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E-newsletters: Read This Before You Press Send

Resource Center - Foundation

By Marla Norrad 

maria norrad

(May 22, 2012) More and more companies are using e-newsletters to connect with their customers.  In fact, 67 percent of businesses are increasing their email campaign budgets, according to the 2012 Email Marketing Benchmark Report from  Recently the AFP Vancouver Chapter started an e-newsletter for members and after nearly a year (and a few tweaks along the way) they are seeing great benefits from this opportunity to connect with members.  Here are our chapter’s top five questions to ask before your organization starts its own e-newsletter.  

Who is your audience and what do they want? 

The first question is “who are you talking to?” The answer to this question will direct what you talk about.  If your e-newsletter is going to donors or other investors in your organization you’ll want to write about what their dollars are doing.  If it’s going to members, then perhaps it should talk about what their membership benefits are.  Content is key to any e-newsletter and it can’t just be about you. 

According to e-newsletter expert Michael Katz, the most common mistake people make is to talk too much about themselves.  Even if it is going to donors or members of your organization, your e-newsletter shouldn’t just be about the organization.  It should have information about what the audience is interested in that ties into your organization. The AFP Vancouver e-newsletter, for example, talks about general fundraising advice and things that are happening in the sector.

Who will write the stories?

Sometimes you have the luxury of having a talented writer on staff, but if you don’t have someone with the time and talent to write all of your stories, consider who else is at your disposal.  Think about other experts in your community who might be able to write for you.  Is there someone on the board that may have some interesting advice?  Also consider how often your audience will want to hear from you.  Is once a month too often to generate compelling content?  If so, consider a bi-monthly or quarterly option, but make sure it’s consistent so that your audience knows what to expect.

What sort of technical system will you use?

The technology required to create an e-newsletter has become incredibly user-friendly and accessible.  Some database systems have email messaging components that allow users to send email to segmented lists that have been created in the database. 

Then there are the online applications such as Industry Mailout, Active Campaign, NetCommunity, Constant Contact and MailChimp. For example, last fall MailChimp released Chimpegration, which they say allows users to quickly update all campaign details, input fields from Blackbaud’s The Raiser’s Edge application into MailChimp emails via merge fields, and can comprehensively keep track of all contact between donors and the organization. Look at the various options and decide which is best for you.

Will you display it on your website? How?

If this e-newsletter is a benefit of membership, you may not want it on your website so that non-members can read it.  Alternatively, if displayed on your website your e-newsletter can be a great way to advertise the benefits of membership to people who are interested in your organization but are not yet members.  If you do put articles on your website, will it be static content or in a blog?  A blog allows people to comment, but often requires more back-end work to set up. Think about what the technical requirements are for your website and how the e-newsletter will fit in.

How will you monitor your success?

Online programs often have automated reports that monitor how many people opened the e-newsletter and which links were clicked the most.  The industry average for nonprofits is a 21 percent open rate and a 3 percent click rate.  So, which statistics will you focus on?   Opens don’t necessarily mean that someone has read the articles and for that matter, neither do clicks. However, tracking clicks is a more clear indicator of the content that most interests your readers.   

So how do you know when you’re reaching your target?  If you are using a blog, the comment section can be helpful.  A program like MailChimp will also track social media interactions related to the e-newsletter and these can be ripe with information about what information your audience found useful.

An e-newsletter can be a great tool to keep you connected to your community. Start with answers to these questions you will be ready to move forward with a structured plan for implementing your own targeted communication piece.  

Marla Norrad has a journalism degree from Carleton University and is currently working as the communications specialist for Family Services of Greater Vancouver. For the past year she has been a member of the e-communications committee at the AFP Vancouver Chapter, for which she manages social media and writes a quarterly chapter e-newsletter that she created.

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