E-mail newsletters have quickly become the backbone of most non-profits’ donor communication systems. This has happened for good reason: e-mail newsletters are cheap and easy to send, and most donors like receiving newsletters and updates via e-mail.
Your e-mail newsletter is an integral part of both your cultivation and your stewardship strategies… meaning that you can be using newsletters to communicate with both prospects and donors alike. Every non-profit, no matter how small or large, should be using e-mail newsletters to build better relationships with its donors.
Here are 7 tips for harnessing the power of e-mail newsletters for your non-profit:
#1 – Stick to a Schedule
Many non-profits make the mistake of sending out e-mail newsletters whenever they get around to it. Donors may end up getting two newsletters in May, none in June or July, one in August, and another in September. This is a mistake. The most successful non-profit e-newsletters are sent out on a regular basis (once per month, twice per month, etc.). Your e-mail newsletters should be part of your organization's overall donor communications calendar.
Donors should come to expect receiving your newsletters on a regular and knowable basis. If you send e-mail newsletters too infrequently, your donors will forget they signed up for your newsletter or will thing your non-profit is disorganized. If you send your newsletters too often, donors will get tired and unsubscribe. For most non-profits, the right frequency is once per month, though many organizations I know send out e-mail newsletters as often as 2-4 per month with great success.
#2 – Don’t Make Your Newsletters Too Long
When it comes to e-mail, people’s attention spans are short… much shorter than when reading snail mail newsletters. Don’t make your e-mail newsletters too long. I have found that the best strategy is to include 2-4 excerpts of articles, with “Click here to read more…” links that lead people back to your website if they want to read the entire article. That way, people can choose what they want to read without your newsletter looking like a wall of text by including the entire content of each article.
#3 – Never Fundraise in Your Newsletters
While many fundraisers disagree with me, I advise that you never fundraise in your e-mail newsletters. This means that you never include an ask in your newsletters for any campaign, event, or other appeal that you are running. You can include a small Donate Now link in your newsletter’s footer or navigation bar, but never include an ask.
This is important because you want your donors to see your e-mail newsletter as pure cultivation, not an ask. If you mix your messages by including an ask, two things will happen: first, your donor will see the newsletter as a fundraising ask, and you will lose all the benefits of sending out a pure relationship-building e-mail. Second, you won’t raise that much, at least not as much as you could with a stand-alone e-mail fundraising appeal.
That’s why you should always separate your cultivation e-mails from your ask e-mails. Send your list an e-mail newsletter every month, and then send out true e-mail fundraising asks at least twice per year.
#4 – Vary the Content
If you send out the same types of content in every newsletter, your readers will soon get bored. Many non-profits send out similar program updates in every newsletter. Doing so trains your donors not to bother opening the newsletter because they know they will get bored reading it.
To encourage your donors to keep opening your newsletters, vary the content. Include program updates, staff profiles, fundraising successes, donor and board profiles, client stories, polls and surveys, information about upcoming free events (or stories about successful events that have taken place), and thought-leadership in your mission area. Keep your content interesting, informative, and entertaining, and your donors will eagerly await your next e-mail.
#5 – Use Compelling Subject Lines
Another great way to keep donors opening your e-mails is to make sure you use compelling subject lines. Think about it… based on the following subject lines, which e-mail would you rather open?
Subject: Our February Newsletter
Subject: This 8 year old saved a life today!
Every time you write a newsletter, choose one of the articles that is in the newsletter and craft a subject line that makes people want to open the e-mail. Never use “Our (Month Name) Newsletter” as your subject line!
#6 – Include Pictures (But Not Too Many!)
A great way to break up the text in your e-mail newsletter is to use one or two pictures along with your article excerpts to get people interested and to make them want to click over to read the rest of the article.
When using pictures, you can use actual pictures taken by your staff, or you can use free stock photos from places like Flickr (look for the pictures on Flickr licensed under Creative Commons). Of course, you’ll want to avoid using too many pictures, otherwise you will overwhelm your content and your e-mails will take longer to load, particularly on mobile devices.
#7 – Use a Big Enough Font
My final recommendation is this: don’t use a tiny font on your e-mail newsletters. Many people will be reading your newsletters on mobile devices, and even for those who read on a desktop computer, small font is a huge turn-off. My recommendation is to use at least a 16-point size font for your e-mail newsletter to make sure they are clear and easy to read for all of your donors and prospects.
Photo Credit: AlphaLab Startup Accelerator