10 tips to master your nonprofit newsletter
Donor engagement is crucial to your fundraising efforts, and newsletters are an essential part of your cultivation and donor retention strategy. No matter the size of the nonprofit, email newsletters should be a key focus of their communications strategy as they help to build better relationships with both donors and volunteers.
Email newsletters are typically inexpensive and fairly easy to send, and the majority of donors and volunteers like to receive updates about your nonprofit’s activities via email. Even if they may not always read the newsletter, seeing your organization’s name in their inbox keeps you at the forefront of their mind when they are thinking about making a donation.
By sending out regular, high-quality email newsletters, your nonprofit can achieve a number of key goals, such as maintaining existing relationships within your community, promoting events, and driving traffic to your website.
Let’s take a look at our ten top tips that will help you optimize your nonprofit newsletter.
1. Send on a regular basis
Sending out an email newsletter on a regular basis should be a key part of your donor communications strategy. It can help to draw up a calendar each quarter with a schedule of when you want to send out a newsletter and a brief outline of the content you wish to send. This helps to ensure that you don’t send the same content too often.
If you don’t send your nonprofit newsletter regularly, donors can forget they signed up for it and may even consider it spam. For this reason, it’s important to try and send out your newsletter consistently at the same time each month, for example, as if your donors know to expect a newsletter on the first Saturday of every month, they are more likely to commit the time to read it. People generally don’t like to be surprised when a commitment is involved, so setting up this schedule eliminates the element of surprise. Another benefit of sending regular newsletters is that it keeps you in front of current and prospective donors’ minds.
While it is widely considered that a monthly email is a good option, this should be tested and adapted to your organization. If you have a lot of useful content or frequent events to share, you can choose a higher frequency. When starting out, you can test different frequencies to find out what works best for your audience. Generally speaking, quarterly newsletters are too irregular, while bi-monthly newsletters are usually considered too often. Given this, you can assume that monthly is generally the way to go. You need to ensure you have quality and engaging content to share and optimize your communications strategy to maximize donor retention.
2. Welcome your new subscribers with a personalized email
One of the best ways to increase donor retention is by sending out a personalized welcome email. Addressing the readers personally makes them feel as though they are truly a part of your community and thus helps to build a stronger relationship with them from the get-go. Donor engagement is typically at its peak immediately after they sign up, so this is the best time to initiate communication with supporters.
In this email, you should thank the new subscriber for signing up for your communications, as well as informing them about the upcoming communications they can expect to receive and in what format. You should also be sure to include a link to a page on your website where they can find out more information about your organization to help them learn more about your organization.
3. Make your content engaging
When writing your newsletter, you have to make sure that your text is as engaging as possible. If you want your subscribers to engage, you have to make it worth their while, through a mixture of resources, enriching information, and interactive content. Here are a few ways to optimize your nonprofit’s newsletter:
Keep it simple
One of the golden rules of donor engagement in email marketing is that it has to be easy to read. Some of the most frequently committed errors when starting to send out a nonprofit newsletter, are including far too much text, having a message that is too difficult for readers to understand, or trying to cover too many points.
Choose your content wisely and always keep in mind the phrase ‘less is more’. Keep your newsletter short and snappy, with a consistent message throughout.
On average, people only read about 20% of the text on their screens, so make sure that every word used is valuable and reinforce your message with powerful images that will evoke the reader’s emotions. By using strong images that represent your mission, users will have an idea of your nonprofit’s purpose and goals even if they do not read the entire newsletter.
Keep your subject lines short and sweet
Getting your email’s subject line is crucial as this is what really drives donor engagement and increases your open rate.
Let’s look at a couple of examples.
- Our September newsletter
- See how you can help protect the rainforest
Which of these do you think is more effective? The first has no Call-To-Action (CTA) and is very impersonal, while the second speaks directly to the readers with a clear CTA and second person language, which promotes a feeling of inclusivity. It also gives the user some idea of the theme of the newsletter they are about to read. The second is clearly the better option.
It’s worth keeping in mind that when people view content on their mobile devices, long subject lines can be difficult to absorb due to the small screen size and the other material competing for their attention in that limited space. For this reason, try to limit your subject line to 50 characters at most.
