Your newsletter doesn’t need to be the Rodney Dangerfield of your fundraising program: Part 2

In my last blog post, I promised to tell you how a newsletter test achieved a 521% increase in revenue.

We called that test the Extreme Donor-Focused Newsletter Challenge. As we conducted it, we followed some simple principles as we created those winning newsletters. You can put them into practice to create your own newsletter that makes money and wins respect.

10 principles to create your own Extreme Donor-Focused Newsletter

1. WRITE TO the Donor, FOR the Donor, ABOUT the Donor. This is NOT objective, arms-length journalism. This is NOT the organization talking about itself to organization insiders.

This is a warm conversation with the donor about the things she is most interested in. The main point of the newsletter is to share what the donor’s giving has done. It’s all about her!

2. ENSURE a High “You” Quotient. The copy is written directly to the donor using the second person singular. The most frequent word in the copy AND headlines should be “you.”

Take the time to count the number of times you use “you” and “your.” If you don’t have enough, rewrite the copy to make sure you have not lost your donor focus.

3. TOUCH the Heart With Strong Emotion. The newsletter needs to stir the donor’s heart. Make the donor feel something! Tell stories of amazing accomplishments that the donor’s generosity helped make possible.

Don’t let the brand police put your writer and designer into a dull, emotionless straightjacket. Use vivid language with strong, active verbs and concrete nouns. Avoid jargon, technical program-speak and the alphabet-soup of acronyms. Beware of big numbers and statistics. They stimulate the left side of the brain and suppress emotions.

Dramatic, emotional photos are worth their weight in gold.

4. SURPRISE and DELIGHT! This is a “newsletter” so it needs to have something new in it. Tell the donor something fascinating that she does not already know. The initial reaction of the donor upon first glance should be a big smile because her giving has made something wonderful happen.

As Tom Ahern says, “A newsletter might be more welcome than an appeal. It can bring joy. It can bring fun. It can take the reader on a journey.”

One of the pitfalls of newsletter publishing is falling into a rut. One of my favorite fundraising aphorisms is, “You can’t bore anybody into giving.” But millions of really boring newsletters are mailed each year.

I’ve often seen a great temporary jump in performance immediately after a newsletter is given an overhaul and a fresh design. But within just a few months, performance tends to slip and fall back to the previous level.

“You can’t bore anyone into giving.

Keeping the newsletter fresh does not mean that you must start from scratch each month. Establishing a basic design template for your newsletter is mandatory. This not only helps with efficiency, but also maintains brand consistency. But we also demand that every newsletter be fresh and delightful.

You can keep it fresh with fresh content. Great photos help. But you can also mix up the look through the use of color. Make sure your brand has a full palette of secondary colors and use them!

5. APPRECIATE the Donor. One of the major themes of the newsletter needs to be how important the donor is. “Look at what you have accomplished! With your help we can do all this. Without your help we will not be able to do it.”

Look for ways to use the words “Thank you!” over and over again. It’s almost impossible to over-thank donors. (And remember, this is not merely a report back about what the organization was able to accomplish. This is all about what the DONOR has accomplished through her generosity!)

Whenever you have the opportunity to influence the gathering of photo resource, have beneficiaries hold up signs that say “Thank You!” That is the most powerful and direct way to close the loop between the donor and the people who are actually being helped.

6. DESIGN for Readability. Remove all unnecessary barriers to readability and comprehension. For your print newsletter, use a large, readable SERIF font for body copy. Readability studies have shown that serif fonts are superior to sans serif fonts for body copy on the printed page.

A lot of designers love sans serif fonts because of their clean look and because they are trendy, but your donor newsletter is too important to be left up to a matter of current fashion or someone’s personal taste. If you want your body copy to be read and comprehended, use a nice serif font.

(The rules are different for online design. See my colleague Ryan James’ post about how to design for readability on the web.)

All body copy should pass the “dollar bill” test. (You should not be able to lay a dollar bill on any expanse of body copy without touching a headline, photo or subhead.) No large blocks of reversed out type. No busy backgrounds behind copy. Make the layout “scannable” with large photos, headlines, subheads and pull quotes.

7. MOTIVATE Another Gift. Donors love to give and you should not be ashamed to ask them to give again. While much of the newsletter space is devoted to thanks and appreciation, the newsletter needs to give the donor a way to repeat their charitable behavior. This means making a clearly stated offer that donors have supported in the past.

What’s the right mix of thanks, report-back and asking in a newsletter?

That depends. It depends on the rest of your fundraising program, and the strength of your donor file. If your fundraising mix already comprises an aggressive schedule of appeals, you probably need a newsletter that is 90% report back with only 10% of the space devoted to asking.

But if your donors are being under-asked, you could do well with a newsletter that, while still expressing lavish gratitude and appreciation, devotes a greater percentage of space to need and appeal.

NOTE: The way to determine if your donors are being under-asked or over-asked is through analysis of donor behavior and testing, NOT by listening to someone’s subjective opinion. Anecdotal reports of donors calling to complain about receiving “too much mail,” does not prove you really are sending too much mail.

8. MAKE It Convenient to Give.  The newsletter should include a response device and a return envelope. Make it easy to give online. The URL for the giving page should be clearly presented in case that is the donor’s preferred giving channel. By all means, give the donor an option to make their gift monthly.

9. APPEAL to the Most Basic Donor Benefit. Giving is joyful. I can’t emphasize the importance of this simple fact. Donors — real donors — love to give. Your faithful, loyal donors are the people who give over and over again, and keep giving.

They are not stingy grouches who must be cajoled and manipulated into reluctantly parting with their money. No! Real donors have discovered the secret of true happiness and all they need is the assurance that their giving is appreciated and effective.

This key message should be explicitly stated: “Nothing feels better than when you help. When you give to accomplish XYZ, you know the joy of making a significant difference in the world!”

10. REFRESH and REENGAGE. Nothing about the newsletter should be a chore for the reader. The whole publication is a joyful celebration of what the donor has made possible. By the time she is finished reading the newsletter, she should be energized and eager to do more.

Special bonus tip

11. MAIL Your Newsletter in an Envelope.

    Don’t listen to anyone who thinks you can save money by simply dropping your newsletter in the mail as a self-mailer. I’ve tested self-mailers. My colleagues have tested them. Other organizations have tested them. I’ve never seen them work.
    A simple No. 10 envelope is cost-effective and works just fine. Use copy and graphics on the envelope to proclaim the fact that this is the donor’s newsletter. (By this time you will have made your newsletter so good, the donor won’t want to miss it!)

Turn your “Rodney Dangerfield” newsletter into the “Most Interesting Man in the World”

If you follow these 10 principles, (and the special bonus tip) you’ll have your own Extreme Donor-Focused Newsletter. Your fundraising program should enjoy increased revenue and donor retention.

And what’s more, your newsletter will finally get the respect it deserves!