10 Tips to Improve Your Donor Newsletter

This article was originally published on TechSoup.org on December 14, 2017.

Engaging with your donors is critical to your fundraising efforts, and your donor newsletter is a key tool in your arsenal to take you on the path to success. We’re using an expansive definition of the donor newsletter to include print, email, and video newsletters. We’re also considering newsletters that are targeted at prospective donors. Read on as we show you 10 tips to create a donor newsletter that has better impact.

1. One Newsletter to Rule Them All

With apologies to Tolkien, too many organizations send one newsletter to everyone, but your real-world donors are unique and different from one another. You have small donors, mid-size donors, monthly donors, prospective donors, donors who support specific “restricted giving” projects, and so on. Segment your donor audience groups. Consider how you can create personalized newsletters that speak to these different donor groups by customizing the content, changing the order of the content, customizing an intro paragraph, or tweaking the subject line.

2. Get Your Donor Voice Right

Donors are often asking themselves if their financial investment has yielded results and what else they can do. As you craft your messaging, consider what content will answer those questions.

Back away from old-school institutional-style updates (a new website, a new board member, a new office). Move towards content that is more donor-centric (report back from a community visit, a profile of a donor or volunteer, a success story).

3. Improve Your Messaging

Messaging is ultimately what moves the reader and viewer, so learn to focus on the sizzle. That means improving your storytelling style. One good success story or case study, illustrated with a quote, a photo, or a short video, will be more impactful in your newsletter than three paragraphs of copy. It’s also more likely to be remembered or shared.

4. Improve the Out-of-the-Box Experience

I’ve seen print newsletters that come in the mail like a postcard or as a tri-fold sheet without an envelope. I receive video newsletters that get me excited to see the impact of my donation. I receive several email newsletters with creative subject lines that get me excited about what’s inside. Think about ways you can spice up your out-of-the-box experience. Testing can help you measure if you’re making an impact.

5. Get the Timing Right

Too many newsletters are scheduled to go out on a fixed schedule with little consideration for the news cycle or what your donor audiences may be interested in. Make sure to sync your donor newsletters with your real-world events, so you can maximize the impact of your communications.

6. Less Is More

This is never truer with newsletters given today’s attention spans and busy lives. Whether you’re publishing your newsletter in print, email, or video, it’s critical to keep things simple, browsable, and actionable. A newsletter with just two stories is likely to be twice as effective as one with four stories. That is simply how attention span works these days. So choose your content wisely.

7. Mobile First

For email and video newsletters, be sure to design and test primarily for smaller mobile devices. Use a testing service such as Email on Acid or Litmus to see how your newsletter will render and make appropriate tweaks to improve the mobile experience.

8. Test Constantly

Keep your focus on testing so you keep improving your newsletter. This is especially true for email newsletters because you can test subject lines, photo sizes, sender name, and message length. For a video newsletter, length matters a lot (shorter is better).

9. Mine Your Data

If 50 percent of your email recipients opened your email newsletter but you didn’t measure it, did it really happen? Make sure you’re measuring everything that can be tracked and review regularly to identify trends that point to successes and failures. Measuring email newsletters is easy. Measuring print and video newsletters is harder but not impossible. Which donor audiences are responding best? What types of content get the most clicks and shares? If you’re including web addresses in your print newsletters, are they being used?

10. Get Feedback

It’s vital to survey and listen to your donors about how they experience your newsletter. Conduct an annual survey and find out what has inspired them. Ask them for advice on how to improve. You’d be surprised what you can learn from asking a simple question — and it will make your donors feel valued to be asked.

The Key to Your Success

There’s no doubt in my mind that there’s still a place for charity newsletters in this world of mobile apps, social media channels, and augmented reality. Donor stewardship never goes out of style. The key to your success is to refine your strategy through messaging, testing, and measuring your impact.

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