There is a lot of talk about the value of charity newsletters these days, particularly when it comes to donor stewardship.

Engaging your donors with your work is crucial to the success of your fundraising program. Donors need to know that you are having an impact, and how their funding is making a difference. They also need to know that their contribution is being valued.  Newsletters can be a great way of connecting with donors. Unfortunately, however, I see many newsletter examples that are unlikely to do this successfully.

You probably know the kind of newsletters that I mean. They typically come out quarterly and end up being a repository of everything that the organization has done over the past three months.  In essence, they are less about engagement than they are about broadcasting.  With these kinds of newsletters, I often finish reading and have no sense of what the writer wants to me, as the donor, to do next, or even what I’m meant to feel as a result of reading it.

So how do we ensure that our charity newsletters are helping us to move towards the achievement of our fundraising goals?  Here are some tips.

1. Be goal-focused.

For your newsletter to support your fundraising efforts, the newsletter itself must have its own goals. Before you even put pen to paper (ok, fingers to keyboard!), understand why you are sending the newsletter in the first place.  If your primary reason is because it’s that time of year again and you haven’t sent one for a while, then you need to rethink your strategy.

Every one of your donor communications should have a purpose, and your newsletter is no exception.  Whether your goal is for your donor to feel truly valued, or you want them to take a particular action, knowing your goal in advance will ensure that your newsletter is directed towards this goal.

2. Your newsletter must be donor-focused.

When writing your newsletter, are you truly putting yourselves in the mind of your donor? Do you know what they want from you? Do you know what they care about most or what they respond to?  If you aren’t sure, then take some time to find out.  Ways to understand your donors better include:

  • Paying attention to your data (more on this later)
  • Talk to them. When meeting your donors in person, or when they call on the phone, take the opportunity to find out about what they want to see from you in terms of regular communications.
  • Survey them. Find out what has inspired them to give to your organization, and what will encourage them to give again. This is a chance to understand what activities on your end will result in them feeling valued, appreciated and engaged.

3. Ensure that your newsletter goals are tied to your fundraising priorities.

So, for example, if you are experiencing high attrition from a certain segment of your donor base, how can your newsletter help you to address that through its targeted messaging, approach and style?  Perhaps your focus needs to be on onboarding new donors, so your newsletter provides content that will help donors to know, understand and connect with your work much more strongly.  By connecting your newsletter strategy to your fundraising strategy more effectively, you can ensure that your newsletters are meeting your needs.

4. What does your data tell you?

The good thing about e-newsletters is that you can collect great data to understand what donors want to read, view and most importantly, respond to.  Look at your history and see what people are opening, clicking on, and what is inspiring them to take an action (including the right kind of action).  Not only will this information help you to understand your donors better in general, it means that you can target your communications more effectively and use this information to improve your donor communications in general.

5. Segment your list.

An essential part of helping you to achieve your fundraising goals, is to think about what different segments of your donor list want to receive from you.

A common mistake is that organizations often send the same newsletter out to everybody, but not everyone wants to see the same information, nor do they all respond in the same way. When you know more about your goals, and your audience, the next step is to segment your list so that different people get different things, leading to a more personalised experience. Of course, this can be more time-intensive, so perhaps start by making more subtle tweaks to your content, or with very few segments, and see how people respond.  Then when you perfect your newsletter strategy, you can become more adventurous with your segmented approach.

6. Lead with the good stuff.

I often see newsletters that include quite a lengthy preamble about what the organization has been up to.  Often these introductions are pretty dry and process-focused, rather than impact-focused.

By leading with what your donors care about most, you will get their attention right out of the gate.  Maybe you can start with a quote from someone who has benefitted, or an impact statement on the seriousness of a situation that you work to address, or a story of a beneficiary.  Since people connect to people, by making people the focus of your newsletter, there is a higher chance of getting your reader’s attention.

Download my free checklist to put together a successful donor stewardship plan.

7. Less content, more often.

A key strategy for donor engagement is getting in front of them often so that they feel more connected and in-touch with what you are doing.  But this must be done in the right way.

In the age of instant gratification and information overload, people rarely want to read lengthy prose. They more typically want something that is succinct, emotional and more   punchy, and something that really speaks to their interests.  So consider whether it would be more effective to focus on single-issue or single-focus newsletters, rather than something that is more of a catch-all, in the hope that there is something in there for your reader.  By using this approach, you are more likely to achieve two things:

  • Your reader is much more likely to read and respond to it, as they will know exactly what you are trying to tell them.
  • You can use your data to discover what donors really care about by paying attention to the open and click-through rates relating to particular topics, which can be much harder to discover with multi-issue newsletters.

There is no doubt that there is still a place for charity newsletters, particularly when it comes to donor stewardship.  The key to success is in your strategy and approach, which should always have the donor in mind.  What are some of your favourite charity newsletters?  What do you like about them?  How can you learn from their approach to improve your own donor communications?

First published in Hilborn Charity eNews

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