7 Tips for Better E-Mail Newsletters for Your Non-Profit

by Joe Garecht

Old Newspapers

Does your non-profit use e-mail newsletters to cultivate and steward donors?  If not, it should… e-mail newsletters are one of the easiest and best ways to stay in touch with donors, update them on your work, and make them feel like part of your team.

If you are going to be sending out e-newsletters, though, you want to make sure you are doing it the right way.  You want your donors to sit up and take notice, but you also want to make sure that running your e-mail newsletter program doesn’t take lots of time or cause lots of stress at your organization.

Here are 7 tips for making your e-mail newsletters more appealing to your donors while at the same time simplifying your system and reducing the hassle of sending them out.

Tip #1: Use an e-mail newsletter provider or list-server.

Even if you are just starting out, it is best to use an e-mail newsletter provider like AWeber, Constant Contact or Mail Chimp. These systems are very inexpensive, particularly for small lists. You can also use an e-mail newsletter service provided by your donor database package, provided you can EXPORT the data if you decide to stop using that database.

Using an e-mail newsletter provider will make list management far easier. Newsletter service providers also make it easy to stay compliant with SPAM regulations and easy to make your newsletters look nice in both HTML and text formats.

Tip #2: Use a standard template OR have one custom designed.

You want to make sure that your e-mail newsletters look nice, while keeping things simple. You also want to make sure that people recognize your e-newsletter easily by providing a consistent look and feel. The best way to do this is to use a template provided by your e-mail newsletter service provider or to have a template custom designed for your non-profit.

When your list is small, chose one of the templates these newsletter list hosts provide, customize it for your non-profit and use it for every e-newsletter you send out. Once you have more subscribers, time and money, have your web designer create a custom template using your non-profit’s graphics, colors, etc. You can also use a site like elance.com to find someone to do this for you cheaply.

Make sure you use the same template every time you send out a newsletter. You want to stay consistent so that people recognize the newsletter and get used to seeing it in their inbox. Keep the template simple, and know that many if not most e-mail service providers have graphics set to off by default, so make sure your template looks good even if logos and pictures don’t show when the newsletters are being read.

Tip #3: Keep it short!

Your e-mail newsletters should be much shorter than your paper newsletters. People don’t like to read a lot in their e-mail, they like to browse, then click on links if things interest them.

Stick with a maximum of 800-1000 or so words. I think 500-700 words is preferable – anymore and the e-mail newsletter begins to look intimidating. You can include the first 200 words of 4 different articles, then include links to the rest of those articles on your site, as a way to including lots of information without having the newsletter look intimidating.

Tip #4: Include lots of links to your site.

This rule flows from the previous rule about keeping your newsletters short. Be sure to include several links in each newsletter back to your organization’s website so that people can get more information and interact with you, without clogging up your newsletter with lots of text.

Also include standard links in each newsletter at the bottom or in a sidebar that allow people to go to your homepage, your about page, your donate page, etc. and also include a link for people to sign-up for your newsletter – in case someone forwards your newsletter to another person and they want to sign up.

Tip #5: Send your e-newsletter at least once every other month – preferably every month.

If you send your e-newsletter any less than once every other month, people will forget they signed up and will think you are spamming them. Sending it out less than every other month also makes it harder for your non-profit to stay top-of-mind for your donors and prospects.

On the other side of the spectrum, don’t send more than one e-mail newsletter per week – and only do it this often if you have actual news to share and great content to get out on a weekly basis. Be careful – if people read your newsletter and it contains lots of stuff they aren’t interested in, they will stop reading your newsletters and unsubscribe from your list.

In my experience, sending out an e-newsletter once per month is the sweet spot for most non-profits. This frequency is often enough to stay top of mind, but not so often that you don’t have anything to write about.

Tip #6: Make collection of e-mail addresses for your newsletter a priority.

You’re going to be spending a decent amount of time creating an e-newsletter to go out every month or every other month, so you want as many people to read it as possible. Thus, you should be trying to collect as many e-mail addresses from people as you can to add them to the newsletter – make it clear that you are adding them to the newsletter and make sure they really are opting in and that you aren’t spamming them.

For this reason, one of the primary purposes of your organization’s website should be to collect e-mail addresses for your e-mail newsletter. You can also sign up donors through a note on your donor cards and envelopes asking for an e-mail address and noting that people will be signed up for your free e-newsletter when they respond. In addition, have clip boards at your events, walk-a-thons, non-ask events and other functions asking people to sign-up for your e-newsletter. Finally, encourage your newsletter readers to share your newsletter with their friends, family and co-workers.

Tip #7: It shouldn’t take all day.

Creating your e-newsletter shouldn’t take that long – once you have your template set up, it should be fairly simple. Your e-newsletter should take less than one day to write, edit, upload and send. In many cases, you will be able to do it in far less time than this. Paper newsletters, on the other hand, often take more time.

Photo Credit: Barzan Qtr

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