I’ve started noticing an odd quirk in the way comms professionals talk about email. I’ll be chatting with a colleague, sharing stories about our work, and then a statement like this will come out:

“We blast our list every month with blog posts they might have missed and curated content we think they’ll like”

“We send out a newsletter but it’s on an ad-hoc schedule because we like to be able to reach out whenever we need to”

Wait, what? These words. I don’t think they mean what you think they mean.

There are two main ways to communicate with your audience via email: newsletters and blasts. They are separate and distinct, and each serves specific and complementary purposes.

To be honest, the newsletter vs blast distinction is something I didn’t really think much about until about five years ago. The pace of information going in and out of the organization I worked for at the time ramped up, and it became clear that we needed internal logic for what kind of content would go out and when. Both the organization and I were pushed to create clear boundaries around our content.

Newsletters vs eblasts, what’s the difference?

So, what’s the difference between an eblast vs newsletter? Here’s how I make the distinction:

  • Newsletters are regular, structured emails sent to your mailing list. They operate on a set schedule and often include round-ups of content or events or other news you need to share. Newsletters are also often a combination of content your audience wants and content you want them to know.
  • E-Blasts are irregular emails (meaning they’re not sent on any regular schedule) and can be segmented depending on the content of the blast. Blasts are also often urgent in nature, with a singular, clear call to action that comes from the organization (“Register today!”, “Donate now!”, “Sign the petition!”).

Remember this every time you feel yourself sliding into this mode – not all emails are blasts! There is a difference!

Know it! Own it!

Newsletters vs eblasts, what’s the difference? When should you use each? #NPMC Click To Tweet

Give a little, get a little: finding the balance

Here’s the thing. Finding the right balance between newsletters and blasts is delicate. Ask too much and you alienate your audience; ask too little and you miss leveraging your most engaged supporters.

The better you know your audience, the easier it will be to find the right balance between newsletter and blast. Some audiences don’t care at all about the regular information and only want to be poked when you really need something from them, and in some cases that might actually match your organization’s communication style (win!). Other audiences are creatures of habit and prefer their CTAs bundled up with their news. The trick is to find where on the spectrum your audience falls (or audiences, if you segment). But don’t take my word for it – ask them.

There are some easy ways to find out what your audience wants:

  • Conduct a reader survey
  • Create an auto-responder for new subscribers that asks them
  • Take a deep dive into your website’s analytics
  • Listen on social media

All of these ideas are explained further in this great post on coming up with content for your nonprofit.

Finding the right balance between newsletters and blasts is delicate, but there are ways to learn what your audience wants. #NPMC Click To Tweet

The Golden Ratio

I’m sorry to tell you this, but there isn’t one.

It depends on:

  • The needs of your audience
  • The frequency of content that they respond best to (you never want to spam people!)
  • The amount of content your organization creates
  • How often your regular scheduled content is released
  • Your own internal capacity to create, curate, and distribute content

Ultimately your focus should be on having meaningful, ongoing communication and conversation with your audience. After all, in the era of social media communication is a two-way street.

When in doubt it’s a reasonable comparison to pick a social media posting ratio that feels right for your organization (of which there are many) and use it as a guideline. From there, you can adjust based on the information you receive by asking your audience about their email consumption preferences. And remember: meaningful communication is the name of the game.

If you read one thing, read this

Newsletters and blasts are different! Newsletters run on a set schedule and aim to provide value to your audience. Blasts have no regular schedule and are more about the things you need your audience to do.

It’s important to find the right mix of newsletters and blasts that will work for both your organization and your audience, but there’s no golden ratio here. Instead, experiment and ask your audience what they want – they’ll love you for it!

Have you found a good balance between newsletters and blasts? Share in the comments!

Eblast vs newsletter: what to use, when #nonprofit #communications Click To Tweet
Meg Shannon

Meg Shannon

Meg Shannon is a communications and PR professional based in Toronto. After working in the not-for-profit world for seven years she made the jump to a communications agency. When not working with clients and campaigns she can be found working on her own blog, Palate Practice, playing soccer, or re-watching Downtown Abbey for the zillionth time.
Meg Shannon