Call it “The Case of the Message That Disappeared.” It (based on a true story) goes something like this:

To acquire new donors, this charity sent out direct mail appeals that boldly, on the outbound envelope, challenged Christians to “follow in the footsteps of your faith…” This was the charity’s “control,” the acquisition package that always attracted the strongest response and delivered the highest number of new donors.

FootstepsAnd yet … the charity’s donor newsletter didn’t echo this faith-based message. Instead, the newsletter switched to “social-worker-speak.” It talked in high jargon about the activities of staff in the field and delivered heaping helpings of statistical data. “Follow in the footsteps of your faith”? Gone.

Result? The newsletter landed few additional contributions.

Quick bit of advice…

Donors give to your organization for their own good reasons. And those reasons are often firmly attached to a set of personal core values; for instance, feeling a religious duty to help the poor.

New donors who’ve responded to a message such as “follow in the footsteps of your faith” will likely respond to the same kind of message again. And again. And again.

Don’t save those messages just for appeals. Litter those messages across all your donor communications including newsletters.

Some of your donors, maybe most of them, are “values donors.” They follow in the footsteps of their faith in all their philanthropy: when they give to the arts, when they give to education, when they give to social justice.

Core values run deep and seldom change. Adrian Sargeant discovered that donor loyalty depended on just seven things. One of that handful: “Your donors share your beliefs.”

They chose your charity for a reason, when they gave that first time. Your donor newsletter should reflect, not neglect, that reason.

By the way, organizational silos were the true villain in “The Case of the Message That Disappeared.” It’s a big charity. The direct mail group is on one floor, working for the fundraising department. The newsletter people are on another floor, working for the communications department. And never the twain happened to meet.

Newsletter editors: have samples of your organization’s successful direct mail in front of you as you write. Look for key sales messages like “follow in the footsteps of your faith.” Use the same kinds of messages in your newsletter headlines. Reaffirm the values that first brought your donors aboard.

This post originally appeared in the Ahern Donor Communications newsletter.

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Tom Ahern
Author of four books, Tom Ahern is considered one of the world’s top authorities on donor communications.
Tom Ahern

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