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E-letters, Fundraising — July 18, 2013 at 10:13 am

Donor Communication (aka, People Love the Internet)


donor post

Over the last two days I’ve been breaking down the results from the latest Cygnus Donor Survey. I started by talking about the changing donor demographics, then moved onto how donors like to be thanked. In this post I’m going to focus on communication.

The first thing of note is that 56% of donors under 35 who received printed communication would actually prefer electronic. That number drops to 37% for 35-65 age range, but that’s still quite high. And get this: of those who receive electronic communication, 95% are satisfied. Even a quarter of seniors would prefer a switch to electronic communication. Get moving over to e-letters!

Sending your communication through the right medium is the first step. The second is having the right content. Most donors either skim (53%) or read (36%), and very few do so thoroughly (8%). So shorter is better. Make it scannable — headlines, images, pull quotes, all that jazz.

Why people don’t read? Here are the reasons they gave:

  • too much communication (58%)
  • material is too long (50%)
  • boring stuff, not interesting (49%)
  • too busy to read (57%)

It’s all about finding the right balance: don’t over-communicate, don’t under-communicate — communicate well. Focus on quality over quantity. There’s no point in sending out an e-letter every week if no one’s going to read it.

Alright, so now that you’ve got their attention, what content that inspires donors to give again? Here’s what the donors say:

  • impact results (79%)
  • explanation of how their donation will be used (67%)
  • stories from recipients (64%)

None of this is rocket science, but it does require you to be thoughtful and intentional about what you include in your e-letters and updates, and know what your donors have given to.

Finally, donors love recognition events. Here are the aspects of a recognition event that will secure their attendance and cause them to give again:

  • the event is at a convenient time
  • there’s interaction with the staff
  • they get to meet with other donors
  • the location is easy to get to
  • they receive reassurance that their donation will have impact

This recognition makes donors feel valued, which is incredibly important, because 41% of donors said they could have given more last year. They are willing — they just need the right communication and recognition to be inspired to do so.


  • Great tips, thank you for sharing!!

  • Good article. I have been thinking about offering ‘e-newsletters. I hesitate to go that route as we use the ‘paper newsletter’ as a vehicle for donations by including a donor card and envelope in the mailing. We do receive donations back after each mailing and I feel that the card and envelope make it ‘easy’ to donate. I am afraid that we would possibly lose some of that income as people would forget to write a cheque, get an envelope and mail it in. Thoughts?

  • Hi Gayle,

    If you’re finding success with your mail-outs I’d suggest having both a paper version and an electronic version of your newsletter. Some of your donors will likely want to stick to what they’re used to: mailing in cheques.

    But the study indicates that half of donors under 35 who are receiving printed communication would prefer to switch to electronic.

    What I’d suggest is with an upcoming mail-out, include some information on how they can switch to an electronic version, whether it’s sending you a quick email or a link to an online form they can fill out. Then, when they’re signed up for the electronic version, take them off the printed version list. And make sure that donating online is just as easy (or easier) than the envelope system. 🙂