half to make 4 pages)
    • The first three pages should be Stories of Success – between 2 and 4 stories, each about an individual beneficiary, each sharing the “before” and the “after” for that beneficiary, and each giving credit to the donor for making the transformation happen
    • The back page should be a Story of Need with an offer – this is a story that describes a current need being faced by beneficiaries and a description of how the donor’s gift of a certain size will perfectly meet the need for one person
  • A separate reply card, with bonus points for pre-printing the donor’s info and customizing the gift ask amounts based on the donor’s previous gift
  • A separate reply envelope that the donor can use to send back their gift

Of course, there are other newsletter formats that work.

But if you’re looking to improve your newsletter, this particular way has been battle-tested by thousands of nonprofits.

It’s worked so many times for so many types of organizations that it’s our “default setting.” In other words, if a nonprofit asks Better Fundraising to create a newsletter – and we’re going to be retained or fired based on the results – this is the model we follow. It’s the model we recommend to all our clients, the model we speak about at conferences, etc.

Why So Specific?

My goal is to show you exactly what to do to raise money and delight your donors, and to take the mystery out of successful nonprofit newsletters.

We want to make it as easy as possible for you. I heard from a client earlier today who said, “The reduction in anxiety from having a proven model to follow is priceless.” That’s what we’re offering here. And next, we’ll tackle how to write your stories, how to design your newsletter, who to send it to, even the best way to write headlines and picture captions. Stay tuned!

Read the series:

This post was originally published on February 27, 2020.

Why are you writing about the organization?

newsletter.

This is the second post in our series on donor-centered-newsletters – the kind of newsletters that delight donors and raise more money for your nonprofit.

The first post was about the purpose of your newsletter. This post is the second and final Big Idea you need to succeed.

And after this – I promise – the posts will get tactical.

But if you don’t know this one idea, all the tactics in the world won’t help very much.

A Powerful, Unexpected Question

It’s 1994. I’m less than a year out of college working at a fundraising agency that specializes in helping large nonprofits raise money. And I’m writing my first newsletter.

I handed my draft to my boss – an accomplished and brilliant fundraiser.

He read the first story, scanned the rest of the stories, and handed the stack of paper back to me.

Then he asked me a powerful but unexpected question:

“Why Are You Writing about the Organization?”

I didn’t know it at the moment, but that was one of the most powerful lessons I ever learned about effective fundraising.

At the time, all I could do was say, “What do you mean? It’s the organization’s newsletter.”

 “Sure.” My boss said, “but most donors aren’t reading a newsletter to find out anything about the organization. They’re reading it to find out if their gift made a difference.

“The most effective newsletters are written to show donors what their gift accomplished. And the best way to do that is through stories about beneficiaries.

“So stop talking about the organization and its programs. Start talking about the donor and telling her stories about lives that have been changed because of her kindness. Then she’ll think it was a great idea to give to the organization and be more likely to give again.”

So I went back to my office to do a complete rewrite.

But I was a far more effective fundraiser from that moment forward.

Your Newsletter

As you create your newsletter, you’ll be tempted to “write about your organization.”

People in your organization will even push you to write about your organization.

They’ll say things like, “But we have to tell people about everything we do and tell them that we’re good at it!”

No. You don’t. In fact, when you do, fewer donors will read your newsletter. Because hearing about your organization is not why they’re reading. They’re reading because they’re hoping to hear about themselves. They’re hoping to hear whether and how their gift made a difference and whether they’re a valuable part of your organization.

Keep this idea in mind as you read this series. Then all the tactics – the writing style, the headlines, the picture captions – will make sense.

You’ll start keeping your donors for longer. And your newsletter will become a major revenue source!

Read the series:

This post was originally published on February 25, 2020.

What the purpose of your newsletter SHOULD be

Newsletter.

This is the first in a series of posts that will show you how to create donor-delighting, money-raising newsletters.

We’re talking about newsletters that your donors love to open, the kind that increase the chance they’ll keep giving to your organization year after year, and the kind that raise way more money than they cost to send out.

What Is Your Newsletter’s Purpose?

Here’s our approach, and it’s been successful for every type of organization in every sector we’ve tried:

Your newsletter exists to show your donor how her gift made a difference, and to show her what her gift today will do.

