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Tips for Writing

“DONORcentric” e-newsletters Reality Check A landmark study of U.S. donors found that almost three-quarters of all donors claimed that receiving a regular newsletter would increase their focus upon and interest in an organization, however, relatively few people will actually read your newsletter no matter how good it is.

Seven Fatal Newsletter Flaws 1.

Your newsletter fails the “YOU” test. Use a friendly, personal tone; if you insist on using an institutional voice, you distance yourself from your readers. Examples of good “you-rich” text: • If You Had to Choose Between Paying Your Bills and Feeding Your Children, What Would You Do? • It’s that time of year again. I’ll be sending you a personal letter soon to ask you to renew your gift. But there’s a man down in Texas who prays you won’t give us a dime. (*Excerpt from a “Message From Our Director” section.)


Your newsletter skimps on emotional triggers. Emotion (fear, guilt, greed, exclusivity, anger, salvation, humor, flattery, nostalgia, etc.) motivates people to respond to fundraising appeals.


You claim it’s a newsletter, but it’s really just an excuse to say, “Hi.” A newsletter with no news value is a waste of time. Donors are quite demanding. Their interest in your organization can quickly wane if you fail to deliver. If your newsletters habitually lack urgency and drama, people learn to stop reading them. P.S. Do donors care about staff changes? No! • Use strong active verbs and remember that “news” is anything that is 1) new, and 2) interesting! • Look for surprising information: “Baby spiders thrive in mom’s loving care … unless she’s hungry.” (Zoo) • Look for new angles on existing stories: “Peeved hummingbirds add buzz to aviary visits. Here’s a tip: Don’t wear red.” (Arboretum) • Look for emerging problems that donors can help fix: “Dust to dust? Not so fast. Proposed painting restoration lab would turn back clock on fading masterpieces.” (Museum)


Your newsletter isn’t donor-centered. It doesn’t make the donor feel needed or wanted. Donors are interested in four things: 1. Your accomplishments–What did you do with my money? Are you fulfilling the mission I invested in? What are your results? 2. Your vision–What would you do if I gave you more money? 3. Their recognition–Did my help matter? 4. Your efficiency–Donors will be delighted to hear that you spend a very small percentage of their gift on administrative and fundraising costs. Choose stories that support pre-determined recurring themes. For example: • We are worthy of your support. • We are currently accomplishing worthwhile things with your money. • We’re planning even greater things with your help, so we’ll need your continued support.


Your newsletter isn’t set up for rapid skimming and browsing. Don’t assume people will read long articles. If you bury important information in long articles, most people will miss it. Get to the point … fast. E-newsletters should be brief. A. Write in the “inverted pyramid” style. • Start with what happened • Then explain why it happened. • Last, add commentary and other interesting, but not essential, background. Example using the story of The Three Little Pigs: “A wooden home in Pleasantville was reduced to matchsticks last night when a longstanding feud between a wolf and a family of bachelor pigs erupted into violence. A police spokesperson said feuds of this kind are ‘predictable occurrences between natural enemies.’ A neighbor said, ‘I warned those pigs to build with brick.’” B. Write at the 8th grade level. It’s not a question of “dumbing down.” It’s a question of speeding up. Readers want to get through your stuff as quickly as possible. Favor short words, short sentences and short paragraphs. Use the “Readability Test Tool” at


Your newsletter has weak or dysfunctional headlines. This is considered the “most deadly” of the seven flaws. Headlines have two purposes:

1. To clearly explain the gist of the story; and 2. To do so in a way that reveals accomplishment, need, mission or vision. • • •

Headlines should also have a “hook!” A subhead adds additional information, but does NOT repeat the same information as the headline. The first sentence of the first paragraph (the lead sentence) should answer two questions: 1) What happened and 2) Why should the reader care? Bad example of headline: Legislators Don White Coats to Examine Medical Education Funding Why is this a bad example? Judging from this headline, readers might assume this story is about lawmakers playing dress-up. But, the real story is that government-funding cut-backs have caused a fall-off in medical school enrollments, so med schools are graduating too few new doctors Better Example: Cuts in Federal Funding Slash Med School Applications. Will You Have a Doctor When You Need One?


Standard Headline Formula: Write a short sentence summing up the story and then delete the extra words – like a telegram. Aim for eight words or less.

Your newsletter depends too much on statistics (and too little on anecdotes.) Consider starting your story with a brief anecdote. A mere flash. It can often tell the story and hold the reader’s interest much better than a bunch of stats. The following example from an adult literacy agency, combined with the knowledge that “Eddie” now reads just fine, lets the donor know in one small, but dazzling, anecdotal detail that the organization helps people in profound ways. Example: “…Eddie Tomasso finally admitted to his wife that he couldn’t read until he was 56 years old.” Additional things to consider: • Use sans serif fonts for e-newsletters. A computer screen has poor resolution compared to a printed page. A monitor does not display the fine strokes of serif type particularly well. •

Refer (often) to The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook. This is the writing style adopted by University Communications. It is available online with a subscription and

also in print. •

Don’t guess. Look it up! Refer often to our WSU Figures of Speech–Style Guide at:

Default formula for e-newsletter “Accomplishment Reporting”: o One-third accomplishments o One-third need o One-third recognition

E-newsletter Template

Requirements for e-newsletter Before sending the content of your e-newsletter to Alumni, please provide each of the items in the checklist below. Please make sure your content is 100% final and complete before sending it.

Feature Stories □

Feature story 1 □


Subhead (optional)**

Lead sentence***


Image (optional)

Other Items □

Feature story 2 □


Subhead (optional)**

Lead sentence***


Image (optional)

Feature story 3 □


Subhead (optional)**

Lead sentence***


Image (optional)

List of events (optional) □

Event headline

Event date(s)

Event link

Spotlights (optional) □



Social Media (optional) □

Links to each of your social networking sites

Email Details □

From name (e.g. “College of Social & Behavioral Science”)

From email (e.g. “”)

Subject Line (e.g. “(Social Science) Newsletter, Fall 2013: Our Building is Getting Old…”)

Date/Time you would like e-newsletter sent.

Email addresses for those who would like a preview of e-newsletter/email to review.

Contact Carol Ruden when e-newsletter is submitted to Alumni so her team can start building the email list.

* Feature story headlines should be one line only. This is usually between 30-35 characters (including spaces). ** Feature story subheads should be one line only. This is usually between 35-40 characters (including spaces).

*** Feature story lead sentences should be brief. This is usually between 15-30 words.

Remember, less is more: You may include as many events and/or spotlights as you want. However, the more you add, the more watered down it becomes and you risk “information paralysis,” where your reader won’t read anything because it becomes too overwhelming. Stick to 3-7 items of each category if possible.

Donor centric newsletters (kh sl)  
Donor centric newsletters (kh sl)