Making Your Newsletter into a Profit Center

Making Your Newsletter into a Profit Center


by David Allen, Development for Conservation


Is your paper newsletter a budget expense? A corporate report? A burden? Something to get through in between more important tasks?

Are you one of the hundreds of land trusts that have gone completely paperless? Replacing “old-fashioned” paper newsletters with E-News substitutes using the logic that you are saving both money and paper?

Or is your paper newsletter a profit center? Does it make money? Does it make so much money, in fact, that you are considering increasing its publication?


OK, so truth be told, I don’t know any land trusts in the latter category. I suspect we’re all somewhere in between the first two.

But if you could raise 4-7 times what it cost you to print and mail paper newsletters, would you not make the necessary changes?

This is the premise of author and blogger Tom Ahern. His book, Making Money with Donor Newsletters, was published in 2013. I bought it right away and read it last week. (Don’t ask.)

Ahern is now offering a five-part webinar series on the topic for about $400. The first segment is free and easily recommendable.

I suggest reading the book before paying $400. It is available as a free downloadable pdf here.

The first part of the webinar (again – free) provides an introduction and strategic overview of the basic premises and is well worth the 90 minutes it will take you to listen to it.


And you’ll never look at newsletters the same way again.


So, what’s the big secret?

Newsletters that raise money have a different purpose. They are NOT corporate reports – justifications for organizational existence.

They are donor-centric – they deliver gratitude.

Instead of showing and telling donors how effective the organization is, they focus on the difference the donors are making. Instead of providing information, they deliver the messages that

  • You matter
  • You have invested wisely, and
  • You are still needed


This is the kind of writing I’ve advocated for years in appeals – only now applied to newsletters. In fact, Ahern even points out that the cycle of solicitation, gift, and newsletter should all work together. How can that happen if they are each written for different audiences? It makes all the sense in the world that you would want to write your newsletters with the same rules that you use for appeal letters: easy to read for older women, the pronouns “we-us-our” used inclusively, 6th-grade reading level, and so on.

Try this: Spread out the last two years of paper newsletters on your conference room table. (If you have gone paperless, you will have an empty table.)

  • Do the newsletters you see communicate the above three messages to the donor?
  • Do they deliver gratitude?
  • Do the “we-us-our” pronouns explicitly include the reader?
  • If someone was motivated to write a check, would it be easy for them to do so?
  • Are they all about showing and telling donors how effective the organization is, or do they focus on the difference the donors are making?


Here’s my strong recommendation:

Read the book and/or listen to the webinar and re-envision your next newsletter to incorporate at least the following four changes:

  1. Make sure there is a return envelope enclosed in the newsletter – something the donor can use to mail a check back.
  2. Mail the newsletter using an outer envelope addressed to each donor. Include just enough teaser copy to encourage donors to open the outer envelope and communicate that the contents are not a solicitation. (“Your newsletter enclosed” will work just fine.)
  3. Focus on emotional content instead of data:
    1. accomplishments and how the members and donors made them happen (as opposed to how the staff or board made them happen);
    2. one article about someone who benefitted from the land trust’s work and who is now saying “Thank You” to the land trust members and donors (extra credit if you write the letter from the perspective of a reintroduced species!);
    3. an article about one of the donors.
    4. featured opportunities for deeper engagement (special events, volunteer opportunities, letter-writing, planned giving, and so on).
  4. Feature a cover story about a project, program, or outcome that still needs funding.


Maybe you’ll get a 4:1 profit ratio or better, and you and I can do a Rally seminar next year. But there are even better reasons to make this change. If your donor communications become more donor-centric, your renewal rate, lifetime value, major gift potential, and planned giving prospects will all increase as well.


And maybe doing the newsletter won’t be as much of a burden in the future.


Cheers, and have a great week.




Photo by Snapwire courtesy of

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