Outline for newsletter stories

newsletter.

Here’s the outline we follow for newsletter stories.

It’s remarkably simple, and it does two powerful things:

  1. It makes your newsletter easier and faster to write, because you have a model to follow
  2. It makes sure each story helps you achieve the purpose of your newsletter

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

Simple Newsletter Outline

PARAGRAPHS 1–2

  • Summarize the situation the beneficiary was in
  • Tell the donor the situation changed because of them
  • Summarize the positive situation the beneficiary is in today

PARAGRAPHS 3–5

  • Tell the beneficiary’s “story” as above, but go into more depth

FINAL PARAGRAPH

  • Thank the donor for making the transformation (from “before” to “after”) possible
  • Thank the donor for caring about the beneficiary enough to take action to help

Note: most newsletter stories are between 150 and 250 words. So the number of paragraphs will vary depending on the length of the story.

The Power of This Approach

When you use this approach, your donor doesn’t have to read more than the first paragraph to get your newsletter’s main messagethat the donor’s gift made a meaningful difference in the life of one person or for your cause.

At Better Fundraising, we assume that 80% of the people who open your newsletter will only read the headlines, picture captions, and a paragraph or two. For those people (4 out of 5!), you want to do everything you can to ensure they still get your main message.

Other nonprofits will make their donors wade through tons of words to find out whether the donors’ gifts made a difference. Sometimes the donor will never find out. I’ve seen newsletters where the donor is never even mentioned.

But by following this model, you and your organization will communicate your main message to almost every person who opens your newsletter. That’s a huge win!

Repeat This Formula in Every Story

When a donor opens your newsletter, you don’t know which story (or stories) they’re going to read. So you want to use this formula for every story so – whatever they read – they get the message that their gift made a difference.

This approach will feel repetitive to you – since you see every story. But most of your donors won’t read every story.

It will feel repetitive to your staff and core stakeholders (like your board) because they’re far more likely than most donors to open every newsletter and read every story.

But Remember

Your newsletter is not for you, your staff, or your core stakeholders. It’s a communication vehicle to show the remaining 95% of your donors that their gift made a meaningful difference.

Why is showing donors that they made a meaningful difference so important?

So that they can trust that giving a gift to your organization makes a real difference

So that they’re more likely to give you a gift the next time you ask

So that they’re more likely to keep giving to you year after year

So that they’re more likely to become a major donor

So that they’re more likely to leave you a gift in their will

So no pressure… but make sure your newsletter shows each donor that their gift made a meaningful difference. And one of the most powerful ways to do that is to write the stories following this outline.

To learn LOTS more about how to make your newsletter as effective as possible, download our free e-book, “10 Steps to Create a Money-Raising, Donor-Delighting Print Newsletter”

This post was originally published on March 3, 2020.

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:

This post was originally published on August 11, 2020.

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:

This post was originally published on August 6, 2020.

Newsletter Headlines That Work

Newsletter headline.

My recent post gave you a simple outline for how to easily write newsletter stories.

Today is about newsletter headlines: a massively important part of your newsletter’s success, but a part that most organizations spend very little time on.

Remember our belief that about 80% of the people who open your newsletter will read only your headlines and picture captions?

Doesn’t that make your headlines important? Maybe even more important than the story the headline is for?

We think so. So here’s how to write successful headlines…

Headlines Have One of Two Jobs

We try to do one of two things with newsletter headlines.

  • Be so dramatic and interesting that the reader wants to read the article. Think of it this this way: the headline is the ad for the story.
  • Share the outcome of the story and involve the donor. Think of it this way: your reader should know, just from reading the headline, that their gift did something powerful.

