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Downes Murray International News

A pot of gold at the end of your rainbow

Denise Murray reveals the rewards and the secrets of donor newsletters that work.

Stung by strong client criticism of what I considered some very worthwhile copy, I sent this memo to my copy director:

'This client seems to have lost sight of the fact that the overall success of a newsletter depends on its balance, its 'mix'. It’s a communication between people working for a cause, and people supporting that cause, about people benefiting from their combined efforts. In short, a newsletter is about people.

'And ordinary people are not bowled over by cold or clinical facts, technical jargon, columns of figures and dead statements. They’re also not terribly interested in staff or in organisational data.

'What they are interested in is themselves. And how their gift is helping to make a difference.

And I went on to tell my copy director what I meant by good mix.

When I look back on that memo now, I see that the key to the whole problem lay in my first sentence... 'This client seems to have lost sight of...’'

He hadn’t lost sight at all. He had never had sight in the first place, of what to me was a perfectly logical set of rules! Nobody had shared that information with him.

So for all who have donor newsletters, may I now share with you the secrets of a good 'working' newsletter.

This is what a newsletter is not:
  • Just a free gift – a type of thank you.
  • An ego boost for staff and board members.
  • A pedantic paper.
  • A soapbox from which we can bore the donors about our pet theories and benefits.
  • An in-house communication.
  • A substitute for an annual report.
Here’s what a newsletter is:

It’s the big fishing net which will entrap all your donors and draw them closer to you. There are big givers, and small givers – and you need them all. Your newsletter has to have something in it to reach them all.

To feel a sense of loyalty, the donor has to first understand your product, and then relate to it.

Philanthropy grows from the heart, and not from the head. More than that, most genuine understanding of an organisation’s work also comes from the heart and not from the head.

It’s understandable and acceptable that people in need of help are horrified by that dreadful emotion – sympathy. 

It smacks of pity, and robs most people of their human dignity. And most boards, sharingin that horror, strive at all costs to protect those in their care from the indignity of sympathy.

I would like to strike ‘sympathy’ from the vocabulary of all fundraisers, and replace it with what I believe all emotional copywriters strive for – ‘empathy’. Because unless you can identify with a need, you can’t honestly relate to that cause.

Secret recipe of ‘a good mix’
So where do we go from here? We make it a rule that every good newsletter should contain the three ingredients making up the secret recipe of ‘good mix’:
  • Something for the heart – to unlock the empathy.
  • Something for the head – to keep you thinking.
  • Something about your organisation and its image – let your donors know that you’re good people doing great work in an efficient and effective manner.

A newsletter should cover its costs at the very least. And I know that a good newsletter will make money.

But even if you’re in a situation where you’re forced to accept that your newsletter is not going to make money, its value as a public relations tool remains unchallenged. 

These are just some of the things you can do by way of your newsletter:

Accentuate the positives
Tell about the good things you’re doing. Share your achievements and inspire confidence in your work.

Hand out bouquets

This is the perfect place for giving donors recognition and praise.

Maintain interest

Share your dreams – you’re all working towards them together.

Defuse the negatives

Every organisation, at some time or another, has to deal with complaints. Use your newsletter to publish apologies, explanations, and clarify issues.

Promote, promote, promote

It’s here that you can create, improve or even change the face and public image of your organisation. You can share and build on your ideas and promote real understanding of the essential essence of your work.

Cement donor loyalty

If your newsletter contains something for everybody, it will grow donor loyalty.

Educate The more your donor knows about the cause you’re serving, the stronger your relationship and their commitment.

Denise Murray is a Cape Town-based freelance copywriter whose work has helped raise millions of Rands both locally and abroad.

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