What’s in my Mailbox | Standard nonprofit donor newsletter falls flat

August 3, 2016


Today’s What’s in my Mailbox is the Summer 2016 newsletter from Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania. I am a big believer in both print and email newsletters and teach the class Nonprofit Newsletters | Basics & More, where we focus on producing a print newsletter that serves both as a stewardship device and revenue producer. Note: I am a supporter of Planned Parenthood, but don’t believe that I have ever contributed to this particular chapter.

What’s the first rule of direct mail? Get it opened! This newsletter camethisclose to being tossed in the trash. I typically sort my mail directly over the bin, and this particular piece was caught up in a bunch of circulars. I am not a fan of self-mailers for a number of reasons, this being one of them.

In our class, we teach the Ahern formula for a print newsletter, which I first heard of directly from Tom a few years ago. Tom wrote:

  • I learned the formula for a revenue-producing donor newsletter about a decade ago from what was then called the Domain Group, out in Seattle.
  • They’d rigorously tested various approaches and found that the following worked best:
    an 11 x 17 inch sheet folded in half to make four 8.5 x 11 pages, then folded again into thirds for mailing
    one-color, two-color, full-color? didn’t matter
  • mailed ONLY to current donors
  • mailed in a #10 envelope bearing a message like, “The latest issue of
  • your donor newsletter enclosed”
  • mailed as often as monthly (though, in truth, most orgs. manage no more than quarterly)
  • enclose a reply envelope for checks and make sure the newsletter promotes online giving as well
  • report on accomplishments, i.e., how the donors’ gifts have made a difference

It’s a fairly straightforward formula. And it produces results time and time again (see Nonprofit donor newsletter brings in $2M | The power of storytelling)

I liked reading the Donor Spotlight, which featured an interview with mother and daughter donors. The piece on the PPSP Annual Volunteer Service Award winners showed a wonderful commitment and energy. If they created this newsletter for their board members, I’m sure it works. But overall I found this piece dry and, typical of standard communications, it’s all about them, them, them, without much in the way of what the donor is making possible. If you’re going to go to the trouble of producing a newsletter, don’t you want to maximize its potential?

Coming from a fan of their work, this newsletter falls amazingly flat.

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