9 fail-safe ways to make your donor newsletter compelling

9 fail-safe ways to make your donor newsletter compelling

Redina Kolaneci has the scoop on what it takes to produce a winning charity newsletter


A newsletter can be an effective tool for drawing a donor closer to the charity they support. But many fundraisers fail to fulfill that purpose by focusing on things that are not likely to interest their supporters. The ideas below could help you to write newsletters that will keep your donors inspired and generous in their support of your work.


1. Take a donor-centric approach

Think about what you want to achieve with your newsletters. The rule of thumb is to use newsletters to informdonors about your latest accomplishments; to share the visionfor the future;to inspire donors so they continue to stay involved; to say ‘thank you’; and, to invite renewed support.


2. Show how your charity is fulfilling the mission

Use one aspect of your charity’s mission as a key theme. Position your impact stories, statistics or case studies  to help donors understand how you are fulfilling the mission they have invested in.

For example, if an aspect of the mission is to educate illiterate women in Africa, a newsletter theme might be: ‘Breaking the cycle of poverty through education’. Use statistics to show how illiteracy causes poverty. Use impact stories to show how literate women are now earning a living. Include a donor interview about what motivates them to help illiterate women. Tell your supporters that you couldn’t have done this good work without them. Share your vision for helping more women and invite financial support.


3. Offer news that interests donors

News is something the reader doesn’t know about and something that makes them feel better connected with your cause. 

Learn how to spot newsworthy stories that might interest your donors. Ask yourself: why am I telling this story? How will this make donors feel? What action do I want them to take after reading this?

Discover new angles on existing stories – such as, ‘Life 1, Death 0 – we saved a life today.’ Highlight new challenges that can be addressed with donor’s future support – for example, ‘We want to say yes to donkey work! You heard it right. We are looking to purchase 1,000 donkeys in Ethiopia. The can be a great asset to poor families.’


4. Use the browser test

According to Siegfried Vögele’s eye motion studies, readers’ eyes are first attracted to what is bigger, bolder, brighter, or brief rather than to lots of copy.

Most people are browsers, who skim content rather than read from the beginning to the end. So, when they open a newsletter they are likely to look for:


  • Compelling headlines that draw their attention;
  • Sub-headlines that break up copy into small chunks;
  • Photos with captions that tell a story;
  • Pullquotes that sum up key messages;
  • Bullet points that highlight action steps, and
  • Charts that illustrate financials.


If you have grabbed their attention by doing these things, they will dig deeper into the content.

Next time you work on your charity’s newsletter use this checklist to make sure that it passes the browser test.


5. Don’t lose readers

Sometimes, without knowing, you can make it harder for people to stick with your newsletters. This happens when you follow some designers’ advice to:


  • Print copy using coloured ink, rather than black;
  • Print copy over coloured backgrounds, or in reverse type; or
  • Print copy using sans serif fonts 0 for example, Arial or Helvetica. 

Years of research by Colin Wheildon, an Australian expert on readability issues, show that by doing these things you significantly decrease the likelihood of your materials being read.


6. Say what you did with the money

Don’t leave donors guessing. In every newsletter offer feedback on how much money was raised through recent appeals and how it will be used.

Financial transparency and accountability are of high concern to donors, so address them head on by reassuring them that your charity is a good steward of finances. Use this opportunity to build donor trust and loyalty.


7. Go active

Use active verbs in your newsletter headlines. They stimulate the senses and enable the reader to see, hear and feel what is happening.

Take a few newsletters and jot down the verbs from the headlines. Do they convey action, urgency, drama, joy, hope and excitement? Or, are they dull and unexciting? Newspaper editors say the verb is the story. Write your charity’s stories using newsworthy verbs that hook the readers.  


8. ‘You’ is the magic word

Tom Ahern describes the word ‘you’ as the glue that sticks the reader to the page. If you are looking to increase the ‘stickiness’ and effectiveness of your newsletters make sure that you indulge in using this word.


9. Offer involvement opportunities 

In every newsletter, give readers plenty of reasons why they should continue to support your work. Invite them to become regular givers, to volunteer, to campaign, to fundraise, and so on. Tell them they are indispensable to your work.

Delight them by always recognising their contribution and watch them become donors for life.

Redina Kolaneci is senior fundraising and stewardship consultant at McConkey-Johnston International UK


This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 6, June 2011 

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