And the content donors like to read? It's what charities so rarely say.
No one knows more about keeping notoriously fickle donors satisfied and generous than researcher Adrian Sargeant, Ph.D., a Brit academic who was named the first Robert F. Hartsook Professor of Fundraising at Indiana University in 2006.
He found seven things improve donor loyalty. When...
A donor newsletter can help you make gains with all seven of these "loyalty inducing" factors. Let's look at just one: service quality.
What is "service quality"? Rare, unfortunately.
Adrian Sargeant has a warning. "To paraphrase one of the great marketing thinkers, [Harvard Business School professor] Theodore Levitt famously noted that, in the service context, people generally only know what they want when they don't get it."
It's even more complicated. Professor Levitt's comment assumes that people have had a negative experience so clear and strong that it rose to their notice. As in, "Waiter, this coffee is cold."
I suspect though that, where donors are concerned, negative experiences are quite frequent but at the same time often totally unnoticed on the conscious level ... because donors have such low expectations to begin with.
I'll use my own experience as a donor as an example.
Our household gives to at least 20 charities a year; some get substantial gifts. I can think of just three that are consistently good at their service quality.
The rest? Well, that's the thing with customer (i.e., donor) service. It's a pass/fail situation. You either pass, because you're consistently good. Or you fail, because you're not quite good enough.
Most of my charities are failures. I am loosely linked to them. I could drop them without a second thought.
Good service strongly bonds the customer (i.e., the donor) to the specific organization that delivers same good service ... because good customer (i.e., donor; have I made my point?) service is so damn rare.
Getting all emotional (for fun and profit)
Let's do a thought experiment. Get a pen and a pad of paper. Put yourself in your average donor's shoes for a moment and try to answer the following three questions (take all the time you want):
Before you rush to answer, first note the verbs: love, delight, surprise. Nothing rational there. Just heartstrings; trying, hoping to be plucked. I can't make donor newsletters any simpler than this:
If you do all three of these things in your newsletter ... you will have satisfied donors. If you rigorously judge every item in your newsletter against just three basic emotional standards (does the item express love, does it bring joy, does it surprise) ... your donors (i.e., your customers) will love you back intensely (i.e., send in more and bigger gifts).
We desperately want satisfied donors ... for an obvious reason: because satisfied donors continue giving, just as satisfied customers continue buying.
Dissatisfied donors? Well, they're another story.
Actually, they're the far more common story. Most donors (including yours) are currently dissatisfied I can almost guarantee you. I'm not 100 percent sure. I am, though, 99 percent sure. And you can't refute me, because you probably have no idea whether your donors are satisfied or not.
Have you ever asked?
I was at a big recent AFP conference. And this was quite a moment.
Adrian Sargeant had just finished explaining to a room full of fundraisers how marketers depend on satisfaction surveys to sell more stuff.
Frequent little surveys, he'd said, provide the feedback necessary to refine products, improve services, and ensure a satisfying "customer experience."
Then he stepped out from behind the podium. He swept his arms wide and asked, "How many organizations in this room have ever conducted a donor satisfaction survey? How many of you have asked your donors how much they enjoy being your donor?"
There were maybe 150 attendees, standing room only.
Not a single hand went up.
Thus neatly making his point: fundraising is a form of marketing ... and yet most fundraisers do not use marketing's most common and revealing tool, the satisfaction survey.
In his Tiny Essentials book, Dr. Sargeant observes, "We seem to be forever playing catch-up in the fundraising profession with lessons learned many years before in the commercial sector. Corporates have known for over 30 years that the single biggest driver of customer loyalty is their satisfaction with the quality of service provided."