The backbone of most nonprofits' cultivation and stewardship efforts is their newsletter – and specifically, their e-mail newsletter. When sent via e-mail, your nonprofit newsletter is a cheap and easy way to keep in touch with donors and prospects and stay top of mind for your network of supporters.
Simply put, e-mail newsletters work. They are an unobtrusive yet effective way to communicate with your donors. Even if your donors don’t always read your nonprofit newsletter, they will see your organization’s name in their inbox… and doing so will help to strengthen their relationship with you.
Here are four key rules for making sure your nonprofit newsletters are successful:
Rule #1: Send Your Nonprofit Newsletter At least Once Per Month
Many organizations only send out newsletters occasionally… perhaps when they have news to share or time to put the newsletter together. This is a mistake. If your donors don’t receive your nonprofit newsletter on a regular basis, they may forget they signed up for it, and see it as spam. Alternately, your nonprofit may simply fall off their radar screen, in lieu of other organizations that send e-mails more frequently.
The sweet spot for most organizations is to send their nonprofit newsletter monthly. Some organizations will find that biweekly (or even weekly) works best for their supporters. Other nonprofits will have unique needs that dictate sending newsletters quarterly (in my experience, quarterly newsletters are too infrequent.) Start by sending your nonprofit newsletter out monthly, and then test and iterate based on the reaction of your donor base.
Rule #2: Don’t Include any Donate Now Button or Link in Your Nonprofit Newsletter
This one is a little more controversial. Many (perhaps most) nonprofits include a “Donate Now” button or link in their e-mail newsletters. Some organizations raise a somewhat significant sum as a result of this. Despite this, my recommendation is that your organization should never include a donate button or link in your nonprofit newsletter.
Think of it this way: what is the primary goal of your e-mail newsletters? The answer is cultivation and stewardship. Your newsletters exist to build relationships and connections with your donors and are almost certainly not the primary way you are raising money. Your nonprofit newsletter is a poor outlet for soliciting donors. Not many will give as a result, certainly not when compared to sending out a stand-alone solicitation e-mail.
Yet, if you include a donation button or link in your newsletter, many donors will see your nonprofit newsletter as a type of ask, partially ruining the cultivation benefit you would have received by sending out a pure non-ask / non-solicitation e-newsletter. As a general rule of thumb for fundraising, you are better off letting your asks be asks and your cultivation be cultivation, and not intermixing the two in the same donor communication. For a more detailed explanation of how to properly use e-mail as part of your fundraising program, read How to Build an Effective Online Giving Funnel for Your Nonprofit.
Rule #3: Make Your Newsletters Easy to Read
If your nonprofit newsletter looks like a wall of tiny text, your donors and prospects are unlikely to read it. Make your newsletters easy to read. This means making sure you are using lots of subheadings / whitespace, and a simple but nice-looking e-mail newsletter template such as those provided by your donor database, MailChimp, AWeber, Constant Contact, or whatever e-mail list provider you are using.
When sending nonprofit newsletters, I like to include anywhere between 2-4 articles. Rather than including the entire article in the newsletter, I include an abstract or the first paragraph, and then a link that someone can click to read the entire article on our website if the topic interests them. This makes your nonprofit newsletter seem easy to read, plus keeps the entire e-mail short, while still allowing you to include multiple articles in your newsletter.
Rule #4: Use Your Newsletters to Tell Stories
Just because “news” is in the word “newsletter” doesn’t mean your nonprofit newsletter has to be dry and focused only on hard facts and statistics. Sure, you can include some articles like that – articles that tell about something that happened that affects your work, or that uses statistics to show the scale of the problem you are trying to solve.
But don’t be afraid to tell stories – including emotional stories – in your newsletter. This includes stories about your clients and those that your nonprofit serves, as well as stories about your staff, your volunteers, your board members, and your donors. Your readers will appreciate learning more about your organization through the lens of those who are involved with your work, and these types of stories will make your nonprofit newsletter more enjoyable and emotionally compelling for donors and prospects alike.
Photo Credit: Jon S