Talk to Your Customers
If you're a nonprofit that isn't using a customer newsletter to strengthen relationships with your donor base, you may want to investigate this multi-purpose tool.
According to Stephen Hitchcock, president of Mal Warwick & Associates, a fund-raising and marketing agency in Berkeley, CA, studies by Campbell Research, in Pasadena, CA, show that nonprofits who send their members newsletters retain more donors and get more in gifts than those who don't.
Why is this? Newsletters keep members up to date on the activities of the organization and make them feel like they are a partner in the cause, not just its purse, says Hitchcock.
He adds that newsletters also are a way to thank donors for making gifts, especially for those that give above the annual membership fee.
While Mal Warwick & Associates creates newsletters for a handful of its clients, others have in-house staffs that produce their publications. These clients then turn to the agency for ideas and strategic direction for both marketing-based content and the inclusion of any direct response offers. Still, others hire freelancers to create their member newsletters.
What Hitchcock has found is that most nonprofits attempt to include in their newsletters a combination of news and projects the organization is working on, along with photos to illustrate the events. In addition, many will offer educational pieces on topics related to the cause.
For example, TreePeople's "Seedling News" comes out quarterly with details on special discount opportunities for members at retail stores and cultural events, a letter of thanks from the organization's president, tips on pruning trees in the summer and a calendar of upcoming TreePeople events in the community (603TREEPE0799D).
Another quarterly member newsletter, "Advances" from the Alzheimer's Association, shares the latest study on research, rebuffs some of the most common myths associated with the disease and invites donors to take part in an upcoming walk-a-thon (604ALZDIA0899).
It's this type of tending to the customer relationship that keeps a nonprofit's customer file active, reports Hitchcock, and not the solicitations. However, many newsletters do take the opportunity to ask for a small gift while they've got members' attention. The revenue generated from such efforts can help pay for the cost of producing the publication.
As Hitchcock has found that a small, meaningful percentage of customers don't respond to outright solicitations, but do respond to a newsletter, this vehicle definitely helps an organization get the most out of its donor file by pitching the right offer in the right way.
Who you target with the newsletter depends on your objectives, says Hitchcock. The majority of his clients that mail newsletters send them to the entire customer base; some even include lapsed members. In most cases, nonprofits also send the newsletter to volunteers, who are receiving essentially a free subscription in exchange for their time.
The main reason for not limiting the circulation of your member newsletter is the creation of what Mal Warwick & Associates considers a culture for planned giving. It makes sense to keep previously active members in the communications loop to maintain a connection in the event they choose to reactivate their involvement.