Our last tip when it comes to subject lines is emojis! Including an emoji in the subject line can increase open rates, but you have to make sure your emojis are relevant to your topic. An irrelevant emoji in the subject line generally has a negative effect on donor engagement as it can negatively influence their emotions.
Carefully consider the text and images used
It goes without saying that this is an important aspect of an effective nonprofit newsletter as your content is the thing that moves your readers. If you hit your audience with a good story or case study, backed up with a photo or short video, your message is sure to be remembered. Try to make your newsletter as relevant as possible by referencing current events and keep it fresh!
Bear in mind that your readers are probably up to date with current events surrounding your cause, so try to put a unique spin on it. Telling the story of someone directly affected by the issue your nonprofit is working to solve is actually a great way to boost donor engagement.
However, it’s also important to change up the format and type of content included in your newsletters, so here are a few other things you could share:
- Program updates
- Share the progress or key developments you are making on an unfinished project
- Pictures and videos from your programs at work
- Event updates
- Stories from the people you are helping, donors, staff, volunteers, or board members.
- Your nonprofit vision for the future
In general, stick to just two or three different themes and try not to include the whole article in your newsletter. Instead, just share a snippet with a link to read the whole article on your website. Not only does this keep your newsletter short and easy to read, but it also drives traffic to your website. Remember that you also have to add your logo and brand colors to your email, as well as links to the different social channels your organization uses.
Learning to connect with donors on a personal level is the key to building long-lasting relationships and transforming readers from one-time donors to life-long advocates.
4. Make it look appealing
People nowadays may not have time to read a lot of text so make sure the layout and design of your email newsletter are irresistible. Include plenty of color and pictures and ensure that the fonts are big enough that recipients of your newsletter can read with ease.
Layout & design
It may seem obvious, but you have to ensure when sending out donor communications that your newsletter is easy to read and attractive. Given the ever-shortening attention span nowadays, you have to make it so that your content is difficult for your potential donors to resist reading, with clear subheadings, plenty of pictures, and bullet points where possible.
Make sure the font is big enough. You want to make it as easy as possible for your readers to engage and using a font that is too small can cause difficulty reading it. You also have to remember that many of the people reading your newsletter may be doing so on a mobile device, which can make reading even harder. We recommend a 16-point font size to enhance the readability of your newsletter.
Make sure that you design your email newsletter in such a way that it works well for smaller devices. If in doubt, send out test emails to ensure that your email works well not just for those viewing on laptops, but also for those viewing on mobiles and tablets. An increasing number of people are using their mobile devices to access online content, and ensuring that you cater to this growing audience will improve donor retention by making the overall user experience more cohesive. We have already established that the average attention span isn’t that long, so if you don’t make it easy for people to read your newsletter, it will be hard to keep them engaged.
5. Stay away from including an ask
The whole point of your newsletter is to build relationships and connections with your donors so try to avoid asking for funds. In our fundraising checklist, we talk about the 3-1 cultivation ask rule, which outlines the idea that in between each time you ask for something from your donors, whether it be a donation or for them to purchase tickets to an event, you should have three communications where you don’t ask for anything. These communications can include invitations to free webinars, resources, information about your organization and their campaigns, or personalized thank-you emails. Adding a donation button could hinder your fundraising efforts so it’s much better to instead send off a separate donor communication when seeking donations, rather than including it in your newsletter.
6. Personalized donor list
One thing to avoid when sending out your newsletters is to send the same newsletter to everyone on your mailing list. Each person is unique and donor communications work much better when you target different types of donors differently. There are five main types of donor groups (small, medium, corporate, prospective, and lapsed) and it is better to create adapted newsletters that better target these different groups.
In order to make creating personalized donor lists easier, you should have a look at different CRM platforms, which come with features aimed at helping you to manage large lists of subscribers. CRMs will not only help you to organize your donor lists, but they also provide you with useful information regarding the communications you send out, such as the open rate, click rate, bounce rate, and some even offer an in-depth analysis of how many clicks each individual link received. This will give you some insight into the importance of CTAs and placement of links within your emails. For more information on CRM best practices, you can watch our webinar.
If you have donors based in countries that speak a language other than English, be sure to cater to this need as well. Make sure you translate the newsletters you send out into the native language of that donor.