Example Time

Here are a handful of examples of ineffective headlines – taken from real newsletters in our files. They don’t accomplish either of the objectives above:

  • IFI Training Day Expands
  • Elizabeth’s experience encourages others to get their annual mammogram
  • Committed to change lives
  • Together We Rise
  • 5th Annual Zip 5k + Fun Run Breaks Record for Participation
  • Board of Directors Highlights/News
  • What is Extreme Poverty?
  • Upcoming Fundraisers
  • Camp and Retreat Centers as Holy Ground
  • Staff Updates
  • Pathways Supported Employment program fills in the missing pieces for people recovering from homelessness

And here are examples of effective headlines:

  • You’re helping find “Desperately needed” new treatments
  • “I wanted to Die”
  • The power of One Meal
  • “There is no more disease!”
  • Blind from a Chemical explosion, today he can see!
  • You did this!
  • You’re a hero!
  • Food delivered!
  • He used to eat garbage, you gave him dumplings!
  • “We never expected this to happen”
  • Cancer Patient Living on French Fries and Soda Pop
  • From Abuse to Prison to Redemption
  • “Your baby has cancer”
  • 100 Happy Children
  • You helped save Darryl’s life
  • The Joy of Clean Water – Thanks to You!

Take a look at those effective headlines again.

Don’t you want to read the stories for those, more than you want to read the stories after the boring headlines?

And don’t you know – just from scanning the good headlines – that your gift made a meaningful difference?

In other words, you didn’t even have to read the story and you knew your gift made a difference. Which made you trust the organization a little bit more. Which made you more likely to give them a gift the next time they asked you. Which made the organization raise more money and retain more of its donors.

All that from a good headline.

You are in a BATTLE for your donor’s attention

Always remember – nobody has to read your fundraising.

You’re competing with people’s phones, with the internet, with making dinner, and with all of the other mailings from nonprofits that your donor received that very same day.

Strong dramatic and/or donor-focused headlines are one of the most powerful tools you have to convey your main message and get donors to read your stories! They are an integral part of whether your newsletter is going to raise money… or not.

So go look at your headlines – for both your printed newsletter and your e-newsletter. If they aren’t doing either of the two jobs above, it’s time to fire them and get some headlines that will do their jobs. There’s too much at stake to have your headlines causing fewer people to read your newsletter!

Read the series:

This post was originally published on March 5, 2020.

Outline for newsletter stories

newsletter.

Here’s the outline we follow for newsletter stories.

It’s remarkably simple, and it does two powerful things:

  1. It makes your newsletter easier and faster to write, because you have a model to follow
  2. It makes sure each story helps you achieve the purpose of your newsletter

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

Simple Newsletter Outline

PARAGRAPHS 1–2

  • Summarize the situation the beneficiary was in
  • Tell the donor the situation changed because of them
  • Summarize the positive situation the beneficiary is in today

PARAGRAPHS 3–5

  • Tell the beneficiary’s “story” as above, but go into more depth

FINAL PARAGRAPH

  • Thank the donor for making the transformation (from “before” to “after”) possible
  • Thank the donor for caring about the beneficiary enough to take action to help

Note: most newsletter stories are between 150 and 250 words. So the number of paragraphs will vary depending on the length of the story.

The Power of This Approach

When you use this approach, your donor doesn’t have to read more than the first paragraph to get your newsletter’s main messagethat the donor’s gift made a meaningful difference in the life of one person or for your cause.

At Better Fundraising, we assume that 80% of the people who open your newsletter will only read the headlines, picture captions, and a paragraph or two. For those people (4 out of 5!), you want to do everything you can to ensure they still get your main message.

Other nonprofits will make their donors wade through tons of words to find out whether the donors’ gifts made a difference. Sometimes the donor will never find out. I’ve seen newsletters where the donor is never even mentioned.

But by following this model, you and your organization will communicate your main message to almost every person who opens your newsletter. That’s a huge win!

Repeat This Formula in Every Story

When a donor opens your newsletter, you don’t know which story (or stories) they’re going to read. So you want to use this formula for every story so – whatever they read – they get the message that their gift made a difference.

This approach will feel repetitive to you – since you see every story. But most of your donors won’t read every story.

