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The Loyalty Letter

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

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March 2014
Published by Lisa Sargent

Welcome, Nonprofit Professionals:

Should you (finally) ditch your direct mail donor newsletter?

Before you make a final decision, see the article and never-before-revealed results, below.

But first:
I last published The Loyalty Letter in January 2013. It's a long time to have been away. Still, I hope you'll stay a subscriber.

Now down to business:

Article #1: It is time to ditch your donor newsletter? Five-year results, never before revealed, offer new insights into what's really possible.

Mini-article #2: A cure for acronym agita. If your nonprofit uses acronyms in your work or your name, read this.

And thank you, now and always, for being a subscriber,

Lisa Sargent
Sargent Communications

P.S. @DenisaCasement and I are presenting at #finc2014, the 2014 Irish Fundraising Conference. If you’re attending, you'll be first to see full 5-year results of MQI’s fundraising and donor comms program. Teaser: the newsletter results in article #1 are just the start.

Can You (Finally) Ditch Your Donor Newsletter?
Never-Before-Revealed Results Offer New Insights

Sooner or later, someone in your organization will ask if it’s (finally) time to replace, cut back on, or eliminate entirely, your direct mail donor newsletter. What I reveal here suggests these are the wrong questions to ask altogether...

First the why.

In 2010 I published a before-and-after case study on Merchants Quay Ireland’s donor newsletter where the “after” version pulled a 3:1 ROI and raised $21,000 for their not-huge nonprofit in around 4 weeks.

Okay, you say. Tha’'s solid. But not miraculous. So what's the big deal?

The big deal is that the case study told only part of the story. Let's fast forward four years...

Since 2010 -- as part of a simple donor communications plan that MQI’s Head of Fundraising Denisa Casement and I orchestrated -- that same charity went on to mail donor-focused newsletters three times every year.

Until this year, 2014.

This year, the newsletter increases to four times.

Seriously? Who in this day and age mails more? Why not just switch to email? (After all, it's "free.")

MQI's direct mail donor newsletter response rates, never before revealed, show you why we upped the ante:

  • 2011, response rates of 6.35%, 6.59% and 8.00%.
  • 2012, response rates of 7.40%, 7.33%, and 12.08%.
  • 2013, response rates of 9.90%, 12.38%, and 12.73%.

Upward trajectory. From a newsletter. And a profitable one, at that.

For the record, this hasn’t killed their donor retention rate. Au contraire. It now stands at sixty percent, double that of most U.S. nonprofits. (And no, their file is not dying. We do acquisition rollouts 2-3 times per year. The database has grown 5X in as many years. Five times.)

So if your direct mail donor newsletter is underperforming, the question is NOT: should we cut back on mailings?

And it is NOT: Should we replace it with email only?

And it is DEFINITELY NOT: Do we ditch it altogether?

The real questions you should ask are:
WHAT are we not doing...
HOW do we do what’s right...
And HOW FAST can we transform our direct mail donor newsletter so it gets (much) better results?

Here are 4 easy ways to start:
1. Go back and read my donor newsletter overhaul case study from 2010, knowing you are looking through time at an unprecedented success in the making.

2. Invest $25 in Tom Ahern’s book on newslettrser then do what he says. This will get you out of the starting gate. (You'll find my work on MQI's newsletter featured in his book too, and my genius longtime designer Sandie’s work.)

3. Stay a subscriber of The Loyalty Letter for more on our 5-year fundraising and donor retention case study, and follow me on Twitter for update alerts.

4. Follow @DenisaCasement, MQI’s shrewd and sassy Head of Fundraising, on Twitter. And check out her blog.

Five years ago, MQI’s team took a chance and invested in a relentlessly donor-centric fundraising and communications program.

I’ve just opened a time portal into what's happened since... and shared some tools you can use so your donor newsletter can begin to follow in our footsteps.

So the question to ask isn’t, Should you ditch your donor newsletter?

The question to ask is, What kind of success story do you want your nonprofit to tell in 5 years?

I'll be anxious to hear it.

Mini-Article: A cure for fundraising acronym agita
Why those clever initials aren't the shortcut you think

A fundraising friend of mine recently sent me a thank you letter someone had sent her for review. And that’s when I saw it, the same snappy ‘all-cap’ acronym, over and over, all over the page. Here's what I told her:

(Disclaimer: all names changed to protect the innocent!)

Acronyms are handy, I know. But the fact is, the brain -- make that your donor’s brain -- doesn’t process them the same way as names.

So by using only the acronym, FFoP, for your organization -- Faithful Friends of the Poor -- your writer sucks power out of the thank-you in two ways:

1. You make your donor work too hard: don’t make him/her noodle it out, and do not assume he/she knows what FFoP means, even if your nonprofi’s name is in clear view on the letterhead. (Assuming they know is a cognitive bias the Heath Brothers call “The Curse of Knowledge.”)

2. You lose the inherent power of your name, especially true of faith-based organizations. (For a cool experiment on the power of names, see this article from Drunk Tank Pink author Adam Alter.) Faithful Friends of the Poor packs a lot more emotional punch than FFoP, don’t you agree? Your brain likes it too.

Cures for fundraising acronym agita are as follows:

1. Write the name out at least once wherever you use an acronym, and officially you should write it as Faithful Friends of the Poor (FFoP) the first time.

I don’t always do this. For example, again using my client Merchants Quay Ireland, we do as follows:

2. And/or: Alternate spelling out the full name, the acronym MQI, AND the half-name, Merchants Quay. Why?

Because that's also how donors refer to it.

Enough said.

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

And lastly, if ever you have a question on donor communications,
send it along to The Loyalty Letter. All you have to do is:

Email me.

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

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Fundraising ProTip of the Month: Readability.

Your fundraising and donor retention communications have a single directive that rules above all others: Be Read. Don't let your appeals fly in the face of readability, or no one will read far enough to give. Readability rules.

Start with these 5 tips: Tab paragraphs. Serif font (12-13pt or >) for print. Sans serif online. Short paragraphs. Use bolds, underlines, italics. More tips here>


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