In the 1990s, a Seattle fundraising shop called the Domain Group took the garden-variety donor newsletter, stripped it down to its components, and began testing to see if they could come up with something better. Sort of like rebuilding a hot rod.
Domain eventually developed a formula that made a donor newsletter HIGHLY worth doing: some Domain clients began raking in more gifts through their newsletters than through their direct mail appeals.
Domain had its hot rod. Think about that a moment.
How could a newsletter make more money than an appeal? A newsletter isn’t an ask. Appeals make the ask.
Answer: A newsletter might well be more welcome than an appeal. It can bring joy. It can bring fun. It can take the reader on a journey (an Adrian Sargeant idea). It can flatter the reader shamelessly, in all sorts of ways (deeply recommended).
Whereas a direct mail appeal almost always seems like “duty calling” … not to mention an intrusion, with the intention of relieving my wallet of its burdens.
What Domain achieved … and then freely told the world about … was a remarkable feat. More money through newsletters … hmmmmm, I say, what a novel idea!?!
The Domain Formula demonstrated that newsletters could produce significant revenue as well as good will. Key features of the formula include:
- Page count: no more than 4 pages (in tests, adding more pages did not produce more revenue)
- Article length: short
- Write for skimmers (i.e., requires professional quality headlines)
- Send in a #10 envelope, not as a self-mailer
- Include a separate reply device
- Don’t get distracted: be fully donor-committed. Send only to your donors. You have to talk to a single target audience
- Make the voice personal (the word “you” dominates) rather than institutional; get intimate
- Focus on “accomplishment reporting” (tell donors how much they have changed the world through their gifts)
Domain … or the highway?
Is the Domain Formula the only way to go? Probably not. But it is, to my knowledge, the only tested way to go.
Let’s return to the last … and most important item … on the Domain Formula list: accomplishment reporting.