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Refreshing Your E-newsletter

Lori Halley  09 May 2011  0 comments

It’s spring cleaning season – is it time to refresh your e-newsletter?

Many organizations have e-newsletters that you circulate to your members, volunteers and/or supporters on a regular basis. In some cases, you may have converted your print newsletter to an online version. Maybe it’s time to step back and take a good look at your e-newsletter to be sure it is meeting your objectives. And, as I noted in a recent post, your e-newsletter is competing with an ever-increasing “rising tide of bacon email” that is flooding inboxes, so you need to give your subscribers a reason to open your email and, hopefully, read the newsletter contents.

Here are a few things to consider if you decide to review and revitalize your newsletter:

What Are Your Newsletter Objectives?

If you haven’t articulated your e-newsletter’s goals recently (e.g., in a yearly communications/marketing plan), it might be time to re-establish and prioritize your list of objectives. For example, is your key goal to keep members, volunteers or donors informed about your organization’s news, activities and accomplishments? Or is your newsletter your main form of promotion for regular events or activities – for which you want/need them to take action (e.g., register/volunteer/donate)? Setting clear objectives will help steer your decisions on scheduling, layout and content.

What about your layout / design?

I know all too well that non-profits and member-based organizations need to ensure that their communications don’t appear too expensive so they aren't perceived as using funds that should be applied to serving the organization’s mission. This means you need to strive for a happy medium between a slick or too-sophisticated design and one that is too dull, old-school or homespun. If you have someone develop a good, clean layout format that incorporates your organization’s logo and design standards, it should help with readability while also projecting an image of cost-effectiveness.

The first thing to remember is that an e-newsletter is not a print newsletter – they are different media. People read emails and online material very differently than they do print versions. If you are lucky enough to have them open your email, you are likely going to have to deal with a short attention span and high expectations. People usually scan an email so it is extremely important that you follow a few online design techniques, including:

Capture the reader’s attention with a focal point:

    This might be through a high impact header or masthead; a bold headline or a photo that draws the reader’s eye to the lead story. Don’t forget to make it clear whose newsletter this is – e.g., have your logo and organization name clearly visible if it isn’t part of the masthead.

    Offer a clean, crisp design:

      • Keep it simple:  the eye gets confused if there is too much going on – e.g., too many photos or visuals or a busy layout without any white space.
      • Use colour effectively & boldly
      • Don’t use too many fonts or typefaces and be sure body text is readable (especially if your audience is over 40)

    Guide your reader through:

      • Offer a table of content
      • Break up the content:
        • with effective headlines and sub-headings - for skimmers/scanners
        • with bullet points
        • with diagrams or visuals

    Effective scheduling – timing is everything

    You may have established circulation timelines to suit your production schedule. But have you ever considered which day and time are best for sending your e-newsletter? The quick answer is - it depends on your audience. For example, the majority of business-related emails are opened between 5 a.m. and 5 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday (with 11 am being a suggested sweet spot). But your recipients may want to read your e-newsletter at home or on the weekend, depending on your content and their profile (e.g., men, women, students, type of career, etc.).

    In a recent Getting Attention blog post, Nancy Schwartz suggests: “Timing is everything. It’s the gatekeeper to having even a chance of connecting with your target audiences.”  Schwartz recommends doing some research to get to know your supporters’ preferences so you can connect with them at the optimal times. Once you better understand your audience, you can figure out when to best connect with them. For example, you might want to reach out when others aren’t and also consider weekends when your audiences have more time and attention for you.

    If you are looking at the frequency with which you send e-newsletters, you need to determine if your recipients want a more comprehensive edition with all of the news, or more frequent, smaller versions. If you are unsure – why don’t you conduct a member/supporter online survey to find out your readers’ preference. Of course, scheduling may also need to coincide with event or program timelines if you are looking for time-sensitive registrations, program commitments or donations.

    Content is King

    You can create an appealing newsletter design and figure out the best time to send it to your subscribers, but your content is the critical ingredient to success.

    I think the following quote from Maureen Carruthers’ LowHangingFruit blog post says it all:

    “Create content your people will want to share. ...Your people are the kindling of your potential viral wildfire. They are the ones who will use your content to introduce your nonprofit to their friends.”

    Your newsletter is a great vehicle for nurturing your relationship with your member/supporter/volunteer. And while the subject matter will be dependent on your organization’s scope or mission as well as your communications objectives, here are some guidelines you might want to consider when developing your newsletter content:

    Get their attention to get the email opened!

    First impressions DO COUNT when it comes to your email subject line and newsletter headlines. You’ve heard it all before – you need to offer interesting and intriguing subject lines to get your email opened. This doesn’t mean being too clever or controversial – since the title needs to be linked to your newsletter topic or lead story to let the reader know what to expect. As Brian Clark suggests in the Copyblogger post, How to Write Headlines That Work, a compelling headline must promise some kind of benefit or reward for the reader, in trade for the valuable time it takes to read more.”

    Offer value: provide useful, actionable information

    Rather than thinking about what you want to communicate this month or this quarter – try to turn it around and figure out what your readers might want to hear. What are their expectations from your organization? And as I suggested in a post a while back (Member Communications and Information Overload - Finding Balance) don’t assume your readers have heard about your organization’s work or an issue that has arisen in the industry. While it may seem like old news to you, it’s very likely they haven’t heard about it yet. Demonstrate what their membership fees or donations are enabling your organization to accomplish and talk about goals and plans.

    Be genuine/authentic:

    Your newsletter is not the Wall Street Journal! While you need to write tight, concise copy, your readers are subscribing to, and hopefully reading, this newsletter for a reason, so be sure your organization’s unique culture or voice isn’t sacrificed through attempts to sound professional.  On the other hand, be sure you don’t lay the industry jargon on too thick. Try to find a balance – with a clean crisp writing style that also suits your organization’s style or persona.

    How much content?

    As noted earlier, the nature of an e-newsletter dictates brevity. Many e-newsletters (including Wild Apricot’s) offer three to five brief overview paragraphs with links to the rest of the article through a “read more” link back to your web site. This is an effective way to drive traffic to your web site. Alternately, you can include short articles and updates and refer readers to other areas of your website for more detail – e.g., the entire member survey report (if the article is an exec summary).


    An e-newsletter isn’t an advertisement, but it is still a great vehicle for promotion.  Be sure to provide:

      • links to your website;
      • enable sharing through, (e.g., Twitter; Facebook; LinkedIn; Digg; StumbleUpon, etc.) Here's how Wild Apricot does it in our newsletter:


    These are just a few ideas to consider as you refresh your e-newsletter. Were they helpful?

    Keep an eye on the Wild Apricot blog for future posts on the technology-side or mechanics of e-newsletters and our own e-newsletter re-design case study.


    Read more:

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Published Monday, 09 May 2011 at 9:00 AM
    Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.

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