The Power of Newsletters
By Mary Walker, Petrus Blog Contributor
Didn’t we all want to be superheroes when we were kids? Yet 20, 30, 40 or more years later, most of us live “ordinary” lives. We are spouses, parents, friends, and employees. We figure out how to pay our bills, watch the weather report to know when to mow the lawn, and try to remember to put the trash out on a certain day. Not quite the superhero life!
Yet, we know as Catholics that our lives matter and what we do has eternal consequences. I’ll never be a superhero saint like Mary or St. Joseph, but I can do “little” saintly things.
When we receive a newsletter from a ministry we support, the stories can remind us that however ordinary our day-to-day life is, we have the power and grace to make a difference. A good newsletter treats the donors as superheroes.
So, as you create your ministry’s newsletter, rather than focus on how great your ministry is, tell a story about a person who was helped by your benefactors--making the newsletter reader the hero. Your benefactor made it possible for the college student to get on the right path because a campus minister was there for guidance. A teen considering suicide is now doing well because your benefactor funded counselors to intervene. A young adult discovered a religious vocation during a retreat made possible by your benefactor.
One good story is worth (literally) more than a bunch of statistics. Find the good stories, tell them well, illustrate with striking photographs, and make the benefactor the hero. Not only will your newsletters be more interesting to read, they will bring in more and larger gifts.
FAQs About Newsletters
Okay—so you want your newsletters to be more interesting AND generate more giving. What works best?
Snail Mail or Email?
The STRONG recommendation is to have a printed newsletter and mail it. A printed newsletter just performs better. Part of this has to do with the age of most benefactors—they are Baby Boomers and Gen Xers (those born between 1946 and 1980). They like newsletters.
The behavior of my late mother-in-law is an example of the effectiveness of this approach. A generous person, she gave many financial gifts to many organizations. She carried around the newsletters and other communications she received on the seat of her rollator walker so that she could read them when she had time.
Of course, your newsletter should include a fill-in-the blank reply form with an envelope or self-mailer to make giving easy. And, you will be surprised that gifts will come into your ministry months or even years later in these envelopes! Ecclesiastes 11:1 says, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.” With a printed newsletter, you never know who will read it and send a gift, even after the passage of time!
This isn’t to say that there is no place for email newsletters. If there is a real sense of urgency (money must be raised NOW), nothing is quicker than email or social media. You can also use email when there is a reason to follow up.
How Often Should You Send Out Newsletters?
It depends—if your ministry has a natural calendar, such as semesters, you can follow the calendar. Or, if there is BIG NEWS or a special opportunity for your benefactors to be superheroes, you want to let them know. Otherwise, three or four times a year is a good place to start—and make sure your benefactors receive some communication from you near year end—when about 1/3 of all giving happens.
How can I Get My Newsletters to Generate More Gifts?
In addition to telling great stories that evoke joyful feelings among the recipients, your newsletter should express need. After all, heroism isn’t just a one-time endeavor! After they’ve read the stories of impact, your superhero can continue to be a force for good.
Making Money with Donor Newsletters by Tom Ahern is an excellent resource to learn how to create newsletters that bring in gifts. I’ve attended classes by him and got to pick his brain in person. He knows his stuff and is a good writer himself. This is not a boring textbook!
In addition, the Domain Group has tested various lengths, formats and writing styles. A summary of their findings is here. Bottomline:
- Don’t make it too long (4 or 6 pages)
- Use the word “you” a lot to draw in readers
- Tell stories that make benefactors the heroes
- Write good headlines that can be easily skimmed, and
- Mail in a #10 envelope with good tagline.
Don’t make your newsletter a self-mailer. I don’t know why that makes a difference, but recent research shows that it does.
Finally, Have Some Fun with Your Newsletters
When you work in ministry, you get to know the most fascinating people. When you are creating stories for your newsletter, you have the wonderful opportunity to interview those who were impacted or changed by your ministry. As a writer, I’ve left many such interviews inspired, enriched, and refreshed myself. Imagine how good your benefactors will feel knowing that they are a main character in the story of another person’s life.
Let’s face it. Some days it’s hard to be a fundraiser. While we KNOW that God is in charge, we also feel the responsibility that he places within us on behalf of our ministry. Uplifting our benefactors by showing them what they have made possible is a FUN part of the job.
Interested in learning more about how to plan your communications schedule?
Check out our free video about communications schedules! This video is a small part of our Petrus Annual Manual series, and it offers ideas about how to best plan and schedule appeal letters, newsletters, and other campaigns.
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