Do Planned Giving Newsletters Work?
I am asked this question often. It’s a question that stems from a tactical mindset, and it’s repeated so often because fundraisers are told newsletters are a cost of entry since “we’ve always done it that way.” It’s a tired excuse — and, according to the late, groundbreaking programmer Grace Hopper, one of the most dangerous phrases in the English language.
And while tactics are important, they are a commodity — something that can be had anywhere. We’re a strategic, research-based marketing firm; in it for the long haul. So never mind how the others have “always done it” — let’s back up and ask the right question: “Is the return on investment (ROI) worth it for me?”
Well, yes … and no. Although most fundraising shops like my clients consider newsletters Mesozoic, you should first understand what it takes to produce a successful newsletter with its own solid readership:
Marketing 101: Consistency and Delivery
- The long haul. At first, your newsletter, no matter how great, will not serve you. It will need to catch on over time. Be ready to commit — this is critical, to say the least. It took our monthly newsletter Giving Tomorrow™ at least 3 years to achieve a decent reader base.
- Frequency: newsletters should be monthly. This is not just my opinion; it’s the opinion of industry marketing experts. Quarterly or twice a year won’t cut it, because it will take three to four times as long to catch on, if it ever does. Once a year? Don’t even bother. One-shot deals seldom work.
- It needs a brand. This is first done by establishing a “look” and then being consistent from one issue to the next, with frequency (see #1 above). I see so many development shops outsource to a “newsletter company,” then take it in-house, then use another vendor, then hire a freelancer … you get the drift. And they expect to establish a brand?
- You can’t skip issues. This sets you right back to square one.
- A good list. Are the people receiving your newsletter actually interested in reading it? If you said yes, how do you know? If you assumed “yes” because 3 board members liked it, that’s not considered “research.” Narrow your list and mail only to that small, interested group, and mail often. Even if that group is 1/10th of your pool. You can do this by sending donors a series of communications asking whether they want to “subscribe” to your newsletter or not.
Marketing 102: Content and Mood
- Interesting topics. Not interesting to you, the fundraiser, but interesting to your donors. That means stories your donors can relate to. This takes effort and requires a focus group, but it’s doable.
- Consistency in style. Specific columns, newsflashes, “departments,” events corner, etc.
- An engaging style. Humor really works (only if appropriate, but I’ve seen even hospices utilize it with understated elegance).
- Striking photography. Well-taken pictures of donors, fundraising events, etc. Make sure your photos are professional — blurry, poorly framed or badly lighted pictures just won’t cut it.
As you can see, creating the right newsletter is a full-time job. Are you ready to fully commit and handle it all? There are other solutions, you know.
The Last Question
Of course, in the end you also have to ask yourself: before you invest energy to produce a marketing product that, eventually, requires the donor’s death, would YOU want to read it?
I didn’t think so. No wonder donor communications expert Tom Ahern calls them “death brochures.”
I strongly believe “who you associate with defines who you are.” I am a professional planned giving marketing expert who associates with global branding and marketing thought leaders from companies like GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Heinz, Ketchum, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Proctor & Gamble, and not with those who talk about the Generation Skipping Tax, CRUTs and CRATs.