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EXPERT TIP: Donor Engagement Through Newsletters

This blog provides practical strategies on how to improve your newsletter performance. More importantly, it takes a step back to provide insight into strategies to increase response and net income from your newsletters and help increase retention rates and lapsed donor reactivation rates that will help improve your overall fundraising performance.

To help drive your overall fundraising performance, your newsletters need to be part of a bigger fundraising strategy that:

  • Is focused on building donor relationships.

  • Includes a sufficient number of direct mail and email communications to maintain awareness and build your donor relationships.

  • Incorporates newsletters that use a donor focused communications strategy to thank donors and report back on life changing impact resulting from their gifts.

Successful fundraising is about building relationships

At its core, successful fundraising is about building relationships with people. For you, these are people who share your passion to reach women and men facing unplanned pregnancies and help them choose life for their baby. These are people who also have a passion to help introduce clients to the Author of Life, Jesus Christ.

When we think about building relationships, we most often think about phone calls, personal meetings, personal notes and text messages used to engage “major donors.” While these are effective methods for building relationships, it is not feasible to use these one-to-one communications strategies to reach the “general donor” audience that represents the largest number of donors on your donor file.

For general donors, mass media communications using offline (direct mail) and online communications (email, social media, websites and other digital media) are the most cost effective means to build relationships with your general donors and inspire them to give.

In general, the majority of mass media communications are related to the donor giving cycle:

  • We ask. We ask donors to give to help serve women and men and help them choose life for their babies.

  • Donors give. Donors respond online or via the mail to make a gift (or a monthly giving commitment).

  • We thank. We thank donors for giving via gift acknowledgement letters, newsletters, personal notes and phone calls.

  • We report back. We report back on the life changing impact of the donors’ gifts.

An effective communications plan includes a mix of appeals, newsletters, thank yous and other messages with sufficient frequency so that you remain top of mind among your donors.

A practical example related to the importance of the frequency of communications is to think back to a time when you began dating someone - if you’re like me, it may be a test of your memory. When you went on a first date and you both had an enjoyable experience, there were phone calls and texts that built the relationship between dates.

However, if you went on a first date, had an enjoyable experience but then didn’t hear from the person for weeks, there was no opportunity for the relationship to grow. Depending on the length of time between the communications, you may have even moved on to a new relationship.

The frequency of communications has a similar impact on fundraising.

When donors don’t hear from you consistently, you fade from their memory. The low frequency and long gaps in communication also reduces the number of opportunities for them to make a gift.

Our recommendation to our pregnancy center clients is to run a minimum of 13 “campaigns” per year excluding event communications. Each campaign should both direct mail and email. If you have a donor website, also consider including banners for key campaigns Mothers Day and Year End. We also recommend supporting each campaign with a gift acknowledgement letter to thank the donor and summarize the life changing impact of their gift that echoes the campaign messaging..

The annual schedule includes:

  • Seven appeals which have a primary objective to inspire donors to give via the mail or online.

  • Six newsletters that thank and report back on the life changing impact resulting from the donor’s gift while also making it easy for the donor to give again.

Donor focused communications

We also strongly recommend developing your communications based on what we call “donor focused” communications rather than “institution focused” communications. In donor focused communications, the donor is positioned as a “hero” and partner who helps fulfill the ministry’s mission. Institution focused communications positions the donor as an “outside helper.” The following highlights the differences in copy that asks a donor to make a gift.

Institutional communications ask donors to give to the ministry so that the ministry can do the work to bring about life changing impact:Give to First Choice so we can reach women facing an unexpected pregnancy and help them choose life for their baby.

Rather than treating the donor as a partner in the ministry, institutional communications position the donor as a source of funding rather than as a ministry partner.

Donor focused communications connect the donor directly to the life changing impact and position the donor as a critical ministry partner:

Through your gift today, you’re helping women facing an unexpected pregnancy receive the care and compassion needed to choose life for their babies.

In donor focused communications, the donor is positioned as a hero helping women facing an unexpected pregnancy.

Donor focused style of communications should be applied across all forms of fundraising communications including appeals, event invitations, newsletters and thank you letters.

Applying donor focused communications to newsletters

The donor focused style of communications is particularly important in donor newsletters as it informs both the content featured in the newsletter as well as the writing style.

While newsletters serve multiple objectives, the primary objectives are to:

  • Thank the donor for her gift.

  • Report back on the life changing impact of the donor’s gift.

  • Inspire the donor to give again.

A tested and proven format for direct mail newsletter packages includes four components:

  • Carrier envelope with teaser copy and design that clearly communicates that this is a newsletter to thank and report back on the donor’s impact.

  • A letter with an attached reply device from the ministry leader that thanks the donor, provides highlights of the donor’s impact and inspires the donor to give again. The reply device is personalized with the donor’s name and address so all she has to do is write a check, tear off the reply device, put in the reply envelope with a stamp and mail it.

  • The newsletter is a four-color 11” x 17” sheet folded into four-pages with stories and content described below.

  • Reply envelope.

This format is designed to include the following content in every edition of the the newsletter:

  • Client stories that tug at the donor’s heart and communicate the donor’s life changing impact. The format can accommodate two or three stories depending on the size of images and length of stories..

  • A column from the ministry leader on page 3 that thanks the donor and highlights key ministry impact in a heartfelt tone.

  • Prayer feature that includes an invitation to pray for the ministry and/or offer praise for God’s blessings.

  • Page 4 typically has two articles. One that thanks the donor, summarizes their impact and invites the donor to give again. Another article with content that rotates to include key stats, promotion of upcoming events and other relevant content.

The teasers, headlines, subheads and body copy for every component of the package - the carrier, cover letter and newsletter articles - are all written in a donor focused style. The following are samples of donor focused copy elements:

  • Sharing hope and saving lives every day … thanks to YOU!

  • “I saw my baby’s heart beating …” What started with an Internet search for at-home abortions ended with a beautiful baby - thanks to partners like you!

  • Thanks for caring about women like Ronnie!

  • Your prayers and partnership SAVE LIVES! Thank you for your support!

  • You’re changing lives today, and saving future generations.

  • Give help, share hope, save lives!

Ray Pokorny is the SVP that leads Masterworks’ pregnancy center fundraising communications team. He has more than forty years of for-profit and nonprofit marketing and fundraising experience. If you would like more information about donor focused communications and samples of newsletter creative or to learn about the Masterworks pregnancy center donor fundraising communications program visit:


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