If your organization sends a print newsletter, there are a number of things you can do to ensure that the publication is working as effectively as possible. While most of the following tips are fundamental, I believe that even experienced advancement professionals will find at least a couple of useful ideas:
Identify your objectives. It is essential that you know what you want your newsletter to accomplish. Is the purpose to generally inform readers about the organization? Is it to recognize donors? Is it to promote planned giving? Once you determine your objectives, you’ll be better able to prepare appropriate content and build a proper mailing list. Don’t just produce a newsletter to have a newsletter. Know why you want one.
Appropriately brand your newsletter. Make sure your newsletter branding is in alignment with your overall organizational branding. For example, your general advancement newsletter will look different than your planned giving newsletter, but both should use your organization’s colors and carry the organization logo.
Mail at least three times per year. As with most marketing communications, frequency is important. For a newsletter to have impact, one needs to be sent at least three times per year. Mailing only once or twice will simply ensure that readers forget about the publication, and possibly the organization, between issues. With each additional newsletter readers receive, the overall impression will grow, just be sure not to over-saturate your market. Some readers might ignore one issue but, overtime, they will likely not ignore all issues. Mailing at least three times per year will ensure that you grab the attention of busy readers and remain in front of them throughout the year.
Consistently maintain a production schedule. Develop a communications plan and then stick to it. Make sure that readers do not receive a slew of communications from your organization in one week and then hear nothing more for a couple of months. Instead, coordinate your various communications to ensure a consistent presence. Once you’ve developed the communications plan, stick to it. Readers will grow accustomed to receiving your newsletter at particular times. If you miss a date, they might think that you dropped them from the list, the newsletter got lost in the mail, or that your organization is having serious budget trouble.
Mail to as many prospects and donors as the budget permits. Determining how many newsletters to send will involve an analysis of your target markets and the objectives of your newsletter. For example, a general advancement newsletter might be sent to all donors and certain prospects to inform them of your organization’s accomplishments. On the other hand, a planned giving newsletter might be sent only to frequent annual donors age 55 and older to inform them of the impact that planned gifts have on the organization and how such gifts can benefit the donor and his loved ones.
Make sure the newsletter is designed for older eyes. People over 40 years of age are not going to want to read eight point type. If someone has to reach for her reading glasses to see what’s in your newsletter, there’s a good chance she won’t. So, make sure to use a large font size such as 12 point. Also, avoid using reverse type (white letters on a dark background); reverse type is difficult to read and not easy to photocopy or fax clearly. Also, avoid low contrast situations; the darker the type and the lighter the background, the better. While sans-serif fonts such as Arial might look cleaner and prettier than a serif font such as Time New Roman with its little “feet,” the reality is that serif fonts are easier to read.
Include several short articles on varied topics. Readers of all ages have limited attention spans. Instead of writing just a few long articles, provide several short pieces instead. Readers are more likely to read a short article than a long one. They are more likely to remember the content of a tightly written, short article. And, with more articles, they are more likely to find one that interests them.
Provide articles of value to readers. When writing newsletter content, adopt a donor-centered orientation. For example, if you have a planned giving newsletter, don’t do an article about how gift annuities work, with lots of technical detail. Instead, do an article that shows donors how they can have an income for life while supporting your organization. The content might be very similar, but it’s a question of accessibility, focus, and showing readers the benefit to them. If you’re a healthcare organization with a general purpose newsletter, for example, consider offering first-aid tips. The idea is to deliver value to your readers.
Include photographs, particularly of those benefiting from services. Recognizing donors by placing their photo in the newsletter can be a nice touch. This is especially true if the donors are well known to the newsletter audience. However, most readers prefer seeing photos of those receiving your organization’s services. This is why Save the Children emphasized photos of smiling Haitian children who have benefitted from the organization’s services rather than suffering children or even happy donors. For another example, if you work for an animal welfare organization, consider using more photos of kittens and puppies and fewer photos of donors. The idea is to use images that will generate a positive, emotional response.
Recognize donors. There are a variety of ways you can recognize donors in your newsletters. You can publish an “honor roll,” you can do stories about donors, you can do stories about how your organization is fulfilling its mission and highlight a particular donor who has made a particular program possible. Just be sure that you do recognize your donors. And, be sure to think about diversity when telling donor stories so that your readers will find someone they can identify with; in other words, don’t just tell stories about your most wealthy donors. By the way, even your wealthy donors want to know that you are reaching out to everyone.
Include full contact information in all newsletters. Make it easy for readers to contact your organization. Include your organization’s mailing address, phone number, email address, and website address. Because people would rather reach-out to an actual person rather than a faceless institution, include a contact name as well.
Call readers to action. Ask your readers to do something. You might encourage readers to visit your website for more information, photos, a video, or a survey. You might ask readers to give money. You might invite readers to contact you for more information. Your newsletter is an opportunity for engagement. True communication is two-way. So, look for opportunities for readers to actually interact with you and your organization.
Like I said at the beginning, many of the ideas I’ve presented are common-sense fundamentals. But, that doesn’t mean they’re all common practice, though I wish they were. I could provide other tips but, for now, I’d like to hear from you.
That’s what Michael Rosen Says… What do you say? What tips do you have for maximizing the success of your newsletters?