Donor centered newsletters Part two

On Friday, I used my blog post to start addressing a question posed by Susan Rudd from the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington in Indiana about donor-centered newsletters. Both Friday and today’s posts are based completely on the work of Penelope Burk’s book “Donor Centered Fundraising“. While I spent Friday sharing Penelope’s survey data in an effort to “make the case for change”, today I will share some thoughts (specifically from Penelope’s work) on what donor-centered newsletters look like.

On pages 99 through 103, Penelope Burk does a tremendous job of laying out her vision:

  • Turn the multi-page length newsletters into one-page bulletins complemented by a lengthier year-end annual report.
  • Sharply focus content on programmatic impact while taking great care not to turn it into a parade of yawn-inspired statistics (e.g. use success stories, client and/or donor testimonials, sporadic stats, etc. that has a “features news story feel to it”). Avoid fundraising news because donors see through it as blatant advertising. They want to know how their last contribution is making a difference not how they can make another contribution. The key here is always focus content on your organization’s “IMPACT AGENDA”.
  • The format of a one-page bulletin will mean there is very limited space after the masthead, a photo with cutline, list of board members, and contact info is included. So, content needs to be professional, crisp, compact and impactful.
  • The publication frequency can be driven by a well laid out schedule, but Penelope encourages us to be more organic and publish a one-page bulletin every time something newsworthy occurs. So, a bulletin could go out a number of months in a row and then go silent until something else of significance happens.

OK … so this might sound a little radical to some of you. It also might sound intimidating because this approach requires time, tender loving care, and professional writing skills (which many non-profits don’t have a lot of). It is for this reason, Penelope encourages those wishing to move in this direction to do the following (page 102):

“Newsletters, like all communication pieces produced by not-for-profit organizations, need to look sharp and professional but not expensive. In-house publishing software makes this entirely achievable today. The savings you can accrue through shorter production time, lower printing costs, cheaper postage, etc. can be turned back into programs and services or devoted to other communication enhancements. My choice would be to put that savings into contract writers.”

As a former writer and editor for a weekly newspaper and currently a non-profit / fundraising consultant and coach, I find it hard to argue with Penelope probably because it is in my best interest to agree with her. LOL.

With that disclosure, let me say this … I am happy to provide a free consultation to anyone investigating how to shift from boring ineffective newsletters to something more donor-centered. Who knows … you might even be able to engage my services, produce and mail your new donor-centered news bulletins for what is currently in your budget. Please contact me if you wish to talk.

So, what do you think? Does this new approach sound too radical? What are your barriers to change? Please use the comment box below and share your thoughts.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847!/profile.php?id=1021153653


  1. Using Penelope Burk’s model of, “say it when you have something exciting to say!” I would also encourage the use of an “Insiders Newsletter” for major gift prospects, either printed or electronically. This should be focused on a single piece of news which you want your most valuable donors to hear first. It should be a personal message directly from the Executive Director.

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