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Downes Murray International News

Is your newsletter working?

A potentially powerful communication device and fundraising tool — the newsletter is probably one of the most abused items in the fundraising mix.

Every week I see embarrassing examples of newsletters from non-profit organisations which completely waste the opportunity for donor retention and relationship building which this essential component of your direct mail fundraising programme offers. So, let’s begin with what a newsletter should be:

First off – your newsletter should be a ‘donor newsletter’ – start by calling it that name and you’ll already begin to hold the correct focus. The purpose of your newsletter is to:

  1. Make donors feel really good about their support of your work;
  2. Tell them about the people who are benefiting from their donations;
  3. Grow their understanding of all aspects of your work and why their involvement is so important to you;
  4. Provide those who cannot visit your projects with clear and moving pictures of what they are helping to make possible;
  5. Inform them about new directions and new projects for which you may be seeking their support in the near future;
  6. Give them examples of how bequests are another vital form of providing you with income to continue your good work;
  7. And inspire them with quotations and examples of the wonders of philanthropy.
What to avoid

Next, let’s look at what your donor newsletter shouldn’t be:

  1. A vehicle for praising your board members and your staff or showing pictures of people at your latest black tie dinner;
  2. A place to list the dozens or even hundreds of corporate or foundation donors from who you have received gifts;
  3. The place to shout about your achievements or the fact that you’ve been in business for 25 years – unless the focus is on how your donors are the ones who have made it all possible;
  4. A place to boast about how much money you’ve raised;
  5. Or a vehicle for complex and dreadfully dull, financial reports.

Ideally, you should be producing at least two donor newsletters per year, and they should be timed to mail between your appeal mailings so that not every communication with donors is based on a specific and direct ‘ask’.

The masthead (title) should be attractive and eye-catching and relevant to your work.

Use at least two colours (and nowadays, four-colour printing is about as inexpensive as two colours). Print the body copy in black (easily readable) and pictures in full colour.

For body copy use at least an 11 point Serif typeface (such as Times New Roman) – proven  by research to be more readable and readily comprehended.

By all means use a Sans-Serif typestyle for headlines – but keep the body copy in Serif.

Use two, or even three columns across the page (so as not to have long lines of copy that are difficult to read).

Avoid type reversed out of a solidbackground, and avoid ‘watermark’ designs behind body copy (destroys readability).

Remember that the average donor to a direct mail appeal is an older person who is often likely to have less-than-perfect eyesight – another reason to keep body copy at a size that can be easily read.

Intersperse your stories with inspirational quotations or snippets of useful information.

Always choose a striking article and strong headline for the front page to attract immediate attention and interest.

Make sure that your headlines (and body copy) are donor focused and feature words like ‘you’ rather than ‘we’ and ‘our’.

Use good pictures showing people – and some close-ups so that you can see the eyes of the people in the photos.

Tell stories that provide feedback on the people and projects which you have featured in your recent appeal letters.

You don’t need a heavy, glossy paper for your newsletter – this often gives older folks the impression of wasteful use of funds. An 80 gram Bond is quite sufficient, and even newsprint is often enough.

Always include a pre-addressed donation form (or ‘deepflap’ reply envelope) with a ‘soft ask’. This can usually be used as the address piece when you mail your newsletter in a DL window outer envelope (thus avoiding ugly and impersonal address labels on the outer envelope and at the same time making it much easier for donors to respond).

How do you score?

So there you have it – what amounts to a check list of donor newsletter ‘dos and don’ts’. Perhaps you’d like to try scoring you newsletters against our recommendations to see how you stack up.

What I can promise you is that if you follow these simple guidelines, you will find that your newsletter:

Always produces a handsome net income from donors;

Brings your donors closer to your cause and grows their understanding and loyalty to your programmes; and Reduces attrition and helps to increase the average number of donations from each donor.

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