How to write a newsletter?

By May 28, 2019 No Comments

Donors want newsletters. Research has told us so.  But most donor newsletters go unread.

In a recent Forum For Fundraising, Tom Ahern, principal at explained how to create highly profitable donor newsletters and the reader psychology behind it.

We felt you would benefit from this valuable information to help you produce great donor newsletters, so we’ve produced an informative guide to guide you.


Top Tips for producing Newsletters

Avoid sales brochures

A newsletter isn’t a sales medium. It’s a place where you report to donors on what and how your organisation is doing in terms of fulfilling its mission. According to Tom, a specific newsletter mistake is running the prototypical “letter from the executive director.” In an effort not to offend anyone, these often are bland and not exactly the thing that will draw people to and into the newsletter.

The front page is prime real estate and should be reserved for news of the greatest importance to donors. Donors are interested in:

  • Accomplishments (What did you do with my money? What did I help do?);
  • Opportunities (What could you do with my money? What are other ways to help?);
  • Recognition (Did my support matter? Am I important?) and;
  • Efficiency (Can I trust you with my money?).

Donors want to get behind what it is you’re fighting to achieve. Ask yourself what fight is it that you’re and be sure to tell donors how they’re helping you win.


Do the “You test”

A good newsletter is friendly, even intimate, in tone — not an institutional voice. ‘You’ is the most powerful word in the marketing lexicon. Get a red pen and go through your newsletter materials, beginning with the outer envelope, and circle every time the word “you” appears to see if you need improvement in this regard. You don’t know where people’s eyes will land first within your newsletter, so he recommended using the word “you” as often as you can and in many different locations.


Use emotional triggers 

Neuroscientists have found that all decisions start with an emotional impulse. You need to be aware of what these emotional triggers are and put them to use — photos of children for a food bank, for examples, or photos of endangered animals for animal-welfare organisations. People are more responsive to the possibility of saving something than of gaining something.

When focusing on emotional triggers, begin with the name of your newsletter — a high-visibility location that’s the first thing donors see — and go from there.

Keep donor centred

Make sure your newsletter is “donor centred”. If it doesn’t make donors feel needed or wanted it will end up in the bin. Your organisation should consistently reinforce the idea that donors are essential to your mission. The newsletter is the place where you can tune in your donor base to the problems the organisation faces and make it clear to them that their support is going to make a difference. Make the theme of your communications be “your support is essential to [insert your mission].”


Be careful of the article length

Most people don’t read articles. Enable newsletter recipients to get the information as fast as possible by writing copy at the “browser level.” Eye-motion studies have found that a reader’s eyes will go initially and involuntarily to the biggest things. “Browser level” is all of the bigger, bolder, briefer content that’s easiest to read, such as headlines, subheads, tables of contents, lead sentences, pull quotes, captions, bullet lists, and photos and other art. Just a few words in a caption underneath a photo can convey a story and get through to readers.

Use anecdotes

Trophy numbers often are meaningless to donors. However, anecdotes — text and images — “create pictures in the mind’s eye. “When she entered our 3rd grade she couldn’t spell ‘cat.’ At the end of the year, she could spell ‘Tchaikovsky.'” Anecdotes help people understand what you’re talking about, he said.


Avoid fake headlines

A headline should tell readers what the story is about, so they don’t have to even read the story. Elements of a good headline are enticing words, action verbs, a summary of the content and a hook that pulls readers in. Using a deck (or subhead) or eyebrow (above the headline) to supplement the headline and to not be afraid to use longer headlines. The typical Wall Street Journal headline is 25 to 30 words.

Top tips for writing good headline’s

  1. Write down the key points of the story.
  2. Determine why a donor would care. What’s in it for me?
  3. Summarize the gist and the donor angle in 25 to 40 words and two sentences, using plain English and small words that are clear and simple. That’s your headline. The goal is to be as clear as possible as fast as possible.

The point of a donor newsletter, first and foremost, is to cultivate and retain donors. According to recent figures from, seven out of 10 first-time donors do not make a second gift. Organisations can — and should — use their newsletters to step up donor cultivation by:

  • Reporting results;
  • Thanking donors copiously for making a difference in the world;
  • Offering donors other ways to give, volunteer and make a difference; and
  • Showing that the need is still great.


Keep content fresh

Organisation s should be sure that the content they include in newsletters is new, not recycled from other sources or publications.


Here are 15 potential story ideas non-profits can include in their newsletters that would be of interest to donors.


  1. Program news. What are your recent accomplishments? Is your organisation growing or changing? Do you have a new program? If so, what problem does it solve? What are your hopes for it?
  2. Tips and how-to’s. Each organisation has a unique body of knowledge. Share it with donors in the form of interesting stories, e.g., “12 Things You Can Do Today That Will Save the Environment Tomorrow.”
  3. Trend spotting. Articles that look ahead at coming major developments, e.g., “Looking at Next Year: Where We See Healthcare Needed.”
  4. Client case histories. How have your programs changed a life for the better? Include conflict, tension, doubt and obstacles, as well as triumph.
  5. Research and development. The world is constantly changing. Does your organisation have plans for the changes? Talk about them.
  6. Behind the scenes. Show readers something they wouldn’t ordinarily get to see if they weren’t donors.
  7. In another’s shoes. A “what it’s really like” testimony can stir empathy in donors. Both anecdotes and testimonial build trust quickly.
  8. Financial news. People are surprisingly curious about your finances. Show that you have nothing to hide. A pie chart or graph that shows your financial breakdown will work.
  9. Photos with captions. And never without.
  10. Columns. Be an authority on topics related to your cause. Frequently asked questions, myths and facts, a donor talking about why she gives, letters, and comments from your blog.
  11. The “update” story. Is there a story related to your cause or that was in the media that originated with your organisation? If so, build on it and keep donors informed.
  12. “Did you know?” For example, a breakout of “How €25 Can Make a Difference.”
  13. Other ways to give. Your newsletter is critical for promoting online and planned giving. Keep donors in the loop about other giving options.
  14. Teasers for your Web site. “Your Web site can store vast amounts of information. Use the newsletter to send people there. The No. 1 reason people don’t give online is because they didn’t know they could.
  15. Information and publications; a tour; special events; classes; sign-up for an e-newsletter; etc.


How can we help?

With operations in the Republic of Ireland and the UK – our team is your team. Mail is our passion from start to finish, which is why we are proud to offer you a complete newsletter service, from strategy, to content and design, right through to print and delivery.

We’ll take away the hassle, time or resource needed to produce your newsletters using design, variable data printing and content that not only tells your brand story but captures the hearts and minds of your donors.

For more information contact [email protected] or call our sales team on + 44 2840 690 620 or me directly.

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