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6 Weak Excuses for Not Sending a Charity Newsletter


Let’s tear down some common barriers. The ones that stand between your organization and creation of a newsletter that improves retention, thereby boosting the lifetime value of your donor list. Because, when you get right down to it, newsletters are all about the money.

Here’s a rogue’s gallery of common (and weak) excuses that keep organizations from committing to a donor newsletter:

  1. We did a newsletter before. It didn’t work for us. This conclusion implies that some organizations are just not “good newsletter material,” when in fact most newsletters are built to fail, not to succeed. Learn to do your donor newsletter the right way, and it will work.
  2. I’m a fundraiser, not a journalist. You don’t have to be a great writer to create a great charity newsletter. Paradoxically, your newsletter isn’t really about getting people to read your articles. Your newsletter is actually about delivering joy to your donors repeatedly. You can swiftly accomplish that profitable feat in a handful of headlines. So mothball your “writer’s block” anxieties. You don’t need to write exquisite articles. You will need to learn how to write a competent headline. But that’s about it. And it’s an easily acquired skill.
  3. I have other priorities. I hear you: my to-do list always outpaces my workday, too. So the question becomes (especially in a small or one-person fundraising shop): Is a newsletter worth making time for? Should it be a top priority or an also-ran? Well, that depends. If your organization believes (as I do, because I’ve seen the proof repeatedly) that donor-centricity is the surest route to increased income and retention, then you need a tool to help you nurture relationships with all your donors – not just those lucky few whom you can reach one on one. The proper tool for mass cultivation is the donor newsletter.
  4. I don’t have any stories. “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them,” the narrator intoned at the close of each episode. Naked City was one of the first TV crime dramas, set in New York City. They knew they’d never run out of stories. Nor will you. At Health Care for the Homeless (Baltimore), director of development Keiren Havens makes a practice of regularly trolling the front-line staff for true-life stories. She’s also educated the social workers there about the financial good it does the agency to have great stories to tell. As a result, social workers have become eager “story gatherers.” You’re not asking them to write up polished 500-word summaries, either. You’re asking them to send you 50 rough words in an email.
  5. I’m not a designer. You don’t have to be. Even the most graphically challenged can send out to donors a simple (yet soul-satisfying) “newsy-letter” created in Word. Trust me: if you can write any kind of letter (to your son at camp?), then you can create a successful newsy-letter. Fancy-pants design is NOT what makes a donor newsletter work.
  6. I can’t justify it to my boss. Look: the financial hurdle for newsletters is really low. If you break even – if you bring in enough gifts to cover your postage and printing – then you’re already beating the odds. Donor newsletters aren’t about current income, after all (though they can produce miracles in that department). Donor newsletters are about retaining donors for the long haul. Which is just smart business.

(This post was originally published on the Bloomerang Blog.)

Want to know more about creating super-effective donor newsletters? Check out Tom Ahern’s course Making Money With Your Donor Newsletter. It’s available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab. Uncover the secrets and strategies from the leading evangelist of great donor newsletters – and discover how you too can create successful donor newsletters that will raise tons of new giving from your EXISTING donors.

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9 Comments. Leave new

  • What are your thoughts on email newsletters? Do you think they can be just as successful?

    • Jessie,

      Good question. In my experience, email newsletters are not as powerful as print newsletters. I’ve seen a number of orgs cancel their print newsletter and replace it with an email version to “save money” — huge, costly mistake.

      That’s not to say email newsletters are bad or useless. Just less powerful. I’d repackage the print newsletter into an email version as another online touch-point. Just don’t expect results to be as strong.

      • Hi Jessie
        Tom Ahern and I just recorded a video on this topic! Jeff is being gentle – for most charities, e-newsletters perform much, much worse than their physical ones. But sometimes e-newsletters can help in other areas – for monthly givers who don’t respond to direct mail (like face-to-face and door-to-door monthly givers).
        For more – register for Tom’s FREE webinar here

  • I have a discussion with one of my clients. They feel strongly about keeping a $1,000+ donor listing in their quarterly direct mail newsletter. I’m trying to convince them to take it out and consider doing a special page on their site if they really want something.

    I’m telling them that you’re not making other donors feel special by doing this or if worse comes to worse do a special insert when you mail it out to that segment, but I’d love your insights. Thoughts? thanks, erica

    • Hi Erica,

      I had a client a few years back with that same situation. They’d been listing donors in their newsletter for years. They thought, based on a handful of comments from donors who loved it, that everyone loved it. It was also a pain in the neck for staff, as every time it ran they got a bunch of complaints about the listing (mostly, Why isn’t my spouse included?) In the end, they just stopped doing it, and nothing bad happened.

      My only caveat about stopping such a thing is to ask if there might be some kind of community/social dynamic to it: Are people looking at it to see if their friends and neighbors are listed? If the org has a tight-knit supporter base, that could be important. Or is it just a big list of names?

    • Heidrun Mürdter
      May 3, 2018 11:19 pm

      Beside retention issues… It can be also a good tool to talk about other interesting things like legacy… and suddenly you mustn’t be concerned about your ROI…

  • Great point to make, Heidrun. I sometimes get a little carried away with the potential for immediate returns that good donor newsletters can generate. The truth is (as you note): this is a relationship-fostering tool. So the ultimate ROI will be demonstrated in increases in Lifetime Value, not necessarily right away.

  • Been trawling the internet for a few hours now, hoping to find some research or a piece to answer some queries of mine, but unfortunately, I am yet to find anything. Hopefully, you smart peeps can help shed some light on the topic.

    Since starting work at this new org, I have had a ton of ideas that I would be interested in testing or at least exploring/researching a little further. (who knows whether my superiors will allow me to do this. I am told that anything is possible as long as there is a strong case for support).

    Adverts/inserts in physical newsletters. What are people’s thoughts?
    A few select corporate partners paying a small fee to have their ads in the newsletters which get sent out 3 times a year to 30,000+ people.

    Is this something that has been trialled in the past? Does the additional income from ads compensate for any drop in RR/average gifts by supporters unhappy at being targeted? Does it make no difference to RR/average gifts? etc etc

    Your thoughts would be much appreciated.

    • Hiya
      Good questions! If you have enrolled in any Moceanic courses, it would be awesome to ask this in the Fundraisingology Lab too – I think some of the hundreds of experts would be throwing some examples at you.
      In the meantime:
      Ads/Inserts in newsletters. If external: They can work well but rarely, and need awesome creative and offer. If internal, they are not harmful but there are easier ways to boost newsletter income. Check out Tom Ahern’s course:
      Corporates. Why small fee!? But if you do that, put the selling out to a commercial company that sells the ads on your behalf. It won’t be a good use of your time. If they won’t, it means that they don’t think it worthwhile. So don’t do it.
      There won’t be any drop in RR/av gift, but selling ads takes a LOT of time which would be better spent working on your mid to major donors.
      Good luck!


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