November 17, 2019
Don’t Let Your Newsletter Be a Snoozeletter

By Sarah Lange

Sarah Lange
Newsletters can be one of the most effective cultivation, stewardship, and fundraising tools for nonprofits, but, unfortunately, many organizations invest little time in the layout, look, and content of these critical communication vehicles.

Due to time and resource constraints, many nonprofits make the mistake of focusing solely on soliciting donors, and don’t provide information about their programs and progress. Donors are left to wonder if their gift was put to work as they intended, and if it made a difference.

There are easy ways to make your newsletter, whether printed or electronic, a useful and cost-effective tool to communicate with donors:

1. Keep the News in Newsletters

Many nonprofit newsletters make the mistake of writing in the past tense. While it’s important to share news of a recent grant, a large donation, or photos from an event, unless these take place as you’re moving into production, social media or an e-news blast might be a more appropriate channel through which to broadcast this news. Your newsletter should focus on what’s news, and things that are happening now, as well as things that are about to happen.

Use your newsletter to educate your readers about the issue(s) your agency is facing and to share success stories. You want the content of your newsletter to be inspiring, informative, and interesting, not a nighttime sleep aid!

2. Keep Donors at the Heart of Your Stories

This doesn’t mean you have to write stories about your donors (although that’s an idea you might want to consider) or include long lists of donors in each edition. It means writing about what’s meaningful and important to your audience, the people who are supporting your cause. If you aren’t sure what that is, survey them.

Remember, when it comes to your supporters, it’s all about them, so be sure to write in a donor-centered way. Use the word “you” instead of “we.” Acknowledge the role that your donors have played in making things happen and thank them for their support. After all, you wouldn’t be able to operationalize your mission without it.

3. Pluck at Their Heart Strings!

Philanthropy is a heart-centered activity, and donors give in response to an emotional trigger. Use your newsletter as a means through which to share stories about the lives you’re changing, the impact you’re having, the difference you’re making. It keeps things on a human scale and strikes an emotional chord with your reader.

Post your data in sidebars or boxes, rather than co-mingling with your stories. Graphs and infographics are a great way to draw attention to data that might otherwise appear dull and not noteworthy.

4. Design with Purpose

Make sure your front page is engaging and dynamic. Use color, catchy headlines, text boxes, pull quotes ,and photos to move your reader through the newsletter and make stories more “digestible.” Make sure you use a font type (preferably san seraph) and size (at least 10 point) that are easy to read.

Use space wisely. Most readers skim the news, so place the most important stories on the front page and pack the most important information of each story into the first two paragraphs and continue it on another page.

5. Look at Your Production Schedule

The purpose of a newsletter is to inform, inspire, acknowledge, and thank your supporters. Since the ultimate goal of your newsletter is to retain donors and encourage them to increase their giving, the newsletter production schedule needs to coincide with and support development activities.

6. Don’t Leave Money on the Table

Slip a remittance envelope in every edition of your newsletter and place a “donate here” button in a prominent place in your e-newsletter. Most donors are happy to give more than once per year and it can’t hurt to make a “soft ask” while you’ve got their attention.

If your organization hasn’t sent a newsletter in a long time, there’s no better time to start than right now.

Case in point: One of our clients hadn’t sent out a newsletter or had regular contact with their donor base for eight years, except to ask them for money. We designed a one-page (double-sided), four-color newsletter with photos that focused on all the positive changes at the agency. This newsletter was well-received. Several people called and others emailed to let the agency know how much they appreciated hearing from them. One couple was so inspired by a story in the newsletter, requesting donations for client holiday gifts, that they stopped by with a $500 check and a stack of gift cards.

Sarah Lange is principal and founder of New Era, which helps nonprofits integrate best practices in fund development, marketing and communications, board development, strategic planning, and leadership. Email her at

February 2015

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