There’s a lot in that one sentence, which we’ll unpack during this series.

But it’s just as helpful to understand what your newsletter should not be:

  • It should not a newspaper, full of all kinds of stories
  • It should not be about your organization, your programs, your staff, your volunteers, your sponsors, or your partners
  • It should not be about how much money you’ve raised
  • It should not be a “playbill” about the upcoming events and ways a donor can get involved
  • It should not “hide the good news” by only mentioning the donor at the very end of stories

And yet, those are the things that most nonprofits use their newsletters for.

That’s why most newsletters don’t get read.

That’s why they don’t measurably help organizations keep their donors.

And it’s why most newsletters don’t raise much (if any) money.

Here’s the Big Idea:

Your donor is more interested in reading about herself – about what she and her gift did – than she is reading about any of those other things.

So if you want her to read your newsletter, write to her and write about her.

You Need a To-do list and a Not-To-Do List

Newsletters don’t raise a lot of money by accident.

The content is curated and the offer decided. Then it’s written and designed with the intent to raise money.

Everything included in it is done with a purpose. That means that a bunch of things are also excluded on purpose.

For smaller organizations, this is hard, because it means telling some staff that their program will never be featured in the newsletter. It means getting more stories and photos of beneficiaries. It means the “save the date” for your next event needs to be an additional mailing, not in your newsletter.

It’s hard, but it’s worth it. This approach works measurably better than any other approach I’ve ever seen in my 27 years of fundraising.

If you’d like to know more, stay tuned (and subscribe to our blog if you haven’t already)!

Read the series:

This post was originally published on February 20, 2020.

You Are More than Your Programs, Your Process and Your People

You are more

Your organization has people and programs and processes that make you effective. They make your organization a force for good. They make your organization a great place for a donor to give a gift.

However, your organization is also far more than your people, your processes and your programs:

  • Your organization is also a vehicle that donors use to make the world a better place
  • Your organization is also a way for donors and not-yet-donors to be reminded of the injustices in the world
  • Your organization is also a way for donors to self-actualize by acting out their own personal story of giving
  • Your organization is also a way to donors to fight back against evil
  • Your organization is also a way for donors to make themselves feel good (by giving you a gift)
  • Your organization is also a way for donors to exert a measure of control over the world.

Here’s why this is important. In our experience, those additional things – all those “also’s” – are the primary drivers of why most donors give.

And when you focus your fundraising on the primary drivers of why donors give, you’ll raise more money.

So instead of making the easy choice to make your fundraising about the reasons your organization is effective, make the generous choice to make your fundraising about the reasons your donors give to your organization.

It’s a generous choice because you’ll be communicating to donors about why they support your organization, instead of communicating with them about why your organization would support your organization.

Don’t mistake what makes your organization effective for the reasons donors like to have you in their lives.

“You” is the magic word for newsletters

newsletters.

Here’s an easy-to-follow tip to increase the amount of people who read your next newsletter:

Use the word “you” as the first word of the main headline on your cover.

That tells your donor right away that the newsletter is to her, and for her. And don’t you think she’ll be more likely to read if you signal to her that the newsletter is about her in some way? Versus what most organizations do, which is talk about themselves?

Want another tip? Use the word “you” again – in either the subhead or the first sentence of the main story.

Now you’re signaling to the donor that this really is about her. That the “you” in the headline was not just “donor-centered window dressing,” but was a signal that your organization really does care about her.

And now your donor is thinking, “Hey, this organization might be different from the other organizations I give to. They might appreciate me.”

And one final tip: use the word “you” in every single picture caption.

My rule is that picture captions should not be about what’s happening in the photo. Picture captions should be about the donor’s role in what’s happening in the photo. So instead of “Lisa and Laure enjoyed a week of summer camp at our facility” it should be, “Thanks to you, Lisa and Laura enjoyed an incredible week of summer camp!”

Now you’ve really done it. Your donor knows that you sent her a newsletter that’s about her and about what her gift accomplished.

That’s a Big Deal! Because very few (if any) of the other nonprofits she’s giving to have taken the time and money to show her what her gift did.

Some of them have sent her chest-thumping newsletters about what the organization did. But none of them have gotten in touch with her to tell her what she did.

Big difference.

And when you use the word “you,” she’s more likely to read more. And to know more about your organization. And to give more the next time you send her an appeal.

