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‘Does this newsletter make my nonprofit look FAT?’

Let’s say you made a personal financial gift to a local nonprofit that helps people in need. The organization produces a quarterly two-page newsletter, and you just received the summer edition.

The newsletter’s full-page lead piece is about the nonprofit’s annual golf outing fundraiser. The article recounts the event: the beautiful weather and facilities, the team that won the scramble, the names of the event organizers, the board members who participated, the amount of money raised.

Several photos accompany the article. We see happy foursomes made up of board members and big name donors. The event chairman sinking a putt. And an oversized check presentation to the nonprofit president. A box at the end lists all the event sponsors.

Sound familiar?

Special event roundups like this often appear in nonprofit newsletters, annual reports and blogs. It might even be the kind of piece your organization has produced recently.

But there’s a couple of problems with this type of content. First, it makes the nonprofit look FAT.

The feature and photo of the check presentation leave a certain impression on readers: “This nonprofit doesn’t need my money right now.”

But do nonprofits ever really have enough money? Unfortunately, the golf outing feature doesn’t tell a story of urgent need, and it certainly won’t persuade donors to write a check.

Second, and most importantly, the golf outing feature emphasizes the event itself and how much the golfers enjoyed their afternoon. Instead, the emphasis should be on the urgent needs of the people the nonprofit serves.

After all, the nonprofit’s mission isn’t centered on golf outings or other special events. Yes, the organization should recognize its board members, event organizers and sponsors. That’s what the golf outing is for. The event is an opportunity to thank them for their money and support. List their names in the event booklet. Besides, if the board members and sponsors are truly committed to the nonprofit, they’ll understand that the event really isn’t about them, it’s about the cause.

Nonprofit publications don’t need to tell board members, sponsors or staff about the amazingly successful golf outing. Rather, the nonprofit needs to make donors feel good about defeating the common enemy.

This could be hunger, homelessness, cancer, or whatever the nonprofit identifies as its mission. Then, tell a vivid story about a specific urgent need and make the donors feel like superheroes who came to the rescue.

Here’s a brief, fictitious example:

“This month, you helped James, a homeless veteran from Detroit. James lost his job two years ago when his company went bankrupt. He’d been unable to find steady employment due to his wartime injuries. His unemployment compensation quickly ran out. With unpaid medical bills and other mounting expenses, and without other means of support, James had no choice but to leave his apartment and live on the streets. For months, he slept in a friend’s storage unit. Finding employment became absolutely necessary for James to get his life back on track.

“Thanks to donors like you who attended our 5th annual Golf Outing, we were able to assist James in securing a regular, steady job and affordable housing. James is now living in his own home and not in a shelter because of you.”

Sometimes, nonprofits lose sight of the kind of content that successfully engages donors and raises more funds. It’s easy to fall back on telling donors about organizational successes and the nonprofit’s greatness. But that’s taking your eye off the (golf) ball. Focus instead on telling stories that use emotional triggers to define a critical need and target a common enemy. Then make your donors feel special by thanking them for saving the day!

What do you think?

  • Has your company ever fallen into the (sand) trap by telling special event stories that focus only on the event?
  • What is your organization’s “common enemy?” Can you name it in two or three words?
  • What emotional triggers do you use in your fundraising content?

Please share your thoughts below.

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