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Is Your E-newsletter Doing Anything for Your Donors?

3132070992_79c7a20b76_zLately I’ve been fretting about our clients’ success (or lack of it) with e-newsletters. It seems like everyone has one, but no one is raising any real money out of them. In fact, in many cases the e-newsletter has virtually been assumed to be a stewardship tool, with few organizations even bothering to measure revenue. It just seems like “you have to have one” rather than it serving any purpose.

I recently bought Tom Ahern’s book Making Money with Donor Newsletters. (If you have a paper newsletter, it’s a must buy for you!) and it gives example after example of amazing fundraising results with paper newsletters. And in fact, Ann and I have a client that raises nearly 75% of their gross income in one paper newsletter at the end of the year!

But many organizations have either phased out their paper newsletter in favor of the e-newsletter or have skipped over paper to an electronic format.

Some are seeing good results. As Tom notes in his book, in our experience it tends to be organizations with catchy news items that donors want to know (like volunteer opportunities or details of an upcoming event) or organizations that are using images to draw their supporters in (a wildflower center, bird sanctuary, humane society, etc.).

But in general, our clients report e-newsletters are not inspiring donors to give as they read them.

In fact, are people reading them? Tom quotes TJ Larkin, co-author of Communicating Change with the quote: “People use the web. They read paper.”

While many of us thought we could just translate our paper newsletter to an e-mail format and it would be magically cheaper and more effective – we were wrong. While paper newsletters do cost money, most organizations I know had far more revenue coming in from paper newsletters than they do with their e-newsletters.

I’m not saying that you should get rid of your e-newsletter or go (back) to paper, but you should start to determine what your e-newsletter is doing for you. Are people giving to it? Reading it? What are they getting out of it? Would they be disappointed if it went away? What would they want to see instead?

If your e-newsletter isn’t providing some quantifiable boost to your fundraising program, consider testing some new things.

  • Look and feel: Try a professionally designed template that is simple, clean, and branded for your organization
  • Readability: Try making your text skimmable and easy to read
  • Content: Try making the content more relevant to the reader; make sure you tell them something they’d want to know
  • Images: Try using photos, graphics, and videos to capture attention
  • Length: Try making your e-newsletter shorter. (Some direct marketing gurus are encouraging clients to have e-newsletters that are more like e-blasts – they just have one “article” and are sent more frequently)

Try one thing at a time and see what happens. And don’t forget to measure your results!

Yes, stewardship, reporting, and engagement are important for sure, but it seems that we may have to re-think the e-newsletter to capture some of the magic Tom describes in his book about paper newsletters. It may never be the same, but with a little creativity, it could be even better.

After all, the opportunity to engage someone in real time doesn’t come with a paper newsletter.  See what you can do to capitalize on that advantage.

photo by Stuart Richards: https://www.flickr.com/photos/left-hand/

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