Newsletters are among nonprofits’ most effective donor stewardship tools, according to fundraising expert Vanessa Chase. Keeping foundations and individual benefactors in the loop is a way of publicly recognizing their contributions to your organization. Regular, personalized correspondence shows that you remember the people who are vital to the success of your mission.
This only works if you trade a one-size-fits-all approach for a strategy that enables you to speak to different audiences, said nonprofit communications trainer and coach Kivi Leroux Miller. While it’s good to give short updates about your nonprofit, it’s better to focus on the unique individuals who help the organization succeed. Tone, style and organization matter just as much as the news itself. If your letters are lukewarm or generic, you risk losing the attention of loyal supporters.
Find your audiences
To pack the greatest punch, begin by choosing different subsets of donors for different newsletters. Take advantage of the CRM tools in your business management software – all those meticulous notes about meetings with foundations, phone calls with first-time donors and supporter feedback should give help you categorize a variety of audiences, based on what matters most to each.
Assign the right writer for the job – if a board member has a personal connection to a foundation, ask said board member to write newsletters directed at this audience, for example. Ideally, you have more than one person on communications staff but if not, it’s all right to delegate.
Don’t underestimate the power of a brainstorming session. An open dialogue between communications staff, fundraising staff and board members can lead to a clearer picture of who wants to hear from you and how best to reach them, taking into account likes, dislikes and influences. Once you know who you’re writing to, follow these guidelines for writing the most effective newsletter:
1. Make them mobile
Most of your supporter base spends a good deal of time online, so it should come as no surprise that mobile-friendly e-newsletters are the way to go. They are also budget friendly! Mailing paper letters gives a personal touch to correspondence but can be costly.
But just because online correspondence costs nothing, don’t think you need to send updates every week. The frequency of newsletters is less important than the quality of their content.
2. Consider the form
You have a variety of content at your disposal. First of all, you’re not limited to text. Images can effectively capture a narrative and move the hearts of donors who don’t have a lot of time on their hands.
The key to images is that they evoke a story, which is always best connection to an audience of givers, reminded Chase. While an image can serve as a mental reminder to read more, it doesn’t take the place of the full narrative. So, don’t skip the rest.
3. Which stories should you tell?
Stories can take a few shapes. The most effective is the client success story – it’s authentic and gives tangible proof that donations make a different. This type of narrative is best told by someone who was directly aided by your organization. Its reader-friendly structure is simple and concise, relaying three key points: what help the client needed, how your organization gave assistance and where the storyteller’s life is currently.
Your organization’s own point of view is also important, especially when building relationships through shared values. The most direct way to do this is to tell a “why” story. Instead of asking supporters to infer your reasons for doing this kind of work, tell them very directly why it matters!
4. Format and familiarity
Strong subject matter is only one part of what makes a good story: Format and tone also carry a narrative. When crafting the former, it’s important to consider the attention span of most readers. The sooner you lay out your point, the more effectively you engage your audience. Don’t be afraid to use your subject lines and subheadings to their maximum potential – each are precise bites of content that allow your reader the flexibility of choosing which parts to digest.
5. The universal rule
More than anything, reminded the Network for Good, your newsletter content should be about making your donors feel optimistic. Personalized stories create space for empathy, and show your philanthropic network just how much they can pitch in toward the greater good.