Technology Trend: e-Newsletters

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 Web site. 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 – considering 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 Web site’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.

How do I look?

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 type style 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 makeit easy to organize, design and send e-newsletters and then 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.

A few rules to observe

  • Always get permission to send. E-newsletters should be a “pull” technology – users sign up to receive them if they wish – as opposed to “push”, which may be considered junk mail. Which leads to the next rule: Make it easy for recipients to opt out anytime.
  • Privacy: Unlike a print newsletter, e-newsletters can easily be passed along in their entirety to anyone around the world. Fix some rules about the usage of surnames and contact details, particularly for minors. Get permission from parents to use images of children.
  • Copyright: It is not OK to “borrow’ articles or images from other sources without asking permission and then giving credit to the source. It is tempting to copy and paste without permission, but in the online world, you will eventually get caught.
  • Don’t require a password to get in to your newsletter unless you believe there is strong reason for it. For example, you will want password protection if you are charging money for subscriptions, or if your e-newsletter must contain personal information such as phone numbers on a routine basis. Passwords will discourage casual observers who might become active members later on.
  • Decide whether your e-newsletter will be issued monthly, quarterly, or some other frequency, depending on how often your group needs updates on events, and how often you think they need reminding that the group exists.
  • Have a consistent look. Create a banner that includes your club logo or organization name. You could make it a club project or contest to create that banner.
  • Think about your audience and how they will be reading the newsletter – on a mobile phone or Blackberry? If so, the formatting will be different than for a desktop computer.

What to include in a newsletter:

  • News! Be sure to give some information people haven’t heard before, rather than just running the minutes of the last meeting. The immediacy of electronic communication makes it possible to add the latest information at the last minute.
  • Something for nothing. Coupons will grab people’s attention, encouraging them to interact with your e-newsletter. So will contests that could fetch a prize.
  • Ask for help. Solicit ideas for articles or news about members. Offer readers the chance to write an article or column that will add content to your interesting newsletter.

For more on e-newsletters, you may wish to consult:

Bravenet
Constant Contact
Lyris

Author(s), Presenter(s): 
CYFERNet Technology Team
Year published or updated: 
2013