Not-for-profit organizations are always trying to communicate, but they’re not always good at communicating effectively. A lot of the e-newsletters we receive from not-for-profits are cluttered, confusing and badly organized. (Sorry, guys. We won’t name names, but it’s true.)
And it’s a serious problem.
Putting out an ill-formed e-newsletter is damaging to a not-for-profit’s reputation. And really, there’s no excuse for it. Creating an effective e-newsletter isn’t brain surgery. It can be as easy as following a few simple steps.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a straightforward guide to get your e-newsletter off on the right foot. Follow it, step by step, and avoid putting out a communications dud.
Step one: ask yourself questions
We know you’re raring to let people know about all the wonderful things your not-for-profit is doing, but before you even think about writing, ask yourself:
- Who is my audience (supporters or clients, employees, volunteers)?
- Can we commit to sending out an e-newsletter monthly, or at least quarterly?
- Do we have reliable contributors and someone to oversee the project?
- What do we want the newsletter to accomplish, that is what are our goals?
Step two: decide on a blasting service
We happen to like Constant Contact, but there are many good services out there. Do your homework and choose the one that best suits your organization.
Step three: develop a design template
You can use one of the templates provided by the blasting service you've selected, or have a graphic design company (like, say Nyman Ink) design one specifically for your needs.
Step four: develop your email contact list
Buying a list of email addresses is rarely a good idea. Your list of contacts should be comprised of individuals who you think will be specifically interested and invested in what you have to say.
Step five: write your content
Write your e-newsletter content keeping in mind that writing for the web is very different from writing for a print audience. Don’t use excessive verbiage and keep your sentences short. That isn't to say you should forego style. Just focus on clarity. If your articles are long, you will need abstracts (more on that in the next step). And don’t forget to have a proofreader check it all over before you distribute.
Step six: post your full content online; create abstracts
Abstracts are short paragraphs that act as a teaser to get the reader to click on the “read more” link at the bottom of the text. If your content is long, abstracts are essential for your e-newsletter. If you send a document that contains one long article after another, you’ll lose your audience fast, but if you give readers enticing headlines and exciting snippets, they’ll click through to read those articles that are of specific interest to them. If your content is short, abstracts may not be necessary, but consider writing some snappy headlines, nonetheless. The entirety of your e-newsletter content should be posted somewhere on your site.
Step seven: make it beautiful
It’s not enough to write interesting text. You have about two seconds to capture the attention of an e-newsletter recipient. This is where the customized design comes in. An e-newsletter is part of your brand and should be consistent with your other communication materials. It should include your logo, colours and fonts. But consistency doesn’t preclude a little fun and excitement. Great graphics, lots of white space, interesting links and recognizable social media icons all result in an e-newsletter that gets noticed.
Step eight: send your e-newsletter and reap the rewards
Send your newsletter to the contact list you created in step four, and don’t forget to track your results to see who read it, clicked on links and forwarded it on to others.
In the end, remember that no matter how wonderful your e-newsletter is, there will be those who don’t want to receive it (gasp!). Make sure that you only send it to those who want it, and that you offer an easy way for recipients to opt out of receiving it in future.
Creative commons mailbox illustration by clix from Stock Xchng.