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Monday, January 22, 2018

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Never run out of newsletter story ideas again: The back 9 (Part 2 of 2)
Tom Ahern

October, 2007

Here is the second raft of story ideas guaranteed to interest donors:

10. Financial news

People are surprisingly curious about your finances. If for no other reason, openly discussing your financial information signals donors that you have nothing to hide, that you've been wise stewards of their cash contributions. Skepticism about nonprofit business practices has never been higher, polls find. Fight back with transparency: lift the veil on how you spend your money. A good practice: in every issue of your donor newsletter run a pie chart that shows the breakdown of your expenses (assuming, of course, that your administration and fundraising costs are within reasonable standards).

11. Photos with captions

And never without a caption. Because many "readers" only read easy, brief items of text such as captions and headlines. Your captions are a major opportunity to slip in information.

12. Columns

I often disparage the "Letter from the executive director's desk" convention. But only because these letters usually land on the front page, a prime position they seldom merit. But letters from the ED do have their place. They can be a from-the-heart, me-to-you, behind-the-scenes look into the most pressing issues facing the organization, for instance. Other types of columns include "Frequently Asked Questions," "Q&A," "Myths & Facts," "A donor talks about why she gives," "Letters," "Heard on the blog," or guest columns.

13. The "Update" story

Here's a perfect example of an update story from the Ducks Unlimited Canada member magazine: "The West Nile Virus: One Year Later." Ducks Unlimited Canada owns this story. Their mission: preserving the wetlands needed by migratory waterfowl, yet now there's a complication: a fatal disease lurks in these very same wetlands. Stay tuned.

14. The "Did you know?" story

These reveal surprising, relevant facts. This cover item from the Conservation Law Foundation's newsletter, for instance: "On August 15, 2003, as over 100 power plants remained shut down on the second day of the Northeast’s massive blackout, visibility increased by as much as 20 miles because the concentration of light-scattering particles caused by sulfur dioxide emissions was reduced by 70 percent." In less than 50 words, the donor's reminded poignantly of what the fight's really about: healthier air.

15. Press releases

If you think it's news to the outside world, then it's likely to be news to your donors as well.

16. News about you

If you attract media coverage, draw attention to that in your own newsletter. It can help build your organization's image and reputation.

17. History

A timeline, for instance, can be the best, fastest way to show a long record of steady growth and achievement, something that attracts many donors.

18. Offers

Tours, special events, classes, invitations to sign up for an e-newsletter: the list of offers you can make is endless. Offers are important, as you learned earlier in the book. If they're good offers, people respond to them, which in turn helps build relationships. Who wouldn't appreciate this offer made by the San Antonio Area American Red Cross in its newsletter: "Are your CDs paying you 1-2%? Would you like a 10% return?"

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 top authorities on nonprofit and donor communications. His "Love Thy Reader" workshops win rave reviews at fundraising conferences across the U.S. and Canada. Tom's workshops have trained thousands of nonprofit staff and board in the revenue-building secrets of psychology, marketing, writing, and graphic design. In 2005 he joined other world-class experts as a faculty member for the IFC's weeklong conference in the Netherlands, attended by fundraisers from 80 countries. He is the author of The Mercifully Brief, Real World Guide to Raising More Money with Newsletters Than You Ever Thought Possible, released in October 2005 by Emerson & Church. A second book titled How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money. John Wiley & Sons, the premier publisher of books for the nonprofit industry, in January 2006 contracted with Tom (and his wife, consultant Simone Joyaux) to produce a new book with the working title, Nonprofit Fundraising Communications: A Practical and Profitable Approach. Tom is also an award-winning magazine journalist, for articles on health, women's rights and other social justice issues. Visit


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