7. Get the timing right
Getting the timing of your newsletter right is key to your success. In the same way that there are better times to post on social media, as laid out in our article on how to boost donations with your social media strategy, there are optimal times to send out email newsletters to increase engagement.
The email open rate is typically better if the email is sent on a weekday, rather than at the weekend. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays in particular seem to have the highest open rate. Recipients are also more likely to open emails in the afternoon, generally between 2 pm and 5 pm. However, this can vary depending on location and audience, so you should always try out a few different times, to find out what works best for your donors.
If you have donors in a number of different time zones, you may want to draw up a schedule according to their time zone in order to maximize donor engagement across the different regions.
8. Link back to your website
Having a great newsletter is important, but you really want to capitalize on this by linking back to your website at appropriate points throughout. By directing your users to your website, you give them the opportunity to explore your nonprofit further, by learning more about your cause and impact. They can also read more articles that interest them, as well as view photos and videos from your work.
Having the opportunity to learn more about your organization increases the likelihood of donations as it increases your prospective donors’ trust in your mission and gives them more context. This does also mean though that you must make sure the donation button is easy to find on your website.
It’s not enough for you to just link back to your website, though. You need obvious links placed strategically with a clear Call-To-Action (CTA). Make sure you vary your CTAs and make them relevant to what you want your reader to do. If you want your reader to follow a link to your website, why not tell them to ‘Learn more’? Or if you’re offering a link to register for a webinar, maybe something like ‘Reserve your spot’ would work better. It is important to get your CTA right as to invite the user to go further.
If you include CTAs within your newsletter to things such as free ebook downloads, or webinar registrations, make sure you also track how many people come to these resources from your newsletter.
If you link the pictures in your newsletter, make sure you add alt text in case they don’t load properly.
9. Track your newsletter’s performance
It’s important that you keep track of your email newsletter’s performance by tracking the delivery, bounce, open, click and conversion rates. These can all be good indicators of what is working well in your newsletter and what could be improved. For example, if your donors aren’t opening your emails the problem is likely going to be either to do with the subject line, or delivery time. If, on the other hand, you have a great open rate, but a lower click-through rate, you’ll need to optimize content within the newsletter.
You should test and track your results regularly so you can continue to improve your newsletter. Maybe you could even try out some A/B testing with subject lines and content to see what really appeals to your readers.
10. Ask for feedback
One important factor that helps you to continue improving your newsletter and improves donor retention is asking your subscribers for feedback on your newsletter. Try conducting an annual survey to find out what inspires them and what information they most look forward to reading about. However, don’t forget to also ask how their experience with your nonprofit could be improved. Ask them what they want to see more of in your newsletter and also check that the frequency with which you send out donor communications is appealing to them. People like to feel like a part of a community and asking for advice and opinions increases this feeling of community within your organization.
So, in conclusion, there are many aspects you must perfect in order to master your nonprofit newsletter. You have to consider everything from the frequency, to the wording, and even the time at which you send out your newsletter. While these tips are surely going to be useful, you will need to test out what works best for your organization by trialling different things and maybe even through A/B tests. If you need some design inspiration, take a look at these amazing charity email designs.
What are your next steps?
If you want more help with refining and perfecting your nonprofit newsletter, create a volunteering opportunity Benevity. Benevity is a coporate-purpose platform, which enables nonprofits to connect with individuals who are interested in helping nonprofits. The quickest way to get the help you need, is by creating a skill-based volunteer opportunity, in which you specify all the details of the project, such as the hours expected, what tasks they will be doing, and the length of the commitment you expect from your volunteers. In this way, you can find a volunteer who is qualified and willing to help you achieve the best results.
The different types of activity you can request help with through our platform include:
- Field-volunteering: Find volunteers who are willing to help out with on-site tasks such as farm work, cleanups, and helping out at animal shelters.
- Skills-based volunteering: Find volunteers who have the skills necessary to help you out with things such as organizing fundraising events, social media marketing, and web design free of charge.
- Goods donation: Receive donations of a variety of items your organization needs, such as books, hygiene products, and clothes.
- Donations: Receive donations from businesses across the world that can help you set up more programs dedicated to helping your cause, as well as funding existing programs, which are already making an impact.