Newsletters can be a powerful tool both for your organization’s fundraising and stewardship efforts.  Often newsletters can raise just as much – if not more – than your solicitations.  And a well crafted newsletter can remind donors of the reasons they support you and help increase their passion for your cause on a regular basis.

But unfortunately, many nonprofits (tens of thousands) don’t understand what it takes to create an effective newsletter.  Take a look below and see if your newsletter program makes any of these fatal mistakes…

1. Focused on the organization instead of your donors.  The biggest mistake your organization can make is thinking the goal of your newsletter is to report on the internal workings of your organization.  Does your newsletter include stories about staff promotions, upcoming office projects, the management of your programs, etc.?  Don’t feel bad if it does.  Thousands of nonprofits make this mistake.

Donors don’t want to hear about these things.  They want to hear and see how their gifts are making a difference for the people (or animals) you serve.  Instead of reporting on the inner-workings of your organization, pack your newsletters full of stories about the life-changing work happening because of your organization.  Put your donors at the center of each story.  Make him the hero of the story by showing how his gift made your work possible – and how without his continued support, someone else in need will go without.

2. Lacks engagement.  Does your copy read like a financial brochure?  Is it technically correct (according to some style manual)?  Do you share all the ways your donors can engage with and support your organization?

Boring copy is a killer.  It’s ok to break the style manual rules when talking to donors.  Good writing is important, but effective writing is more important.  Use the same tactics that newspaper writers use.  Make your stories interesting, engaging and as emotional as possible.  This will keep readers engaged throughout your newsletter.

Use your newsletter to reach out to your constituents in every way possible.  Include a clip-out reply form in your newsletter to make it easy for people to give.  If you accept in-kind items, create a wish list of the items you can use (it’s a good idea to list items at various price points to appeal to donors at different levels).  Prominently display the URL to your online donation page so donors know where to go online to make a gift.  Include information about how donors can schedule a tour, find out more about leaving you in their will or attending one of your events.

3. Wrong format.  A lot of people think they’re saving money if their newsletter is a self mailer.  This is rarely the case.  Especially when you look at Return on Investment (ROI) instead of raw cost.  Self mailers might be cheaper to produce (they sometimes are), but they never raise much money.

Instead of a self mailer, insert your newsletter in an envelope, and mail it with a personalized cover letter, reply device and reply envelope.  Use a live nonprofit stamp instead of an indicia.  This format is proven to raise significantly more money than a self mailer will.

4. Lacks segmentation.  Are you mailing your newsletter to everyone in your database, including non-cash donors, lapsed donors and other groups of people who aren’t yet supporters?  This happens frequently when an organization wants to “spread their message” to as many people as possible.  It’s an admirable goal, but not a strategic one.

You’re better off segmenting your newsletter and sending it only to active donors (people who’ve made a cash contribution in the last 24 or 36 months).  If you have major donors who haven’t given in the last three years or planned gift donors who aren’t making annual gifts, you could make  a strong argument for continuing to include them as well.  I certainly would.  But you should probably remove all the other audiences that you’re currently mailing.  This should significantly increase your ROI.

If you aren’t applying segment codes to your reply devices, you should do that too.  That will allow you to track the performance of each newsletter by each segment so you can refine in the future to reduce costs and increase ROI even further.

Download additional newsletter tips here.

What else would you add?