5 Steps to Newsletters that Keep Donors Close (Part One)

Read Part Two Now

Your organization’s relationship with your donors is like any other relationship you have; it requires focus and nourishment, forever. That’s the only way to keep your donors satisfied, engaged and, hopefully, giving.

In fact, most fundraisers are doing a poor job of it, with donor retention rates plummeting to an all-time low of 39%. That means donors are likely to cut your organization from the list next time round.

You have to stop the attrition: “A 10% improvement in retention can yield up to a 200% increase in projected lifetime value, as with higher retention significantly more donors upgrade their giving, give in multiple ways, recommend others, and, ultimately, perhaps, pledge a planned gift to the organization,” says fundraising expert Adrian Sargent.

That’s mammoth potential, and your donor newsletter is a vital tool for getting there. Here’s how:

1. Share engaging content

Before you write a line, set up the right frame for your newsletter. The primary goal is to reshape your donor relationships from the transactional to one that’s more personal, productive and long-term—the triad of donor retention.

The only way to get there is to get beyond the ask. After your heartfelt and prompt thanks for a donor’s first gift, you want to invite her further into your organization­­.

Make her feel acknowledged, appreciated and right at home—just as you would invite a new-ish friend over for dinner when you’re ready to get one step closer.Your style, schedule, family, aesthetic and cooking finesse are all laid open during that visit. In much the same way, your donor newsletter invites donors in to experience your organization’s (and community’s) personality, promises and values in a way far richer and more meaningful than ever before.

2. Leverage audience personas

You fundraise day in and day out, making it challenging to remember that your organization is just one of many elements in each donor’s life. Think about your own giving—how often do you think about the nonprofits you support in the course of a typical day?

To counteract the urge to talk to folks like you, rather than your donors, you need to consciously step into their shoes to identify what to focus on and how to make your content easy to digest and remember.

A reliable path to content connection is to launch an imaginary editorial board, comprised of personas (how-tos here) representing up to nine of your most important donor segments.

Next, create one-page persona profiles like the one below. Liz Henkel represents the “Retired Women, Annual Gifts $200-$500” segment so important to one of our clients, a foundation that supports a regional parks network.


Then spend some time with your board members by surrounding your desk with these profiles. When I work on the foundation’s newsletter, I’m writing to Liz and the foundation’s other donor personas. I couldn’t ignore them, even if I wanted to. It works!

3. Share your newsletter on the right channels

Use your newsletter to spend time with your donors in two channels—print (if you’re your donor base includes 55+ers) and email—each with distinct content. Shape your print newsletter as a rich, immersive visit, and your e-newsletter as a quick check-in call.

Send this newsletter to donors only, so your voice stays clear and focused. This includes ALL active and recent donors, not just selected segments, with the option to opt-out.

Print newsletters

One of the most common errors I see in print newsletter production is using a different content mix for every issue. Although this “whatever we’ve got” approach may make it easier for you to get the newsletter out the door, it makes the product far harder for your donors to absorb and diminishes the likelihood they’ll do so.

Instead, create a content formula or mix based on your personas’ wants and interests. Consistent use of this formula will makes it easier for you to be seeking and creating the content you need on an ongoing basis, and for readers to recognize your newsletter at a glance (increasing probability that they’ll read it).

Prioritize the elements donors focus on most: photos, headlines, photo captions and articles, and include:

  • Pull quotes: Highlight important or meaningful quotes.
  • Photos: In the twice-yearly donor newsletter I create for one client organization, we showcase one or two beneficiaries (including children whenever we can) in a enewsweb2few photos. We caption each photo with a description of what’s going on, and then connect that activity to donor support. Who can resist a photo with mini-story like the one at left?
  • Success stories: Show how donor support leads to visible impact. This is great material for the first page.
  • Donor-created content: Testimonials should top your list.
  • Coming attractions: New programs, services, locations present a golden opportunity to show donors what you can do with more money.
  • Program updates: What have you accomplished and how have your donors helped?
  • Issue or cause updates: Highlight what’s changing, why that matters and how your organization is adjusting accordingly.
  • Donor profiles: Select profile subjects who most of your donors will relate to.
  • Letter from your executive director: Do this only if you must and then, never on the front page.

Note that there’s no hot news here; we’ll address that in your eNewsletter

You can change your content formula when the insights you gather and assess—from your donors, the trajectory of your issue or cause and more—indicate that makes sense.

Email newsletters

Your donor eNewsletter’s main job is to remind supporters your organization is active in moving your cause forward. This is where you can update them on hot news or share an immediate call to action.

Content options mimic those for your print newsletter, in short form. eNewsletters function more like a quick drop-in than the leisurely visit of the print newsletter experience; so keep your content brief.  Include one or two content features in each newsletter, but no more than a single call to action.

Weave your key messages—conveying your organization’s promise, impact and appreciation of your donors—throughout all print and online newsletters. Donor newsletters done right will help keep your donors close.

Follow these steps to strengthen your relationships with your donors and increase your retention rate. Promise!

Read Part Two Now

What—if any—feedback do you get on your donor newsletters? Please share it here, along with newsletter suggestions for your donor-loving peers! Thank you.