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The Loyalty Letter

E-news that helps you keep donors connected (and giving)
to your cause.

June 2009
Published by Lisa Sargent

Dear Reader,

On steamy summer days, it was the same. Pass the bubble-gum-pink roses. Open the creaky backyard gate.
And find 89-year-old Aunt Belle, master storyteller, holding court in her glider swing.
Her tales began like low rumbles of thunder, hinting at Big Things to come. Add dark clouds: suspense. Then just when I was certain she was ready for a nap...
...BOOM! Aunt Belle always had a grand finale up her sleeve (right next to the lace-edged handkerchief she'd tucked in that morning).
Two excellent articles in the trade press, on storytelling and inspiration, got me thinking: could my late Aunt's time-tested tricks help your nonprofit raise more money?
You decide: this month I share five of her best.
Enjoy. And thanks, as always, for being a subscriber,

Lisa Sargent
Sargent Communications

P.S. Also below: as promised, I return to my research for a closer look at email lists and nonprofit websites.

Can an 89-Year-Old Yankee Help You Write Better Fundraising Appeals? Yes...

Five storytelling tips for nonprofits

You've read Made to Stick. Ogilvy. Caples. Cialdini.

Now for a change of pace: five, centuries-old storytelling tips to help make your fundraising appeals (and other nonprofit communications) more persuasive.

Aunt Belle's Secret Tips for Bringing Your Donor Communications to Life:

1.) Come to your senses. There were smells and sounds and tastes and touches in Aunt Belle's stories. How about yours? That first tickle of grass, for a dog who only knew life in a cage... the magical sound of fluttering pages, to a child who's never had a book of his own: Sensory elements engage.

2.) Deliver details. When Aunt Belle flinched as the wasps in her one-room schoolhouse descended (always with a ZING!), she was met with an iron stare from the teacher. Inside information rules: if it takes a day to track down details, do it. You won't regret the effort.

3.) Build suspense... sometimes. Aunt Belle loved suspense. But now and then, she began at story's end. Here's why: if your tale of heartbreak is too painful, sometimes you need to share -- in advance -- the triumph that follows. Only this way can the whole story be heard. So next time, try a twist: start at the end.

4.) Write like you (really) speak. As an old Yankee, Aunt Belle's stories were sprinkled with New England colloquialisms. Your nonprofit has a persona, too: folksy, upbeat, brainy. That persona should come through loud and clear every time you write.

5.) Save some of the best for last. Lots of newsletter cover letters and fundraising appeals rest mid-way, just like Aunt Belle's stories... but there's never any BOOM. So position some of the best pieces of your story where donors read: postscript, just above the signature, reply form, etc. (P.S. counts in emails, too: test it!)

And if these five tips bring results? Raise a fundraiser's toast to Aunt Belle!

How Sleepy Is Your Email List?
The Rip Van Winkle of Online Fundraising

If your email list is sluggish as a marathon snooze-fest, three website fixes can help revive it...

In last month's Loyalty Letter, we talked about the link between email address capture and online fundraising, based on my ongoing analysis of the websites of nearly 200 large U.S. nonprofits that spend more than $1 million on fundraising annually. (Bottom line: to raise more money online, you need a healthy email list.)

So I wasn't surprised by the recent Convio report -- hat tip to The Agitator -- noting that less than four out of every hundred visitors to nonprofit websites provide their email addresses.

Which means 96 in 100 nonprofit website visitors don't “sign up.” Why?

The websites! Let's go back to my research vaults for:

Three More (Easy-Fix!) Nonprofit Website Mistakes

1.) Dead logos (and other pretty pictures). If, during sign-up, you feature a thumbnail image of your e-news, link it to the e-news. Frustrated first-timers may not push past the confusion to subscribe.

2.) Robotic redirects. Every redirect page should look like it was written by a human, and it should make sense. Here's a bizarre one from a US$650 million organization:

Thank you, Friend, your information has been received. If you have questions, please submit them to feedback form. You will also receive this confirmation via email.

Who is “feedback form,” and do they really care about my question? Bet you can do better than that.

3.) Privacy policy pass-offs. Visitors need to know you have a privacy policy, yes. But if they click on the privacy hypertext, try a short, reassuring pop-up: lots of big nonprofits passed me off to a whole new page, thick with legalese. Kiss of death.

That's it for now. Next month, we walk through nonprofit websites that have perfected the sign-up.

[A word about Rip Van Winkle: as the story goes, he was a bit of a slacker who took a nap that lasted 20 years. It worked for Rip. But when applied to your email list, deep slumber isn't dreamy.]

Subscribing to The Loyalty Letter is easy: scroll up for handy sign-up form at the top of this page.   

Need a copywriter for your nonprofit e-newsletter? Website overhaul? Online appeals? Email:

Or call: +001 (860) 881-7009.

On Skype: lisa.sargent96.

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Storytelling secrets from the Brothers Heath:

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Fail
by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

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