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Janet L Falk Head ShotSpecial to the Philanthropy Journal

By Janet Falk

When your nonprofit organization publishes a newsletter, you have received the gift of your subscribers’ (email) addresses when they signed on to receive it. In turn, they expect a gift from you, on a monthly or quarterly basis.

Take a closer look at the newsletter(s) you currently send, as well as those you receive. Do they appear to be gifts you want to keep?

Using the gift paradigm, consider these tips as you evaluate the newsletters. And, if your nonprofit does not currently send a newsletter, the below guidelines will help you get started.

Starting from the premise of a gift, the reader’s attention is yours to lose. Therefore, you must:

  • Build trust and cultivate a solid relationship.
  • Deliver useful information and relevant documents.
  • Position your staff as accessible experts.

When you start with at the end result of a subscriber reading the newsletter, you can figure out how to connect with the reader and arrive at that point.

Most newsletters aim toward the following objectives. Among this dozen, select a few as your primary and secondary goals. Discard any that are not relevant to your organization.

  1. Connect with members, program participants, clients and visitors;
  2. Remind supporters of your good work and accomplishments to which they contributed;
  3. Offer resources, information and links to pages on your site and the websites of others;
  4. Drive readers to the website in general or to a specific page;
  5. RSVP and register for an event or publication;
  6. Promote advocacy for a specific cause;
  7. Keep volunteers involved;
  8. Reach out to collaborators and competitors;
  9. Build external donor base, funders, and sponsors;
  10. Raise awareness and support from local business leaders;
  11. Connect with elected officials;
  12. Maintain contact with alumni.

Clearly, these objectives speak to overlapping target audiences with whom you seek to deepen relationships, as well as prompt to take certain actions.

Each newsletter article should offer a reason for the reader to care about the topic and your organization. Keep each article focused on a specific theme, perhaps telling a story about a person or an event. Use examples, case studies or statistics for greater impact.

Offer information, a report, tips or other giveaway, without overtly asking for an email address or donation. In an email newsletter, it’s easy to incorporate links that drive readers to a specific web page or blog post, rather than simply pointing to the home page.

Use visuals to enliven the text-heavy format. The best photographs show people in action, such as a blood donor speaking with a nurse before giving blood or having a snack afterwards. The caption emphasizes what the reader might take away from the article and could read: NAME is one of 45 donors who participated in the February Blood Drive. Make it easy for the reader to imagine herself participating in or witnessing the event in the photo.

Modest use of bold text will direct the recipient to the most important information and separate sections from each other, to facilitate reading.

An email newsletter’s catchy subject line will increase open rates. Refer to a recent success to emphasize timeliness or note a deadline to highlight the urgency for prompt action. You may engage readers by posing a question, whose obvious answer is supplied by the article inside the newsletter.

A newsletter should be long enough to get the job done. Will you draft a lengthy missive filled with facts and intriguing features? Is it a short reminder designed to propel readers toward a single act? Based on your understanding of your audience and the previously noted goals, you will determine the number of pages for your organization’s newsletter.

Whether the newsletter is monthly or quarterly, it’s important to have a production schedule for writing, editing, approval and distribution. Create a calendar and build in a few days as a cushion, so that others will adhere to the schedule.

Finally, if you envy other newsletters for their design and layout, consider the leading newsletter distribution services. These vendors offer newsletter templates that are easy to design, edit and email, and many are either free or low-cost to nonprofit groups.

AWeber.com

ConstantContact.com

MailChimp.com

MyEmma.com

VerticalResponse.com

These fundamental tips on newsletter development, starting with audience and objectives for action, and including photos and subject lines, are the basics of a reader-centered communiqué. Whichever enewsletter service you select, these basics will permit you to improve or launch your organization’s newsletter and make it a gift your subscribers will open, read and act upon.


Janet Falk of Falk Communications and Research provides Public Relations and Marketing Communications services to nonprofit organizations. She helps nonprofit professionals write and distribute newsletters to build relationships with members, donors, elected officials, business and community leaders, allied organizations and media.

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