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These Seven Donor Newsletter Flaws Are Killing You

Excerpt from Raising More Money with Newsletters Than You Ever Thought Possible

Almost every donor newsletter I see suffers from at least one of the following fatal flaws. You would be shocked by how many donor newsletters suffer from all seven.

Flaw #1: Your newsletter fails the "you test." ... A good donor newsletter is friendly, even intimate, in tone. If you insist instead on an institutional voice, you distance yourself from your readers.

Flaw #2: Your newsletter skimps on emotional triggers. You already know that charity starts when you move a heart. In a donor newsletter, tugging the heartstrings is a full-time job.

Flaw #3: You claim it's a newsletter (i.e., a bearer of news), but it's really just an excuse to say hi. Here's a dead giveaway: you devote your front page to a ponderous letter "from the desk of" an executive director or board chair.

Beware: A newsletter with no news value is a waste of time and money. And donors are quite demanding: they want very specific kinds of news. Their interest in your organization can quickly wane if you fail to deliver.

Flaw #4: Your newsletter is not "donor-centered." It does not make the donor feel needed or wanted. Remember: people don't give to your organization. They give through your organization, in an effort to change the world. You have to give the donor credit as well as thanks.

Flaw #5: The newsletter is not set up for rapid skimming and browsing. On the contrary, you assume people will read long articles. Here's the harsh truth: most of your audience won't have time to give your newsletter more than a glance. If you bury important information in long articles, most people will miss it.

Flaw #6: Your newsletter has weak or dysfunctional headlines. If any of the fatal flaws deserves the title of "Most Deadly," this is it. Headlines have a function: to summarize the key points of the story. Almost every nonprofit newsletter I've run across has suffered to some degree from poor-to-worthless headlines. Of all the fatal flaws, inept headlines do the most damage. They make it impossible for your newsletter to succeed.

Flaw #7: It depends far too much on statistics (and far too little on anecdotes) to make your case.

Tom Ahern, Ahern Communications, Ink.
© 2005, Tom Ahern. Excerpted from Raising More Money with Newsletters Than You Ever Thought Possible. Excerpted with permission of Emerson & Church, Publishers. All rights reserved.

Tom Ahern, an authority on making nonprofit communications consistently effective, is author of Raising More Money with Newsletters Than You Ever Thought Possible and president of Ahern Communications, Ink., a consultancy specializing in capital campaign materials and other nonprofit communications. He speaks frequently in the United States and Canada on reader psychology, direct mail principles, and good (and not very good) graphic design as applied to fundraising and nonprofit branding.
Topics: Communications