All from using the word “you” more often.

Think about it this way. As a donor, which type of newsletter would you like to receive: a newsletter that’s to everybody and all about the organization, or a newsletter that’s to you and all about what your gift did?

You know which one your donors would prefer. So follow these tips and make them one!

This post was originally published on September 10, 2019.

Do These 2 Things If You Want to Keep Your Donors

Thank and Report

I’ve talked about this idea before, but after a year that saw charitable giving increase for many organizations, it’s an idea worthy of reminder…

You have to Thank your donors well, and Report back to them on the effects of their gift, if you want to have the best chance of keeping them.

Here’s the power of Thanking and Reporting, in the simplest possible terms:

  • Thanking your donor well tells her she’s important and that her gift is making a difference.  Almost no nonprofit clearly tells their donors this!  If every thank you letter, receipt and email clearly communicate her value, she’s more likely to give you another gift.
  • Reporting back to your donor on how the world is a better place because of her gift shows her that her gift made a difference.  And if your newsletter shows your donor that her gift made a difference, she’s more likely to give another gift to your organization.

It really is that simple.  It’s not magic.

But it IS why successful organizations spend money and time on Thanking rapidly and well.  And it’s why organizations with good donor-focused newsletters have higher donor retention rates.

Remember; each of your donors is giving to several organizations.  Probably even more so given the challenges of the pandemic.  Some of those organizations make her feel important.  Some of them make her feel like her gift makes a difference.

If your organization makes her feel important, and makes her feel like she made a difference, she’s more likely to stick with you.

And give more gifts. 

And give higher gifts.

So “close the loop” by Thanking and Reporting.

Keeping your donors for longer is one of the primary keys to successful fundraising.  And Thanking and Reporting will make you a pro at keeping your donors!

Your Printed Newsletter: The final Big Idea that brings it all together

newsletter

Your printed newsletter should be raising a lot of money – as much as your appeals and, in some cases, even more.

The goal of this series has been to give you a tested, proven approach to creating a donor-delighting, money-raising printed newsletter:

  • Direct mail experts ran a series of head-to-head tests of different types of printed newsletters. The approach detailed here beat all the other approaches.
  • We’ve used this approach since 2004 to reliably (and sometimes incredibly) increase the money nonprofits raise from their newsletters.
  • We’ve taught this model at conferences, seminars and webinars.  We’ve received hundreds of pieces of feedback about how the approach increased newsletter revenue.  You do not need to be an expert to follow this model and raise more money

So take it this approach and apply it to your organization.  Test it against your current approach, or any other approach.

Be Intentional with Your Newsletter

Figure out what your organization’s approach is.  Discover and name your organization’s underlying assumptions. 

  • Maybe your organization believes that printed newsletters are obsolete.  (They aren’t.)
  • Maybe your organization believes that printed newsletters shouldn’t or can’t raise money.  (Neither is true.) 
  • Maybe your organization believes the way you’ve always done your newsletter is the only way your organization can do a newsletter.  (Not true.)
  • Maybe your organization fears that if you change your newsletter in any way, your donors will leave.  (Also not true.)
  • Maybe your organization believes you could do a newsletter like the one taught here, but you could never do an Ask along with it, because it would offend donors.  (You guessed it, not true!)

I’ve run into all of these beliefs before.  And it doesn’t matter what you believe – what matters is that you identify what you believe that results in your current approach.  Then you compare it with the approach outlined in this series and decide which approach to take.

Great newsletters don’t raise money by accident.  Content is included for a purpose, and content is excluded for a purpose.

And remember: the primary reason donors read your newsletter is not to hear about your organization. They’re reading because they’re hoping to hear about themselves.  Specifically, donors are reading to find out if they and their gift made a difference.

So start with this proven approach that shows and tells donors how they made a difference.  And good luck!


Read the whole series:

The Back Page: How to Turn Those Good Feelings into Donations

pages

The back page of your newsletter is where your donor’s good feelings can turn into another gift… or not.

What’s Happened So Far

If you’ve followed the newsletter approach I laid out starting here, your donor has scanned three pages of your newsletter.  Those pages have been full of stories that show and tell the donor how she and her gift made a difference.

You’ve proven to her that her gift to your organization was a good decision. 

