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3 Things You Could Do to Totally Ruin Your Donor Newsletter


I’m pretty obsessed with donor newsletters.  I’ve planned, written, and directed a lot of them.  (A few years back I tried to count how many … it was around a thousand issues at the time. It’s much more today.)

There are a lot of things you can do to make a donor newsletter great — as in money-raising and donor-retention building.

Here are three things that can make a donor newsletter less great. I bring them up because they’re surprisingly common, which tells me these three things tempt many people. So take these as a word to the wise.

Newsletter Killer #1: A column called “From the Executive Director..”

Don’t get me wrong — having a column from your executive in your newsletter is perfectly fine. But merely labeling as being from that person is just boring.  I promise you, nobody (other than your ED’s mother) is sitting there thinking “I wonder what the ED has to say?”

And being boring is the least of your worries.  When you give a leader a soapbox, your leader will most likely use it as a soapbox — that is, a platform to talk about whatever she finds interesting.  Not what donors care about.

Having a Director’s column isn’t a terrible thing.  It can help connect her or him to the donors.  But to do that, it must be about topics of interest to the donor.  And it really needs a headline that entices people to read it.  (And really, the ED should probably not write it — have a professional do it and get sign-off!)

Newsletter Killer #2: Too many pages

I’ve tested this over and over: Newsletters that are longer than four pages don’t do as well than four-pagers. I’ve never yet seen the longer version outperform the 4-page version.

Which came as a surprise at first: It flies in the face of another fundraising truth: that longer messages work better than short ones.  It doesn’t apply to longer newsletters.

I don’t know why this is so, but I have a theory:  The shorter newsletter forces you to focus on what is really needed and truly donor focused. You end up omitting the Staff Profiles, the Calendar of Obscure Events, the photos of glassy-eyed major donors holding champagne glasses.

And guess what:  Even shorter newsletters do well also.  In extensive testing, I’ve found that two-page newsletters — that is, one single sheet, front and back — do as well as and sometimes better than four-pagers. If they do just as well, the smaller version is more successful, because it does so at less cost.  Give it a try!

Newsletter Killer #3: This photo

Don't add photos like this to your newsletter

It’s tempting, I know.  Some excellent group or maybe a company has donated a large amount to your organization.  You had a ceremony where they handed over the symbolic giant check for the amount of their wonderful donation.  The ceremony was fun and uplifting.  They’re really great people.  They deserve recognition … and as a smart fundraiser, you know that recognizing them is a smart thing to do.

But here’s the problem with putting this photo in your donor newsletter: What it says to and about every single other donor who gets this newsletter.  It tells them that their gifts are small! Less important.  Less interesting.

If you want to honor these excellent donors, find another way to do it:  Buy an ad in a local publication they read that says how appreciated they are.  Or send them a framed photo.

Just don’t muddy what you want to say to all your other donors with the giant-check photo.

Want to know more about creating super-effective donor newsletters? Check out Tom Ahern’s course Making Money With Your Donor Newsletter. You can access it when you join 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.


  • Jeff Brooks

    Jeff Brooks is a Fundraisingologist at Moceanic. He has more than 30 years of experience in fundraising, and has worked as a writer and creative director on behalf of top nonprofits around the world, including CARE, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Feeding America, and many others.

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