Producing an email newsletter for your group
The upcoming help sheet Marketing your Group and Events through Email Newsletters looks at some of the reasons why your community group or not-for-profit should put together its own email newsletter.
This help sheet will look in more detail at some of the technical, content and production-related aspects your group will need to consider, as well as some of the "do's" and "don'ts" of compiling an email newsletter.
Things to consider when producing an email newsletter
You can send out an e-mail either in the mail program itself - "simple mailing" - or as an attachment in another format like Microsoft Word, PDF, or HTML.
Simple mailing is all right if you're just sending straight text, and it certainly has the advantage of being quick and uncomplicated, but the other formats do offer new possibilities.
- Most people's mail programs can cope with basic HTML, and HTML newsletters get a higher response rate, because many people will click through to linked Web sites.
- If you're sending out your newsletter in Microsoft Word, turn off Word's special formatting features (e.g., smart quotes), as they aren't always readable by other e-mail programs and Web browsers.
- If you are doing a plain text version of your newsletter, set margins to 65 characters, and when saving text in Microsoft Word, choose the option "Save As Text Only with Line Breaks" to avoid strange line wrapping.
And test your system. Perform a test run to make sure it's formatted properly, and send a test copy to different addresses that are using a range of email systems.
Keep it Simple
Not all online readers will have access to the latest technology, and you should consider this when adding bells and whistles to your messages.
If you are using HTML, you should make your newsletter available in alternative formats, including well-formatted plain text.
Also, keep your print newsletter going - there will still be supporters of your group that don't have access to a computer!
Cultivate your lists
When sending direct mail, one of the key things to remember is to make the contact details for those on your database are correct. The same goes for sending an email newsletter.
Continually check and maintain your e-mail address lists. People's addresses are constantly changing, and if you just sit on your lists they will wither away.
Apart from checking your contact email addresses, some ways of attracting new addresses include:
- Offer the newsletter on your website; possibly through a "sign-up for a free newsletter" button that is placed prominently on your home page.
- Use online trivia quizzes or contests to get new addresses. (Ensure if prizes are on offer in a game of chance that your group registers the event and follows all the necessary rules and regulations).
- Encourage readers to forward the newsletter on to people who might be interested in it, and then make it easier for those people to subscribe.
Organise your production
Before you do anything make sure you consider how you will manage the production of the e-newsletter.
You will need to develop a system to handle the writing and editing of the newsletter in a way that is efficient and timely. You may need to talk to your group's media team, or whoever is responsible for your communications, about this.
And with writing and sending your email newsletter will come responses, subscription requests and feedback. Your group will need to set aside time to handle these queries - to manage your email lists and the responses that come in.
Be clear from the start about who will take on different responsibilities, who will sign off on what and the specific steps to follow so that production and response is timely.
Format newsletters in a standard way that's easy to navigate and read.
- It might be a good idea to have a style guide that you can refer to so your pages and layouts are standardised.
- Separate items with headlines, and include a table of contents - especially if you have multiple screens. Hyper linking that table of contents directly to each item further on in the newsletter can also improve accessibility and ease of navigation.
- Use capital letters, white space, asterisks, dashes or other characters to set items and sections apart. This again improves readability.
Respect your readers' privacy
Building online relationships that web users will trust requires you to proceed thoughtfully.
- Ask for permission to send e-newsletters to potential readers, and.
- Make it easy for readers to unsubscribe if they no longer wish to receive your email newsletter. People get enough spam in their inboxes each day without your organisation adding to it.
Ensure you archive past editions of your newsletter. Think about saving them on a CD-ROM or even (depending on the size of your newsletter) on floppy discs.
Store a couple of copies of these archives - maybe one at your organisation's base, and the other with the person co-ordinating the newsletter - so if one is lost or damaged, the other is safely archived at a different location.
Label these archives well for ease of referencing and to make it easy to access them when needed.
Keep it relevant
Keep your newsletter relevant and newsy - after all, it is a newsletter.
Because of the speed and sense of immediacy that comes with email communication, people especially expect an email newsletter to carry the latest information on the topics they're interested in, along with information on how they can take immediate action.
Generally speaking, keep your newsletter short because many readers won't bother wading through a long newsletter.
- Limit your newsletter to about five to ten items (depending on their length) and start with headlines for those items at the very top - if readers are interested in an article, they can scroll down.
- As mentioned before, one option is to hyperlink each item in your table of contents to the article further down your newsletter.
- Another method might be to include a page which summarises the contents of each article in your newsletter, with links if people want to read further. Further to that, you could include a headline and then have a four or five line summary of each item, with links to the full article on your website.
- If there is a way you can link some of the articles in your
newsletter to the website, do so - it will encourage people to explore
your site further.
Think interactive - engage readers as much as possible and don't encourage passivity.
- If you tell readers something, don't just throw the information at them; tell them what they can do about it.
- Give them the opportunity to respond in a number of ways - it
could be to write to a politician, sign up as a volunteer, renew their
membership, express interest in an upcoming special event, donate money
or suggest ideas and improvements.
Make sure your newsletter includes all your organisation's contact details - be it phone, fax, address, email, website.
Remember that if someone gets the newsletter passed on and they think what you do is great; your group wants to make sure it's as easy as possible to get them involved.
(Subtly) ask for money/help/support
The help sheet Marketing your Group and Events through Email Newsletters emphasised the importance of your organisation's newsletter not turning into a direct mail solicitation for funds.
But you still should find a way to subtly ask for support. Link to your website's online donations button at the bottom of each issue of your newsletter - that way if people want to donate at the time of reading they are not searching around for a way of doing so.
Where there is a special appeal or effort - or an activity or event you need support for - you can mention it prominently as one of the news items in your newsletter.
Because of the continuing and growing problem that spam emails create, your email newsletter cannot be seen as spam - so it can't aggravate or annoy people.
The aim of your email newsletter is to convert people who have a mild interest in your organisation into people who have a solid, active interest and love of your organisation. It should aim to drive support, interest, knowledge and awareness of your group or cause.
There can be a number of things that can see your email newsletter classed as spam, and you should go to great lengths to avoid any of these mistakes.
Being too pushy
Sending an email that's unsolicited is just acceptable, once. Anything over that is going to provoke first irritation and then anger.
Don't send an email that is too large and clogs up modems or goes over ISP limits.
If your newsletter comes out more than once a month, or if it goes out more often than there's real news, or if it goes out twice to the same person because you haven't cleaned your list properly, people will start deleting your email newsletter as spam.
Too demanding or irrelevant
Remember, you're publishing a newsletter. So if all the so-called news is just a set up to a call for funds and isn't interesting in its own right, people are going to feel that their time is being wasted. Result - your email newsletter will be discarded as spam.
The information contained on this site is subject to change. Our Community will not be liable for any loss or damage whatsoever coming from reliance placed on all or part of its contents.