want your newsletter to be effective (i.e. it actually accomplishes something),
and you want to be able to actually measure its effectiveness, then it's time
to start from scratch. The following steps will help you get a great start this
time. And while they are intended for those who do a print newsletter, these
same questions will help you strategize about your email newsletter as
1) Gather your management
team, as well as any board members who are interested in strategizing.
2) Gather ALL your
organization's plans for the year - your Community Impact Plan, your
Organizational Wellness Plan, your Resource Development Plan, your individual
program plans, and any other plans you have.
3) For each and every goal,
from each and every plan, note WHO you will need to engage for that goal to be
realized. Next to each of those groups, note what specific actions you want
those individuals to take.
example, if the goal is to foster deeper understanding of underlying issues,
who is the target audience? Is it folks who already understand the issue, but
might need talking points? Is it elected officials? Funders? Donors? Is it all
voters? Is it absolutely everyone?
those people have the information, what actions do you want them to take?
Discuss it? Convene around it? Use it for more informed voting? Volunteer to
help your cause?
please, if you hear yourself saying, "We just want to get the word out," have
someone volunteer to slap you!)
4) Now for each of your
goals, and each of your target audiences, ask, "Is there a way our newsletter
could help further this goal with this audience?" For many of those goals, the
answer will likely be "probably not." That's great - you may have been counting
on the newsletter to help with something that, as you look at it critically,
really isn't likely to happen!
of your goals, however, you may find the newsletter is a great way to engage
one of your goals that community members better understand the underlying
causes of an issue your mission is trying to address?
one of your goals to increase attendance at a workshop or lecture?
one of your goals to gather community opinion about an issue?
collect in-kind donations?
is even the remote chance the newsletter might further a goal, put it on the
list. This is the time to include all possibilities - the time for winnowing
options will come in the next step.
5) Ok, now start winnowing.
Examine your list of goals, and the people who need to be engaged to achieve
those goals. Which of those would be best addressed via a newsletter format?
Narrow down your ideas to those that are the MOST likely to produce results via
a newsletter. (And for the others, start thinking, "What other engagement tools
will better accomplish this goal than our newsletter?" If you need help, use
FriendRaising for ideas.)
Information about FriendRaising,
6) For those items that might
be well-suited for your newsletter, now it's time to look at the newsletter
format. How might you craft a story or column or series of columns, that
accomplish what you want to accomplish? With a newsletter, it is important to
have some consistent formats (a few items that are always there, with changing
content), and then some surprises.
As you begin crafting your
newsletter (as with all other Community Engagement efforts), the most important
thing to consider is point of view. Engaging your readers is not about you. It
is about your reader wanting to read what you have sent. Otherwise, you can
write and send stuff all day long - if they don't read it, they won't take
action. And then your newsletter can officially be classified as "ineffective."
So for every goal, and for every
idea, and for every target audience, ask yourself, "What will make folks
actually take the time to read this?" Questions you might ask
can you inspire your audience to do what you want them to do?
could the newsletter / article / column include to encourage readers to take
the action you want them to take?
would inspire YOU to want to pick up your newsletter at all, thinking, "There
is usually a gem in here"? (I don't have to tell you that most newsletters end
up in the "I'll get to it sometime" pile in the corner of someone's desk - if
they don't end up in the trash first.
7) Engage your readers in
this process. After all, who better to tell you if you will hit the mark than
the people you want to engage? You can do this via focus group, or via a survey
sent to everyone who currently receives your newsletter. Let them know what you
are trying to accomplish, and ask for their thoughts about the newsletter (or
about those issues in general!). We guarantee you will learn a ton of
applicable information - things that may save you time and money and effort,
and are likely to further your goals even before you write a thing!
Time to Scrap the Whole Thing? Just because you have always done a newsletter
doesn't mean it's a good thing to be doing now. If you have reviewed all your
goals and target audiences, and it doesn't look like you will be able to
accomplish much with a newsletter, it may be time to consider scrapping it.
Before you do, you may want to engage those who currently receive your
newsletter, asking if they read it / like it / would miss it. As we noted in
Step 7 above, we know you will find their comments useful in furthering your
is no strategic reason to keep the newsletter, you might consider seeing if you
can accomplish what your readers DO like about it (if anything) by doing
something that DOES help you achieve your goals. Again, just because you've
always had a newsletter is not a good enough reason to have one now.
#2: Use the Envelope as an Indicator of
want to test for the effectiveness of your articles, try this: In one or more
of your articles, ask folks to include something specific in the envelope. It
could be, "Please write your check for $1 more than the amount on the form - we
will use that dollar for X." So if you get a lot of $26 instead of $25, you
will know they read it.
"please include a sheet of stamps in the envelope - that will save us on
postage." Or in every single article, have the same request - "Please vote for
your favorite article in this newsletter, by slipping a note in the enclosed
envelope along with your gift."
whatever. Find something creative, that can let you know they are reading the
letter, and not just using the newsletter and envelope as a reminder to
What's So Bad About The Newsletter
as a Reminder to Give?
"If the newsletter is effective at
getting people to stick a check in the envelope, who cares if they read it? We
do it so we can make money - the content of the newsletter is superfluous,
because we just know if we send it, folks will send a check."
who have been reading our articles for years know what's coming - a discussion
of opportunity cost. If you are taking the time and effort and production
dollars to create a newsletter, just so folks will drop a check in the
envelope, is this the most effective way to do that? Would the return be the
same if you just sent a letter, with considerably less hassle? Is there
something different you could do to more deeply engage folks, to raise more
money for all that effort?
decision-making tools will help you weigh your options against objective
criteria (how much time will it take, how much money could it raise). If you
don't currently use a matrix for making those decisions, you may be surprised
at what is revealed when you weigh your current efforts against objective
criteria, and against each other.
The Bottom Line for
Newsletters, whether they are printed and mailed, or
email newsletters, have almost become the junk mail of the Social Sector. They
clutter our mailboxes and clutter our desks, and the vast vast vast majority
are thrown away or ignored, unread.
challenge you: Make your newsletter strategic and effective. And if you won't
do that, then save us all the effort of throwing it out. Just stop sending