It will feel repetitive to your staff and core stakeholders (like your board) because they’re far more likely than most donors to open every newsletter and read every story.

But Remember

Your newsletter is not for you, your staff, or your core stakeholders. It’s a communication vehicle to show the remaining 95% of your donors that their gift made a meaningful difference.

Why is showing donors that they made a meaningful difference so important?

So that they can trust that giving a gift to your organization makes a real difference

So that they’re more likely to give you a gift the next time you ask

So that they’re more likely to keep giving to you year after year

So that they’re more likely to become a major donor

So that they’re more likely to leave you a gift in their will

So no pressure… but make sure your newsletter shows each donor that their gift made a meaningful difference. And one of the most powerful ways to do that is to write the stories following this outline.

Read the series:

This post was originally published on March 3, 2020.

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 Headlines That Work

Newsletter headline.

My recent post gave you a simple outline for how to easily write newsletter stories.

Today is about newsletter headlines: a massively important part of your newsletter’s success, but a part that most organizations spend very little time on.

Remember our belief that about 80% of the people who open your newsletter will read only your headlines and picture captions?

Doesn’t that make your headlines important? Maybe even more important than the story the headline is for?

We think so. So here’s how to write successful headlines…

Headlines Have One of Two Jobs

We try to do one of two things with newsletter headlines.

  • Be so dramatic and interesting that the reader wants to read the article. Think of it this this way: the headline is the ad for the story.
  • Share the outcome of the story and involve the donor. Think of it this way: your reader should know, just from reading the headline, that their gift did something powerful.

Example Time

Here are a handful of examples of ineffective headlines – taken from real newsletters in our files. They don’t accomplish either of the objectives above:

  • IFI Training Day Expands
  • Elizabeth’s experience encourages others to get their annual mammogram
  • Committed to change lives
  • Together We Rise
  • 5th Annual Zip 5k + Fun Run Breaks Record for Participation
  • Board of Directors Highlights/News
  • What is Extreme Poverty?
  • Upcoming Fundraisers
  • Camp and Retreat Centers as Holy Ground
  • Staff Updates
  • Pathways Supported Employment program fills in the missing pieces for people recovering from homelessness

And here are examples of effective headlines:

  • You’re helping find “Desperately needed” new treatments
  • “I wanted to Die”
  • The power of One Meal
  • “There is no more disease!”
  • Blind from a Chemical explosion, today he can see!
  • You did this!
  • You’re a hero!
  • Food delivered!
  • He used to eat garbage, you gave him dumplings!
  • “We never expected this to happen”
  • Cancer Patient Living on French Fries and Soda Pop
  • From Abuse to Prison to Redemption
  • “Your baby has cancer”
  • 100 Happy Children
  • You helped save Darryl’s life
  • The Joy of Clean Water – Thanks to You!

Take a look at those effective headlines again.

Don’t you want to read the stories for those, more than you want to read the stories after the boring headlines?

And don’t you know – just from scanning the good headlines – that your gift made a meaningful difference?

In other words, you didn’t even have to read the story and you knew your gift made a difference. Which made you trust the organization a little bit more. Which made you more likely to give them a gift the next time they asked you. Which made the organization raise more money and retain more of its donors.

All that from a good headline.

You are in a BATTLE for your donor’s attention

Always remember – nobody has to read your fundraising.

You’re competing with people’s phones, with the internet, with making dinner, and with all of the other mailings from nonprofits that your donor received that very same day.

Strong dramatic and/or donor-focused headlines are one of the most powerful tools you have to convey your main message and get donors to read your stories! They are an integral part of whether your newsletter is going to raise money… or not.

So go look at your headlines – for both your printed newsletter and your e-newsletter. If they aren’t doing either of the two jobs above, it’s time to fire them and get some headlines that will do their jobs. There’s too much at stake to have your headlines causing fewer people to read your newsletter!

Read the series: