They're lousy at bringing in donations, a veteran copywriter observes.
I'm writing the second edition of my book on donor newsletters.
It has a rather embarrassing gap: I don't have much to say about e-newsletters.
The first edition had the same gap. But since it was published in 2005, nearer the dawn of online fundraising, the omission wasn't quite as damning.
So I wrote Jeff Brooks, a copywriter at the top of the food chain. He is one of my core gurus.
Jeff authors the popular, oft-quoted Future Fundraising Now blog. He was a front man in Seattle's legendary Domain Group, a fundraising firm that gave the world the first (and only, to my knowledge) tested formula for high-yield print newsletters. Today, Jeff's a creative director at TrueSense, a national direct response house with heavyweight clients like The Salvation Army and Ronald McDonald House Charities.
"Dear Jeff," I explained, "I don't have any terrific e-newsletters to show people as models. Are any of your clients producing something worth copying?"
Here's Jeff's surprising reply:
"I'm getting close to making a conclusion that e-newsletters don't work.
"We don't do e-newsletters for any of our clients, because response has been so low. A few of them continue to produce them in-house, usually by their useless marketing departments - you know the kind: they can get zero response and still manufacture a reason to call it success.
"But you have to measure what you're doing, or you're clueless. We decided to go by open rate rather than response for e-newsletters, and found that it was extremely low and varied little. It was better when the subject line was topical, rather than something routine like 'May e-news,' but still low.
"Here's my working theory: the 'leaning back' psychology of print newsletters ('Let's see what's interesting here...') just doesn't activate for most people when they're online, which is overwhelmingly a 'leaning forward' situation.
"I think fanatics may lean forward for a newsletter, but very few donors are fanatics.
"A solution I'm working on is this: make every article or item you would put in your newsletter into its own email. One email, one topic.
"Too early to say if it's a real solution. The risk is increased unsubscribes because frequency is too high for some recipients.
"Another possible solution is to only send out emails that have a call to action. Doesn't have to be 'give,' but should be something - sign a petition, write an encouraging message, click to give, take a quiz, etc.
"Sorry I can't be more helpful. I think this shows how undeveloped e-fundraising still is. We haven't figured out how to do some of the most basic things in the medium."
Emailed newsletters have their uses:
Visit Tom at aherncomm.com