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Get the Good Word Out with Effective Newsletters

By Mike Perkins, South Area Director at the Fellowship of Catholic University Students

Henry Ford said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.”

Newsletters, when done well, can be an effective means of spreading the good word about your mission and ministry. At the same time, quality work can produce a return on the investment of staff time and energy. They enable us to tell our constituents what we are doing right now and why our current ministry efforts will make a difference in the future. In short, newsletters communicate why your ministry is worthy of their trust and philanthropic support.

It’s all about Relationships

One consistent Petrus mantra is that “development is about relationships.” Building a sustainable development program compels us to identify prospects, inform them about our ministry, involve them in the ministry and secure their investment in a manner that is fulfilling for them while also meeting our needs and, more importantly, the needs of the real beneficiaries of our ministries. We accomplish this most efficiently through face-to-face visits, but an effective development plan also includes a direct marketing component anchored by producing and distributing two, three or four quality newsletters each year.

As we seek to draw people into our ministry, we are competing for their time and attention. The new prospect might not be ready (yet!) to commit a meaningful portion of their time to personally help with some aspect of your ministry, but they do read their mail. Your organization’s newsletters provide a wonderful opportunity to draw them into your ministry and capture their imagination and interest. Newsletters are both an important tool for relationship-building with prospective donors and a venue for retaining current benefactors. For any organization, retaining benefactors is just as important as acquiring new ones.

“Look Ma! I’m having a great time at college!”

The most successful newsletters are filled with close-up photographs, success stories, achievements and aspirations, rather than just campaign or financial reports. Newsletters are a great place to tell stories—in the words of those served and those supporting them. People will love reading profiles of your students, their service work, your alums and your benefactors!

In an age of electronic newsletters and spam email, your printed newsletter is a tangible, personal communication from your program to your benefactors and prospective supporters. Although electronic communication is inexpensive, it also transient and it is easily deleted. Electronic communication and social networks have their places in marketing strategies, but so do printed communication pieces, and yours must be exemplary in order to stand out from all of the other not-for-profits competing for support. Your printed newsletter enables consistent contact with benefactors, regardless of a change in email address.

Know the Point and Get to it

Your newsletters should be specific in purpose and content; otherwise sending them is a waste of professional and ecological resources. Strive to make them interactive so that they drive readers to respond to a call to action compelling them to visit your website, donate funds, or even sign up for more frequent electronic communication. Although your newsletter will not include a direct appeal for money, it should always include a return envelope, making it easy for a reader to send you a contribution. Your newsletters should be an extension of your organization’s overall marketing strategy and brand awareness. It represents a key opportunity to connect your benefactors and prospects to your mission and purpose, and for them to make the mental and emotional connection between your mission and your brand. Therefore, make certain your newsletter embodies the same “look” or design template (color palette, fonts, etc.) as all of your other communication pieces, including your business cards, website, annual report, brochures, bulletins, flyers and invitations.

You get a Newsletter! And you get a Newsletter! Everybody gets a Newsletter!

Mail your newsletter to a broad audience that includes students, alumni, benefactors, parents, faculty, staff and senior administrators, your Bishop, clergy and religious throughout your sphere of influence, and lay Catholics in the community. Be sure one copy goes to the religion editor for your local newspapers. Print extra copies you can distribute during face-to-face visits with new prospects. As your institution grows, be alert to the number of different communication pieces you are sending to your constituents. They should fit into a well-planned direct mail campaign that includes project updates, event invitations, annual reports, updates, press releases, other solicitations, and invitations to volunteer. But also be aware of how these entwine with other forms of contact including personal visits, email, special events, signage, use of social networking sites such as Facebook, and your website.

If You Write It, They Will Come

Mailing a high quality newsletter helps you deliver your message directly to your audiences’ precise physical, mental and emotional locations. A tangible newsletter is more likely to be enjoyed—photographs of smiling students leap off the page and into the reader’s hearts. They are more likely to be shared with others, or placed in a briefcase for reading on a plane. They are tools you can hand a board member who is making a development call on your behalf or who is trying to tell their friends why they, too, ought to become involved with your organization. They are avenues by which volunteers can experience their own satisfaction in your wonderful work, by identifying stories, sitting for interviews and photo sessions, capturing engaging photographs at events and helping with distribution. They are superb tools for communicating with those who might want to support you and those who already are.

Mike is Senior Director of Philanthropy and South Area Director for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). In this role, Mike manages FOCUS’s philanthropy relationships for one-third of the United States and the establishment and growth of their Mobilization revenue stream. Mike is a veteran fundraiser and is passionate about helping people discern and fulfill their philanthropic aspirations.


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