Newsletters: Your Most Important Relationship Building Tool

| July 15, 2011

Your nonprofit organization’s newsletter is the single most important marketing and relationship building tool you possess. Why? Because your email list is pure gold. People who share their email address with you are statistically far more likely to become donors and be active in your organization. They have already taken a proactive step and expressed interest in your mission. They are the best return on your marketing dollar. Are you making your newsletter worth their time to read? Are you speaking effectively to their interests and motivations or boring them with announcements? I challenge you to visualize your newsletter as a creative canvas to use to engage your members and propel them into action. Here are some of my favorite gripes and suggestions.

How are you sending your email blasts?

Do not use Outlook or a similar email client. This is really a mandatory rule. Sending email blasts using an email client guarantees that a large percentage of your emails will fail due to spam filters and either not be delivered or will end up in the spam box rather than the inbox. Not only that, but you will probably violate the CAN-SPAM law at some point, and very likely your internet provider’s TOS rules as well.  It’s horribly inefficient, and worse yet, it seems as though every agency that uses an email client eventually puts the entire email list into the “Send To:” box, exposing everyone’s email address to others on the list as well as every spam-bot on the net. That’s a great way to loose followers fast. Use an email service provider!

What should your email service provider offer?

Your newsletter should be organic and always growing in efficiency. Your provider should provide you with tools so that you can track open rates, delivery rates, link click-through statistics and more. Use these effectively and you can optimize your newsletter both in content and layout. Learn what the “hot spots” are (hint: upper right and left corners are two of them) and use them to grab attention. You should also be able to personalize emails with names and titles as needed. Your provider should also check a lot of things behind the scenes, such as picture to text ratios, that raise delivery success rates.

What do your “From” and “Subject” boxes say?

They say a lot about you and have everything to do with open rates (the rate at which your emails are actually opened). Your “From” tag should be organizational related, rarely does it make sense for your organization to send from a personal mailbox address. And the subject box is your first opportunity to engage interest. Replace “Weekly Newsletter” with an engaging teaser lifted from the exciting content you have created. It’s content that engages your reader even if they are not interested in this week’s event schedule.

Are you text oriented?

Spice it up! Include pictures and graphics. Of course, if the pictures are action shots of your organization and volunteers getting things done, then all the better. And it’s never to early for any nonprofit to begin thinking about their brand. Although this is a little off of the newsletter subject, the earlier you begin to create the look, including the colors, fonts, and layout that will define your organization, the better off you will be. Work on it and then get to work on the copyrights.

Do you have a browser compatible version?

Again this is where your email provider should shine. Your newsletter should have a link to a browser version prominently placed at the top of every email for two main reasons. First, some people only receive emails in text format, rendering that beautiful layout with graphics completely useless in the original email. A browser compatible version restores the graphics and the links. Secondly, a web-based version allows you the flexibility of linking to the newsletter from the other channels of your marketing strategy, and a hook for others to tweet or reference as well. Much of your important message about your organization and mission is going to be in your newsletter archive. It should be as readily available to the world as your web page.

Are you completely internally focused?

Don’t fall into the trap of only referencing your own material. Be generous with links to blogs and sites outside your own. My favorite newsletters always contain jewels of links to sites and people I didn’t find on my own. It makes me respect and await the newsletter all the more to know that they are truly a source of information that recognizes value wherever it is found, not just within their own pages.

Where is your content coming from?

I’m a fan of shared responsibility for content. Create a process, perhaps an email address, that your content finders (publishing committee?) can easily submit links or ideas to.  If just a few people actively participate you’ll never be at a loss for content. Use Google to find relevant RSS blog feeds and create alerts. Be in sync with your organization’s event calendar and make sure to time articles to generate interest in what you are about to do. If subjects related to your cause are in the news today, then now is the time to contribute to that dialog and inform your readers how your organization is participating or relevant to that issue.

Guest Authors

Here is a double bonus. Cultivate guest authors and both impress your readership and create a new, possibly influential, advocate for your organization. Great sources are business leaders, educators, civic leaders, bloggers, and book authors.

Are you including action items for your readers?

This is something I think that is often overlooked. I like the idea of having frequent participatory “events”, a click for a vote, a super fast poll, a request for a quick opinion. It’s participation, a two-way street, a dialog, rather than a talking to. Do you agree? Click on this button! Rate this! It’s great preparation for when you ask something more substantial, but in the meantime it can engender a deeper feeling of being important to the conversation.

Coupons, coupons, what?

Nonprofits don’t usually have sales, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t offer something. This is a great time for collaboration between agencies, that thing we are always discussing in conferences but finding hard to actually do. What is your neighbor nonprofit doing? Can you provide a reciprocal offer? Are they having an event you can promote today and they will help with yours tomorrow? How many times does a nonprofit enter a team in another nonprofit’s walk-a-thon? The possibilities are endless.

Targeting multiple channels in your audience.

Your email service provider needs to provide is the functionality for multiple email lists. Unless you have a monolithic audience, you might need more than one newsletter. Do you have a volunteer corps? How about a newsletter geared toward youth that differs in content from the newsletter that focuses on donor retention? Always allow for growth and diversity, especially after you see just how productive your newsletter can be.

Make time for review.

I didn’t quote statistics in this article, but here’s an important one. 80% of your recipients who stop reading your newsletter will do so because they find you irrelevant. Seek feedback far and wide and make review a part of your newsletter strategy.  Stay focused, relevant, and current to your audience.

General rules of the road.
  • Make sure that your writing is personable, action oriented, and clear.
  • Use spell-check!
  • If your audience is primarily older, enlarge the text.
  • Pictures, graphics, and lingo that are appropriate for one audience can completely dumbfound another IMHO 😉
  • Use color palettes to create compatible colors for your brand and message.
  • Go for quality, not quantity!
  • Cross pollinate! Your newsletter should contain links to your website, Facebook, and other social media.
  • Always have a newsletter sign-up box for those who receive your message from a forwarded email and wish to receive their own copy.
  • Do you have a “Donate” button? Should you?
  • Is your newsletter too long (how much scrolling does the reader have to do)?

What’s the bottom line? Back to that relationship. If your focus is razor sharp toward the motivations and concerns of your audience, then your articles inform, connect, and advocate for a shared interest. If you are not keenly aware of those interests, then it’s time to spend some time listening and asking questions, perhaps in one of the greatest uses of newsletters – polls. Ask for help, it’s a great relationship builder.

Tags: , ,

Category: Toolbox

Comments are closed.