To newsletter or not to newsletter

Marseille letterboxes

Hands up those of you who get newsletters in your inbox that you have no recollection signing up for. How about those who get newsletters you actually DID choose to receive from organisations you have an interest in, but they are so frequent you don’t get time to actually read them. And how many get newsletters from good organisations that just
don’t seem to include any content that interests you, or they are so badly done you don’t like reading them. Newsletters can be a bit of a minefield and those questions illustrate why many just don’t work.

Most Not for Profits have a newsletter… or had a newsletter that doesn’t happen any more… or are thinking of introducing a newsletter. Frankly I have more conversations with clients about newsletters than any other aspect of marketing or communications.

We all know that newsletters can be a good communication tool and an important part of stakeholder engagement. However I’d really recommend you put some careful thought into the strategy. Whether you are keen to start a newsletter or want to improve the one you currently have, ask yourself these basic questions… in this order.

WHY – What purpose does the newsletter serve for your organisation? Are you hoping to: keep your clients up to date with your services; increase donations; increase your public profile; educate people on an issue or the solution you provide; improve understanding of your services within the sector; etc, etc. This question should also be considered within the context of your other communication tools. Adding a newsletter into the mix needs to provide different information or allow for a different level of engagement, otherwise why do it at all?

WHO – After you have nailed the why, it should be relatively easy to identify who you want to target your newsletter to. For example, if you want your newsletter to increase donor engagement, then clearly it needs to be targeted towards current and potential donors. If it is all about increasing your public profile, then you will need to build a broad database of stakeholders and potential stakeholders. Once you have the who, you should be able to identify how much work needs to go into building your database.

WHAT – This is the question relating to content. Exactly what kind of material do you want to include in your newsletter? It’s always easy to think about what to put into the first few issues, but try and project six or twelve months down the track… will there be new material available to include? Who is going to provide that content? Communication is a two-way process, so content also needs to be viewed from the stakeholders’ point of view. What kind of content will matter to them?

WHEN – How often do you want to send out your newsletter? This question needs to be viewed through the prism of organisational capacity. Someone needs to manage the database, write the content, produce and send out the newsletter. This stuff takes a lot of time and you may need to look at using contractors for any or all of those processes. Considering the sustainability issue will help you to avoid becoming one of those organisations that send out a few newsletters and are never heard of again.

HOW – There are two aspects to the how. The first one relates to the type and style of the newsletter. Some organisations prepare a pdf attachment to an email, others use more sophisticated emails with links to articles on their website. Clearly your IT set-up, and possibly your budget, will impact on this question. The other aspect relates to your database. Regular readers of my articles will know my opinions on what is, and what is not, a database. Excel spreadsheets, Outlook contact lists and Word tables are not databases. A database needs to allow you to identify your stakeholders by type, manage at least some aspects of your relationship with them and provide analysis of their engagement with your organisation. The better the database, the more you can tailor your newsletters to your stakeholders, the more likely they are to read them. And isn’t that the point of doing a newsletter in the first place?