The State of the Nonprofit Newsletter

Lori Halley 06 September 2012 0 comments

The August Nonprofit Blog Carnival - published last week - was all about Nonprofit Newsletter Trends and Tips. The Carnival round-up, hosted by Kivi Leroux Miller, included a number of posts that offered some great insight and advice about nonprofit newsletters. In case you missed it, I thought I’d offer a bit of a recap of some of the points I found most interesting.

Should you abandon your print version?

Based on some of the posts I’ve read recently, including a couple in the Nonprofit Blog Carnival round-up, the answer is - not necessarily.  As always, it depends on your audience and the objectives for the print newsletter. For example, in her Nonprofit Blog Carnival post, Rebekah Gienapp (Workers Interfaith Network) didn’t want to abandon her organization's print newsletter because many of their members aren’t using email and in addition, they use the printed newsletter as a handout at speaking engagements.

But the group did “overhaul” their print newsletter - taking it from 8 to 4 pages and moving to a writing style that enables “skimming, not reading.” Another important change they made was sending it (4 times per year) with a return donation envelope. While Gienapp reports that this new format costs more, it has tripled the donations usually received through the newsletter, which has become a much more “donor centric” communications tool.

In his post - Print Newsletters: Too Tired for a Wired World? - Bob Merrigan (Merrigan & Co) suggests that “[a] print newsletter offers a unique chance to provide tangible evidence of the work you do. To tell donors what their support helps you accomplish. To educate supporters. To explain your mission. To deepen the relationship.” He believes that a print version of a newsletter:

  • ...can break through the clutter (think of sorting your mail vs. scanning your in box).
  • It may add longevity (yesterday’s mail is still on the counter; yesterday’s email is well past the preview pane).
  • It can reach people who can’t – or won’t – go online (there still are that stubborn few).
  • Maybe people are just more used to giving in response to print (we're seeing enews donations trend up, but not yet close to print).

Online or off?

Of course, there’s also a case to be made for moving to e-newsletters to save trees and “go digital.” However, numerous bloggers, fundraisers and donors, have noted recently that while they are happy enough to see an e-newsletter in their in-box and mean to read them when they have time (sound familiar?), that time often never materializes.  In her post, Jen Gonyer-Donohue (Texere) quotes stats that suggest the “average metrics for nonprofit e-newsletters in 2011 were 13% open rate, 1.6% click-through rate, and 0.17% unsubscribe rate.” 

Whether online or off - be sure to know your audience 

So with low open rates for e-newsletters and printed copies as well, you need to be sure you get your reader's attention and get the content right!  Sandy Rees (Get Fully Funded), another Carnival contributor suggests that many nonprofits are “sending out selfish newsletters”  that are “boring and self-serving.” Rees suggests that these newsletters are “written by well-meaning folks who have not stopped long enough to really understand their reader and what their reader wants.”  She suggests you “spend some time getting to know your reader,” since “your ultimate goal is to build relationships with your donors and prospects.”  Rees also cautions nonprofits to “[t]hink for a minute about someone you know that the only time you hear from them is when they want something,” and advises: “don’t be that person to your donors! Don’t show up with your hand out for money all the time. Communicate with them to keep them in the loop about what’s happening.”

What do donors want from e-newsletters?

For insight into what donors want from e-newsletters,  Soundcheck: The Team Encore Blog post offered some of the results of a donor survey they conducted.  They found that “37% of our respondents say they spend 0-10 seconds reading nonprofit emails, with over 67% saying they spend less than 30 seconds,” and “38% of our respondents say they read their emails first on their smartphones.” In terms of the content they’re looking for, 81% of their survey respondents “prefer 3-5 different stories in each email, rather than less or more.”

Online + offline = multi-channel?

If you’re not sure if your donors and supporters would prefer to receive their news online or off, you could conduct an online survey to find out. And once you understand your audience’s preferences, you can refresh your existing print version, move it online or even implement a multi-channel  communications strategy with a brief e-newsletter and a slightly more in-depth printed version - whatever meets your audience’s needs.

E-newsletters in Wild Apricot

For those organizations using Wild Apricot Membership Management in the cloud, you can consider using the new customizable email templates (included in our most recent product release - 4.4) to create or refresh your e-newsletter.

Want more info on newsletters?

Has your organization recently revitalized your newsletter?  We'd love to hear about it in the comments below.

Image source: e mail icon, courtesy of

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

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Thursday, 06 September 2012 at 8:31 AM

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