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The "High Noon" Checklist for Your Charity Newsletter

High Noon
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The film High Noon dramatized a common conflict: “personal safety” vs. “the right thing to do.” The town marshal faces a gang of killers by himself, against all odds, even rejection by his wife.

We want to be heroes. We want to do the right thing. But it’s risky.

Bosses tend to be wary. It’s not what you’ve done before. And you really don’t know if your audience will like it. (Spoiler alert: they will; it’s the way their brains are wired.)

When you get the trembles, here’s a checklist that will keep you moving in the right direction:

  • High NoonIs your newsletter the right length? 4–6 pages long? (Tip: 2 pages is too short. 8 pages is too long. 16 pages, you’re just murdering innocent trees.)
  • Are your key messages skimmable? Can a reader ignore the articles in your newsletter and still absorb key feelings and ideas? Are the headlines full-bodied? Do all the photos have captions? (Tip: Pretend the articles were invisible. Would the headlines do the necessary work by themselves?)
  • Is there enough need? Have you given your donors problems to solve? Have you given them something important to do? (Tip: Balance “happy ending” stories with “need” stories.)
  • Is there enough joy? Your donor is your customer. You have one thing to sell: repeated doses of dopamine (i.e., joy). (Tip: A reader should encounter donor-loving flattery within 1–3 seconds.)
  • Are you hogging the credit? (Tip: Your newsletter is not about how great your organization is. Your newsletter is about how great your donors are.)
  • Is there at least one offer? Offers give your readers things to respond to – and give you an easy way to evaluate whether anyone’s listening. (Tip: Put a coupon box around every offer. Coupon boxes reliably elevate readership 10% or more.)
  • Are your photos intimate enough? The bigger the face, the better; basically. (Tip: Siegfried Vögele in his seminal research discovered that big eyes are “reader magnets.”)
  • Are you still trying to sell statistics? The right anecdote is a thousand times more powerful than any statistic: atomic bomb vs. firecracker powerful. (Tip: Collect stories, not numbers.)
  • Did you accurately visualize your target reader? Do you know whom you’re writing to? There’s good evidence that the “average donor” in the U.S. is 65 years of age or older. (Tip: Make references that are age-appropriate. What did they grow up with?)

This post is an except from Tom’s upcoming book “Making Money with Donor Newsletters 2nd Edition.”

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