Unlike other organizations who have sent your donor chest-thumping puff pieces about how busy and heroic their organization is, you’ve made your newsletter about the donor who is reading it.

She’s thinking, “Finally, an organization that gets me and what I’m trying to do.”

And she feels great!

Let’s Turn Those Feelings into Action

Here’s how to get a regular percentage of those donors to make a gift right then and there:

  • Feature one story on the top of the back page.
  • That story should be a “story of need” (this is different than the “stories of success” mentioned in this post in this series)
  • The need should be a need that your beneficiaries or organization are currently facing, or are going to face very soon.
  • Describe how the donor’s gift today will perfectly meet the need.  This is your Offer, and you can download this free eBook if you’d like to know more about how Offers work and how to create a great one.
  • The bottom of the back page should be what we call a ‘faux reply card.’ 
    • The faux reply card is not meant to be cut off and sent back.  The separate reply card you include with your newsletter is what will be sent back.  The faux reply card is added because in head-to-head testing it increased the number of people who sent in a gift by 15%.

A successful back page tends to look like this…

Or this…

Want to Get Even More Donors to Take Action?

Pro-level newsletters select their stories to set up the offer that’s used on the back page.

In other words, if the back page is going to tell a story of need about feeding children, the stories in the rest of the newsletter will all be about children who the donor helped feed.  Or if the back page is going to share a need to do advocacy work on an issue, the stories in the rest of the newsletter will all be about how the donor has helped fund successful advocacy work.

Put slightly differently: each newsletter has a theme, and the theme is directly related to the offer.  The greater the percentage of content that is not on-theme, the lower the amount of money the newsletter will raise.

Your newsletters do not need to be perfectly themed to succeed.  But in our experience it increases the chances you’ll raise more money.

Feelings

It may feel weird to have a story of need and a reply card on the back of your newsletter.

Your newsletter is a Report, after all.

But it works great.  This approach raises more money than any other approach that was tested. 

And there are no negative consequences to doing your newsletter this way.  People do not complain about it.  You do not lose donors because of it.

You simply start raising more money with your newsletters.  And retaining more of your donors. Because remember, your donors love to give.  All you’ve done with this method is proven to your donor that her previous gift made a difference, then given her a reason to give another gift today.


Read the series:

Newsletter Design: Readable and Scannable Above All Else

For the smaller nonprofits out there, who don’t have super-pro Designers creating their newsletters, do not worry.

Your newsletter does not need to have fancy or complicated design to be successful.

In fact, fancy and complicated design usually lowers readability – which lowers the effectiveness of your newsletter.

What you’re going for is “clean and easy to read.”

Here are a bunch of examples – kept purposefully small.  You will be able to tell at a glance which ones are readable… and which aren’t. 

This, Not That

This cover…

Not this cover…

That second cover has too much going on.  I think there are six elements in the header alone.  Too much copy.  Seven different type treatments.

This interior page…

Not this interior page…

That second interior page has far too much copy.  The one photo is too small. 

This back page…

Not this back page…

The second back page has waaay too much “reverse text” (white text on a dark background) which is very hard to read for older donors.  Plus it’s a self-mailer, which raises less money than newsletters that follow the format taught in these blog posts.

The lesson here; look at your newsletter from a few feet away.  Does it look friendly?  Easy to read?  Or does it look thick with information and visually cluttered?

That’s Fine, But What Do I Do?

Here are the general newsletter rules we live by:

  • Not too much text
  • 13 point typeface or larger
  • Headlines, subheads and picture captions should always be in a high-contrast color (preferably black)
  • Use reverse text only when it’s a couple/few words in larger type
  • Black text on a white background is always the most readable
  • Don’t put your text in colors that are low contrast (they are harder to read for older donors). 
  • 2 or 3 text columns max

Know What’s Most Important

The trick is to know what’s most important.

If you’re judging your newsletter by asking, “Does it look nice and use our brand colors?” you’re asking the wrong question.

The first, most important question is, “Is it easy to read and convey our main message in a couple seconds?”

Nail that.  Then add graphic elements and flourishes but keep the text readable. 

Because remember, it’s all about readability.  If fewer people read your fundraising, fewer people give to your fundraising.  So make your fundraising newsletter easy to read!


Read the series: