Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Getting Your Message Out

Lately, I've been knee-deep in thinking about newsletters.  I just spent an afternoon with a client who wants to start a newsletter, so we poured over samples as we contemplated who would receive it, what topics would be covered and how frequently it would be produced.  Less than 24-hours later, I overheard a colleague say that his organization wanted to do a newsletter, but if it couldn't be published quarterly there was no point in doing one.  

I've also got one to assemble for my association this week.

Judging from the number of hard-copy and electronic newsletters my association receives each month, it would not be an understatement to say that they continue to be the communications backbone of most nonprofits.  These little bundles offer insights about an organization's work, build cases for support, promote programs, and acknowledge the involvement of the community.  They are the prolific example of how organizations "reach out and touch someone", even as they migrate from the mailbox to the Internet.

As with any form of communication, we need to know for whom our words are intended and what we hope to accomplish with them.  Is it too obvious to say that an organization's newsletter must help accomplish its mission?  Should it help to open new relationships with audiences as well as deepen existing ones?  Can it extend the impact of an organization's program and values?  

In surveying about a dozen newsletters for my client meeting, I looked for answers to my questions. Here's what I found topic-wise (in descending order of frequency):

1.  every newsletter surveyed promoted upcoming programs and recapped others (these included calendar listing and sign-up forms; in-depth discussions of key education and collection activities)
2.  almost every newsletter included a message from the CEO or board chair, which most often was the opportunity to make the organization's case for support
3.  many newsletters contained sidebars with the lists of trustees/staff, contact information, and acknowledgment of major donors
4.  a membership form (important to include since newsletters do get passed along or sent to nonmembers)
5.  acknowledgment of recent donors/welcome to new members
6.  announcement of grants and honors
7.  articles on related subjects
8.  board member/volunteer profiles
9.  wish lists
10.  updates from committees
11.  mission statement
12.  interviews with stakeholders

As I write my own newsletter this week, I will be keeping this list in mind.

Photo: The joy of making a beautiful newsletter by Alex Leonard 

1 comment:

Nina Simon said...

I strongly recommend that organizations consider creating newsletters in the form of blogs. That way, people who consume RSS can receive the newsletter on-demand in a context that allows them to re-distribute it, read it on their own time, and click through just to the articles that are of greatest interest. I consider e-newsletters a nuisance and an intrusion on my inbox; I consider blog posts a friendly list of things to read when I have the time. I have a more sustained, informal relationship with museums that blog than museums that e-newsletter me.

Plus, if you have been considering blogging, Anne's list is an easy set of readymade post types to write!