Mission Australia has found that its newsletters are generating more fundraising revenue than some of its appeals! Story by Rochelle Nolan.

Mission Australia mails its newsletter, Transformations, four times a year, to up to 25,000 warm and recently lapsed donors. It aims to stay in touch with donors, report back on where funds have been spent, share good news stories, and generate funds through a soft ask. What Mission Australia didn’t anticipate is that its quarterly communication would generate more fundraising revenue than some of its appeals!

The evolution of Transformations

Transformations started generating income in 2007. At that time, it was mailed to 10,000 donors and was raising around $25,000. In 2008, the number of newsletters mailed annually was increased to four, and the volume mailed was increased as well. These changes resulted in more funds raised.

In terms of content, Transformations previously consisted of an eight-page newsletter with a one-page cover letter and attached coupon, along with a reply-paid envelope. The strongly branded newsletter featured a brand image on the front page, and included a soft ask. There was no ask grid in the letter or coupon, and the call-to-action to donate was very subtle.

National manager of donor and community fundraising at Mission Australia, Michelle Ring, says while the introduction of the newsletter pre-dates her time at the organisation, there have been income targets for the newsletter since at least 2008. “In most cases,” says Ring, “those targets are exceeded each year.”

Focusing on the donors

In 2009, Mission Australia decided to make changes to its newsletter, aimed at increasing relevance for donors as well as making the newsletter more readable. There was also a decision to change the focus of the communication away from being a ‘brand/corporate’ newsletter to instead centering attention on the people Mission Australia helps, and using the communication as a tool to report back to donors exactly what was being done with their money.

“We made several changes to implement this new focus in 2009,” says Ring. “We increased the length of the newsletter to 12 pages in a more magazine-style format with strong use of headlines, and decided our front cover should always highlight a close-up image from the feature story of the edition. Throughout the newsletter we made stronger use of images and put more emphasis on the stories of the people Mission Australia helps.”

Although increasing revenue and donor engagement was a primary motivator for making changes to the newsletter, the one thing that didn’t change was the ask. Mission Australia continues to use only a soft ask in the cover letter; the newsletter itself contains no prompt to donate.

Almost $700,000 generated in 2010

In 2010, Mission Australia raised more than $660,000 from donor newsletters. The winter and summer newsletters raised in excess of $220,000 each, despite the fact that there is no hard or prominent ask throughout the newsletter or the cover letter.

“The newsletter response rates and ROI in 2010 were comparable with – and in some cases actually exceeded – some of the smaller direct ask appeals we ran, such as the July appeal and New Year appeal,” says Ring.

Mission Australia has not yet run deep analysis on the results of the newsletter, but Ring suspects the success is largely due to the timing and the format. “Newsletters are usually timed in between our initial and follow-up mailing for winter, Christmas, autumn and spring appeals. I also think the format of the newsletter is easier to scan than a four-page DM letter with a lift brochure.”

The impact of a soft ask

The soft ask in the newsletter is something that also intrigues Ring as a fundraiser. “I do have to question whether the soft ask is having an impact on responses. As a fundraiser, my natural inclination is to say ‘No way – you don’t ask, you don’t get!’ But it is definitely something we will be exploring through testing and qualitative research with donors.”

Ring says Mission Australia receives lots of positive feedback from donors about the newsletter, commenting on things from the work Mission Australia does, to the “gentle face on the cover”.

A transformation still in progress

Ring says there is still lots of room for improvement. “We’ll keep working to avoid the common trap of producing newsletters that are ‘all about us’ instead of focused on our wonderful donors. However, I do feel that our use of strong client case stories and images, coupled with an ‘easy to scan’ magazine-style format are current strengths.”

Mission Australia won’t be resting on its laurels – as it tests, receives feedback and measures the results from its newsletter, Transformations will continue to evolve as an effective, donor-centric communication piece – and a highly successful fundraiser.

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