Most donor newsletters suffer from at least one of the following flaws. Many suffer from all seven.
Your newsletter fails the “you” test. A good donor newsletter is friendly, even intimate, in tone. If you instead use an institutional voice, you distance yourself from your readers.
Your newsletter skimps on emotional triggers. You know that charity starts when you move a heart. In a donor newsletter, tugging the heartstrings is a full-time job.
You claim it’s a newsletter (i.e., a bearer of news), but it’s really just an excuse to say hi. Here’s a clue – You devote your front page to a ponderous letter “from the desk of” an ED or board chair. A newsletter with no news value is a waste of time and money. And donors are quite demanding – they want very specific kinds of news. Their interest in your organization can quickly wane if you fail to deliver.
Your newsletter is not “donor-centered.” It does not make the donor feel needed or wanted. Donors don’t give to your organization. They give through your organization, in an effort to change the world. You have to give the donor credit as well as thanks.
Your newsletter is not set up for rapid skimming and browsing. On the contrary, you assume people will read long articles. The harsh truth is that most of your audience won’t have time to give your newsletter more than a glance. If you bury important information in long articles, most people will miss it.
Your newsletter depends too much on statistics (leave those for grant proposals), and too little on anecdotes, to make your case.
And Flaw #7 – The Most Important
Your newsletter has weak or dysfunctional headlines. Headlines have a function – to summarize the key points of the story. Most donor newsletters fail at that task.
When people first encounter a publication, they browse, deciding what, if anything, is worth their time. They do not dive right in. They look at all the stuff that’s easiest to spot and read. Pictures. Bigger, bolder type. Headlines and photos (or illustrations) are the most important, since they visually dominate a page. Also important – subheadings, lead paragraphs, captions, pull quotes, and bullet lists. Not so important – the articles beneath the headlines.
Being the third or subsequent paragraph in an article is lonely. Few people visit. Readers don’t have the time. Or their interest remains unaroused.
Novice writers labor for hours to get a newsletter article “word perfect.” Then they toss off a headline in a couple of minutes. You would be far better off if you reversed that habit. Spend hours writing a great headline (and subheading, if appropriate). Spend a few minutes writing the article.
Recent grants received by our clients include:
$20,000 for a clinic that provides medical and dental services to low-income families – for medical and dental services for children
$18,500 for an organization that provides life-skills camps for children with diabetes – for scholarships for children from families that cannot afford the full tuition
$15,000 for an organization that facilitates healing, eases transition into new beginnings, and fosters hope in survivors of torture – for supportive services
$12,000 for an agency that provides services to abused and neglected children – for general operating expenses
$10,000 for a domestic violence agency – for their emergency shelter program