Tom Ahern is the author of The Mercifully Brief Real World Guide to Raising More Money With Newsletters Than You Ever Thought Possible, another in the series of Real World Guides by Emerson & Church (2005, $24.95 U.S.).
Research has shown that donors like to receive newsletters...the problem is that they are not always read. Author Ahern says this is because so many newsletters are simply not interesting.
Ahern has identified seven fatal flaws that nonprofits continually commit when they prepare their donor newsletters. Catch these flaws, correct them, and see how your newsletters finally do their job of keeping donors informed, enthusiastic about your cause, and writing checks for the long haul.
Ahern's fatal flaws form the skeleton for his very useful book:
- Your donor newsletter fails the "You Test." A good donor newsletter is friendly, even intimate, in tone. Use an institutional voice and see your readership fall off.
- Your donor newsletter skimps on emotional triggers. You want to inform but also tug on the heartstrings of your donors.
- You claim it's a newsletter, but it's really just an excuse to say hi. The giveaway here is when you include (on the front page no less) a ponderous letter from your executive director or the chairman of your board.
- Your donor newsletter isn't donor-centered. It doesn't make the donor feel needed or wanted.
- The donor newsletter isn't set up for rapid skimming and browsing. You actually expect people to read long articles. Wise up...your readers don't have the time.
- Your donor newsletter has weak or dysfunctional headlines. This is the "most deadly" fatal flaw. Writing headlines is not hard but it does take attention, and some knowledge of what works well.
- Your donor newsletter depends far too much on statistics (and not enough on anecdotes) to make your case.
Each of these "flaws" is fleshed out by Ahern in swift, to-the-point prose. In addition, Ahern introduces a psychological profile of readers that is quite useful. He divides readers into:
- The Amiable
- The Expressive
- The Skeptic
- The Bottom-Liner
Ahern explains what each of these types wants to see in your donor newsletter and how you can provide it without turning off everyone else.
Along the way, those niggling questions that have kept you awake some nights are answered.
- What do donors really care about?
- What is news? Yep...most people can't distinguish between news and information.
- What is good donor recognition? Hint: it is not about what your agency achieved but what your donors achieved through your agency.
- Do I dare write at the eighth grade level? Answer: YES! And not because your readers are dumb.
- How frequent should the donor newsletter be?
- Should the donor newsletter be printed or electronic?
If there is a flaw in this book, it is that it deals primarily with print newsletters. But, all in all, this little book will be one that you return to again and again. It is just that useful.