Sage Advice on Writing Donor Newsletters
Book - Making Money with Donor Newsletters
Donors want to know that nonprofits value their support and nothing is as effective in accomplishing that than the simple, well written paper newsletter, a point Tom Ahern, a top authority on donor communications, makes with striking clarity in Making Money with Donor Newsletters.

Never forget, Ahern advises, that donors are deeply interested in one thing: did their gift make any difference in the world? Donor newsletters consistently and repeatedly reinforce the point that, yes, their gift matters.

“A good donor newsletter,” he writes, “will be blessedly brief, its articles blessedly short, its tone more conversational than academic. It will not be pure reporting. It will read more like a chatty phone call to your best friend. How hard is that?”

First and always foremost, he says, a donor newsletter, in addition to delivering news, focuses on bringing joy to the home of supporters, “because I’ve seen how a focus on joy can work wonders to unlock vast new reserves of caring and generosity.” Too often, in contrast, nonprofit newsletters sent to donors focus on the organization and try to sell things like a planned gift program.

Donor newsletters are not about revenue, he says, but, rather, about retention, and you’ll know your donor newsletter is working because it will bring in a significant number of additional gifts.

Crammed with graphical illustrations, this 167-page book is loaded with tips, how-tos, and techniques to help newsletters writers hit their mark. For example:
  • The “you” test helps weed out newsletters that will assuredly fail.

  • The “big hand” test will tell you if your headlines are working. Hint: Spend your time writing headlines, not the articles.

  • Kill verbs like “administer,” plan,” and “share” and replace them with verbs that tell your story, e.g., “clash,” “surge” and “threaten.”

  • Embrace the inverted pyramid that has long been a staple of effective journalism.
Throughout, Ahern provides unambiguous advice on a wide range of practical matters, including how to flatter donors, how to use statistics vs. anecdotes, how often to include an offer, what type of font to use, and how often to mail your newsletter. To keep newsletter writers moving in the right direction—and to make sure their newsletter is doing its job—he provides a nine-point checklist.

The book is instructive, lucid, and convincing because it is based on successful real-world application. Although not what one usually would say about a how-to manual, it’s also hard to put down.

Making Money with Donor Newsletters is available from Emerson & Church, Publishers.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy
December 2013