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A Brutally Honest Nonprofit Newsletter Critique

2 September 2015

Comments:

2
 September 2, 2015
 2
bad newsletter

Let me make it clear. I love nonprofits. I love our sector. I love nonprofit newsletters. My heart rises with delight when they’re done well.

But when a nonprofit has a lot of money, and a communications person, and doesn’t bother to train this person in donor centered communications, or, worse, doesn’t let them do donor centered writing, THEN we need to have a little talk.

This garden has a lot of money. They have a chief development officer. They have TWO newsletter editors. And a graphic designer on staff. And this newsletter was the pits!

Get ready for a brutally honest nonprofit newsletter critique.

I am a member of a garden. It’s a beautiful garden and I love to go there.

I am on their mailing list and I get these paper newsletters that are… SO BORING.

dear-member-bad-appeal-letter

I wish this letter from the director could speak to me as a donor! But instead it’s “Dear Garden Member” and then a bunch of gobbledygook about their expansion. It’s SO BORING.

japanese-garden-envelope

They clearly had the money to personalize the outside of the envelope with my name. So why not personalize the inside of the newsletter with my name too? They spend all this money to make the outside of the newsletter look different. And the picture they chose is really boring!

japanese-garden-newsletter

What’s this?

THE SAME TEDIOUS BOILERPLATE from the letter to the director section, reproduced in another section?

SAY IT AIN’T SO!

No mention of, “Thanks to supporters like you, we have been here for over 40 years” or “With your support, now we can do more” or “Our new Cultural Crossing campaign could not happen without YOU”

big-picture-of-new-expansion

Boring boring pictures of the capital campaign- no mention of how you can be involved in making this new space beautiful-

garden-bookmark

Do you see the contact info for the garden? The address, phone number and email? Wonderful! That tells you how to get in touch with the garden. Do you see these boilerplate social media icons? Do they tell you how to get in touch with the garden?

NO.

I see nonprofits doing this more and more and the question that looms large between my ears is WHY?

A picture of the twitter icon doesn’t tell you how to find the garden on twitter. Ditto for the Facebook page, instagram and pinterest pages. It makes no sense at all.

I was really disappointed with this newsletter.

Then I got another one, and it made me feel a little better. Why?

good nonprofit newsletter

Because they highlighted two legacy donors. The development officer made his presence felt, at last!

Okay the headline isn’t that good, but there’s a hint of personality in the writing. The article begins, “Ann and John are not your typical supporters of the Garden. In fact, they are not your typical anything. They are a couple who have always forged their own path, and continue to do so.”

A better headline might read: “Not your typical donor” or “Uniquely yours- Two Golden Cranes take flight”

How would YOU improve this newsletter?

2 responses on “Terrible nonprofit newsletters I get

  1. Mazarine says:

    Thanks so much for this critique Paul! I really appreciate you telling the Portland Japanese Garden how they could be better! 🙂

    definitely could have benefited from some more dynamic pictures of the garden and people interacting with it instead of the architectural drawings. No benefits. Just… blah blah blah.

    Beauty and tranquillity, that is what this garden has. But all that grey left me feeling BLAH.

    Thanks so much again for sharing what you would do to make this better! 🙂

    Mazarine

  2. Paul Bobnak says:

    Hi Mazarine-
    You made some great points here, and I agree with every one of them.

    Without seeing this in high res, these are my comments:
    -In the first picture, your clothing and the background colors are pretty vivid … there’s nothing on the letter that equals that. Gardens are places of beauty, tranquility, and life. They don’t communicate that there.
    -The paragraphs are too long in the letter.
    -The boring capital campaign pictures look like they were lifted right from the preso to a group of major donors. Was there anything really explaining BENEFITS, i.e., how this expansion is going to benefit the donor, “these expanded workshops will be a place where [explain][explain][explain].”
    -The Golden Cranes article was OK, but would have benefited from actual quotes from the couple, and especially a call-to-action to their fellow members to consider upgrading. E.g., “We know that a lot of people feel as we do – that the Garden is so vital because [explain][explain] – and we want to share this with [explain[explain].”