Newsletters can help a group’s leadership keep in touch with its members. Today, many groups are shifting from printed newsletters to e-newsletters to save money and time and improve group communications. E-newsletters can be quickly assembled and instantly distributed (for free or low cost), they can measure reader response and interest, and they can provide a range of functionality that printed newsletters cannot.
E-newsletters are usually delivered by e-mail but can be housed on a website. You can design your own or use an online service. Some of these are free and others charge $100 per month or according to the number of features you use. Distribution to members requires they all have e-mail addresses, but if a few members don’t, you can print out copies for them and mail them out without going to a commercial printer.
Whether print or electronic, newsletters should of course be full of news: your organization’s current activities and upcoming events. In fact, they should offer more than what readers would learn if they attended one of the group’s meetings. Consider adding snippets from sister organizations, the national governing body, members’ achievements, etc.
But e-newsletters can do more than deliver news. They can have functionality and immediacy not found in a printed newsletter with links to your website’s live calendar, clickable e-mail addresses for quick response to invitations, and more, depending on which software you use. An e-mailed pdf is not, strictly speaking, an e-newsletter because pdfs are intended to be printed, but see the examples below for an innovative exception.
An e-newsletter can be a simple affair delivered by e-mail. If you are using Microsoft Outlook as your e-mail program, you can easily add a background color, change the font, or otherwise customize the e-mail’s look to set it off from more off-the-cuff communications. Do this by selecting “Options” in the task bar across the top of a blank e-mail. Remember, it is possible to add digital images to an e-mail by just copying them in. Adding graphics will grab attention once a reader has opened your e-mail. If you are using Web mail such as Hotmail or Yahoo, these programs also have a few color options. Then, save it as a template, and use the same combination next time. This will save you trouble and become familiar to readers over time.
Be aware that the list of recipients will be visible to all unless you make it otherwise by creating a recipient group or by putting all addresses in the “bcc” line rather than “to.” Make your subject line catchy. Do not call it “April Club Newsletter.” Something like “New Rules for County Fair Entries” or “Cloverbuds Prepare Cheese Tortillas!” will grab more attention.
But e-newsletters can do much more than e-mails. There are packages available online that make it easy to organize, design, send e-newsletters, and track the response. Among the online packages, Constant Contact is very popular and affordable for non-profit organizations. Sparklist is more marketing oriented. Bravenet offers lots of free features. Lyris is used by large organizations such as universities.
All of them were developed with marketing campaigns in mind, so they enable tracking of how many of the recipients “clicked through” from the e-mail to any of the links in it. This tells you what interests your readers the most—information you can use when writing the next newsletter or planning activities. The list of options is long, from talking cartoon characters delivering your message to interactive calendars to photo albums. When you view the “click-through” report, you will know which items in your newsletter grabbed the most attention. If you are fundraising, you can take contributions online through a link in the e-newsletter.
As an example, have a look at the e-newsletter from My Minnesota Woods delivered by Constant Contact. It has succinct headlines, short introductory paragraphs, relevant illustrations, and lots of interactivity.
At the other end of the design spectrum, Just in Time Parenting is an example of a well-done newsletter series. It is in pdf form (intended for printing) and not interactive at all. But in this case, the static format is appropriate because of its audience and usage. It is age-based. Parents subscribe based on the age of their baby and receive a monthly e-newsletter describing the developmental milestones, food requirements, and common health issues for babies of that age. Parents can print out the page and can refer to it away from their computer throughout the month.