Here's a sneak preview from my upcoming, second book for Emerson & Church (due out in early 2007; working title: How to Write So You'll Raise More Money). In this e-news: the "front nine," the first nine of 18 story ideas for your donor newsletter.
1. Program stories. Pick a program, any program. What has it accomplished lately? Is it growing, shrinking, updating, changing in any way? Do you have handy an anecdote that reveals how successful the program has been or can be? If it's a new program, what made you think it was worth doing in the first place? What are your hopes for the program? Talk about why the program MATTERS, not so much about how it works.
2. Tips. As specialists in your field, you have a unique body of knowledge. Some of it might be helpful to others. "The 10 Warning Signs of Childhood Depression." "A Dozen Things You Can Do Today That Will Save the Environment Tomorrow." "Is a Charitable Remainder Trust Right For You? A Checklist From an Expert."
3. Previews and reports. What's ahead? What are the latest findings from the authorities? "Looking at Next Year: Where We See Healthcare Headed." "New Urbanists Meet to Plan City of the Future: Will You Want to Live There?"
4. Client case histories. Show how your programs have changed individual lives for the better. And don't go all "happy face." Include conflict, tension, doubt, and obstacles, as well as triumph: it makes far more interesting reading.
5. "Staff are people, too" stories. What are the people on the front lines really like? Do their personal histories reinforce the credibility of your organization? "New Director of Projects Learned Her Business Building Bridges in Southeast Asian Jungles."
6. Milestones. "How 46 Donors Celebrated Our 20th Anniversary: Making $20,000 Gifts in Their Wills." "What We've Accomplished (Thanks to You, Our Donors) In the Last Five Years: A Timeline."
7. Research and development. What's coming down your pipeline? The world is ever changing: What programs are you planning to meet new demands?
8. Publications. What do you have to offer? Guides, brochures, checklists, white papers, reports, talking points, PowerPoint presentations, downloadable PDF files readable by Adobe Acrobat, an e-newsletter, information on your website: anything a donor, prospect, or client might consider useful is potential news.
9. How-to pieces. What do you know how to do that a reader might be interested in? "Listing Your Historic Home on the National Register: Easy To Do, If You Do It Right." "How to Lose 20 Pounds in Two Months the Safe and Sane Way, Without Feeling Hunger Pangs."
More coming soon on TXNP: Even more donor newsletter story ideas from Tom Ahern, the "back nine."
Due credit and thanks: the preceding checklist is partially based on one created by Robert W. Bly in his Advertising Manager's Handbook.
Tom Ahern is recognized as one of North America's leading authorities on how to make nonprofit communications consistently effective. He speaks frequently in the U.S. and Canada on reader psychology, direct mail principles, good (and not very good) graphic design as applied to fundraising and nonprofit branding. He is a writer and president of Ahern Communications, Ink., a consultancy specializing in capital campaign materials and other fundraising communications. Recent clients include a local Boys & Girls Club, a regional hospice in Maryland, a DC-based black HIV-prevention and treatment center, a national agency for low-income elderly housing, a North American Jewish education association, and one of the country's largest community foundations. He has won three prestigious Gold Quill awards from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). Gold Quills are given annually to the best communications work submitted by leading corporations from around the world. Tom is also a magazine journalist. His article on the devastating treatments for prostate cancer won a 2001 Sword of Hope Award from the American Cancer Society. He has his MA and BA in English from BrownUniversity, and a Certificate in Advertising Art from the RI School of Design. His offices are in Rhode Island and France.