The Perfect Newsletter: Two Envelopes You Should Mimic

The perfect donor newsletter?

How likely is it that one of the world’s most donor-centered newsletters comes out of a small, local charity in the Berkshires? And a literacy charity in Milwaukee blows the doors off the envelope teaser?

ginger1Executive director, Ginger Duiven, came up with this perfectly donor-adoring envelope for the Literacy Services newsletter, a stellar and life-changing mission (non-readers become readers) in Wisconsin (with a home page worth studying, too, BTW).

But that’s not all: Beauteous Berkshires donor newsletter tags every base

Berkshire Natural Resources Council (BNRC) has a BIG vision: a regional network of trails connecting all the protected lands in this breathtaking western Massachusetts county.

BNRC’s vision echoes popular European models, where it’s possible to hike for hundreds of unbroken miles through rural landscape and villages, following marked public routes and trails. BNRC has even invented a word to describe its vision:


Why you’re not yet like BNRC

BNRC practices XDC: Extreme Donor-Centricity.

XDC goes beyond accepting that a donor focus will improve retention, longevity and hence LTV (lifetime value, Adrian Sargeant’s topmost metric).

XDC means your organization changes the way it typically talks … especially in high-visibility, high-visitation, high-impact locations such as newsletter envelopes and headlines.

The BNRC donor newsletter comes in this seasonally-relevant envelope:


The writer/editor of the donor newsletter is BNRC president, Tad Ames.

Tad is an ex-newsman and Yale grad. And he not only drank the Kool-Aid on donor-centricity … he stole the pitcher, the glasses, and the tray they came on.

I have never seen a more thoroughly XDC newsletter than Tad’s latest issue. It’s as good as Jeff Brook’s best newsletter work for national mega-charities.

Yet BNRC is small and local. And Tad’s a newbie to donor comms, not a 25-year vet.

Headlines elephant-trumpet the donor’s role. Leads repeatedly and gratefully remind, “Your support … your support … your support ….”





NEWSLETTER NOTE TO SELF: Offers are easy to spot.

In a world where most “readers” are really skimmers, making offers simple and visual will increase your response rates.

This “mark your calendar” ad, shown below, looks like a Wyeth painting … maybe apropos in an artsy, horsy vacation region where upper-class second homes (and tastes) are massively influential.

NEWSLETTER NOTE TO SELF: Offers eagerly invite donor participation.

Dr. Adrian Sargeant’s research identified seven “loyalty factors” … reasons why donors stick with you rather than finding some more interesting charity to give to.

One of these loyalty factors is what Dr. S. calls “multiple engagements.” I.e., the more things that donors do, the more loyal they remain to your charity.


In May, at the 2015 Mid-America AFP conference in Des Moines (brilliant conference, BTW), I listened rapt as Jay Wilkinson, CEO of Firespring, spoke about six key “retention drivers” that deliver better LTV.

One of his drivers? “Drip-feed” your donors “mission performance” information.

Just as BNRC does in this photo caption, in a story about a pending land acquisition:


The BNRC newsletter painstakingly makes clear why donor support is indispensable.

And Tad puts a coupon box around it! Coupon boxes are magic wands. They are an old-school newspaper trick which reliably raises your “readership” (the people who pay attention to something) 10-20%.


The reply envelope/gift device doesn’t quit:


BNRC is ever-evolving. They’re building out their base. They have a capital campaign underway. Their donor comms are well worth following, if you’re a pro looking for a successful role model that’s done in-house.



  1. Michelle August 25, 2016 at 1:28 pm #

    I just came across this post and am excited to see the examples; but they aren’t visible … perhaps a small fixable glitch?


    • Tom Ahern August 25, 2016 at 8:28 pm #

      Thanks, Michelle. Will fix soon!


  2. Juen August 25, 2016 at 4:56 pm #

    New website looks fantastic! But it appears that some of the photos didn’t make it to the new platform. 🙂

    Meanwhile, I’m devouring “Making Money With Donor Newsletters”…so exciting! Thank you!


    • Tom Ahern August 25, 2016 at 8:27 pm #

      Thanks for the heads up! Will fix soon.


  3. James Nolan October 26, 2016 at 12:48 pm #

    Hey Tom — I’m a major gift guy whose now Director of Development at an animal rescue. No previous background in direct mail or creating newsletters. I read your news letter guide: prior to me, we didn’t have one (A lot of it for me was, oh, of course that’s how to do it! But that’s because I’ve always viewed myself as a donor advocate) — modeled ours off of some of the samples. No doubt it can still be improved — but it’s clear the donors love it. They read it cover to cover — i just had a woman who’s committed $300k in her will, say unsolicited ‘it’s a wonderful newsletter!’ And so, it’s actually outperformed some of our direct mail appeals. Thanks for the help! It was huge.


    • Tom Ahern November 6, 2016 at 11:22 am #

      Thank you, James, for reporting in! Needless to say, it’s all in the execution … and clearly you’re executing VERY well, indeed!


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