Let’s tear down some common barriers. The ones that stand between your organization and creation of a newsletter that improves retention, thereby boosting the lifetime value of your donor list. Because, when you get right down to it, newsletters are all about the money. Eventually.
The rogue’s gallery:
1. We did a newsletter before. It didn’t work for us. This conclusion implies that some organizations are just not “good newsletter material,” when in fact most newsletters are built to fail, not to succeed. Learn to do your donor newsletter the right way, and it will work.
2. I’m a fundraiser, not a journalist. You don’t have to be a great writer to create a great charity newsletter. Paradoxically, your newsletter isn’t really about getting people to read your articles. Your newsletter is actually about delivering joy to your donors repeatedly. You can swiftly accomplish that profitable feat in a handful of headlines. So mothball your “writer’s block” anxieties. You don’t need to write exquisite articles. You will need to learn how to write a competent headline. But that’s about it. And it’s an easily acquired skill.
3. I have other priorities. I hear you: my to-do list always outpaces my workday, too. So the question becomes (especially in a small or one-person fundraising shop): Is a newsletter worth making time for? Should it be a top priority or an also-ran? Well, that depends. If your organization believes (as I do, because I’ve seen the proof repeatedly) that donor-centricity is the surest route to increased income and retention, then you need a tool to help you nurture relationships with all your donors – not just those lucky few whom you can reach one on one. The proper tool for mass cultivation is the donor newsletter.
4. I don’t have any stories. “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them,” the narrator intoned at the close of each episode. Naked City was one of the first TV crime dramas, set in New York City. They knew they’d never run out of stories. Nor will you. At Health Care for the Homeless (Baltimore), director of development Keiren Havens makes a practice of regularly trolling the front-line staff for true-life stories. She’s also educated the social workers there about the financial good it does the agency to have great stories to tell. As a result, social workers have become eager “story gatherers.” You’re not asking them to write up polished 500-word summaries, either. You’re asking them to send you 50 rough words in an email.
5. I’m not a designer. You don’t have to be. Even the most graphically challenged can send out to donors a simple (yet soul-satisfying) “newsy-letter” created in Word. Trust me: if you can write any kind of letter (to your son at camp?), then you can create a successful newsy-letter. Fancy-pants design is NOT what makes a donor newsletter work.
6. I can’t justify it to my boss. Look: the financial hurdle for newsletters is really low. If you break even – if you bring in enough gifts to cover your postage and printing – then you’re already beating the odds. Donor newsletters aren’t about current income, after all (though they can produce miracles in that department). Donor newsletters are about retaining donors for the long haul. Which is just smart business.
The preceding article is adapted from my new book on donor newsletters, scheduled for release by Emerson & Church in summer 2013.
This post originally appeared in the Ahern Donor Communications Newsletter