How do you develop (or revitalize) an effective and engaging nonprofit newsletter? How do you balance your organization’s ‘corporate’ messages with information your readers want to receive? The following tips will help:

1. Establish an objective

As with any communications project, your first step is to establish a clear objective. It could be maintaining top-of-mind awareness of your organization, soliciting donations, keeping members informed of cause-related news, etc. You can have more than one objective, but try to keep it to as few as possible to ensure your publication stays focused. Having a primary and secondary objective is a good way to handle multiple priorities.

2. Analyze your audience

Who is receiving this newsletter? What does your distribution list look like? Are you working with postal or e-mail addresses? Will you need to do a promotion to attract new subscribers? It’s important that you answer all of these questions before you go any further. Next, determine what information your readers want to receive. If you are updating an existing publication, include a reader survey in your next issue. If you’re starting from scratch, try using a poll on your website, a survey at local events or any other method to get feedback that works for your organization.

 3. Establish format and frequency

Once you have a good understanding of your audience and distribution list, you can determine the best format. E-newsletters make sense for many nonprofits, but does print work better for your audience? How often will it go out?  Print newsletters typically go out less frequently (e.g. bimonthly, monthly or quarterly) while e-newsletters should be more frequent (monthly, bi-weekly or weekly). Print requires a longer work-back schedule, while electronic requires constant generation of content. Important to consider: e-newsletters tend to be more cost-effective and environmentally responsible – two factors your stakeholders may really appreciate!

 4. Determine content/contributors

What stories are you going to feature in this publication, and where will they come from? Review what your readers are asking for against your own objectives. Is there a creative way to blend these? For example, they want to read stories about real people and you want to generate interest in your programs and events. Solution: in each issue, feature a profile of a volunteer, donor or participant in your programs. Establish an editorial outline that will be followed consistently and that balances helpful, practical tips and information with organizational announcements and news. Clearly plan out and assign who will be responsible for contributing which stories and on what timeline.

 5. Secure sponsorship/advertising

As a nonprofit organization, you may need to offset the cost of publishing your newsletter with sponsorship or advertising. Furthermore, many organizations are interested in this type of opportunity – either to access your readers, or for the ‘halo-effect’ of association with your brand. Decide whether you would like to consider one or more sponsors (usually recognized with logo placement) or if you want to sell advertising space within your publication – or both. Whatever you decide, remember that consumers are both savvy and skeptical and that your approach should be tasteful: you don’t want to compromise the integrity or credibility of the information you are providing. Neither sponsors nor advertisers should influence or bias your content.

 6. Evaluate impact

Your planning is done and you have started delivering your newsletter. After a few issues, assess your success with an evaluation in the form of a reader survey. To ensure the quality of your publication, build evaluation into your plan, perhaps as frequently as once a year!

A well thought-out plan for your publication helps to keep the process running smoothly and on time. With careful and strategic planning, you’ll produce a nonprofit newsletter that your readers look forward to receiving, and that keeps them connected to your organization.

Marlene Oliveira

Marlene Oliveira

Communications advisor and copywriter at moflow
Marlene Oliveira is communications consultant and copywriter at moflow and founder of the Nonprofit MarCommunity blog. Having worked in the nonprofit sector since 1999, Marlene specializes in working with capacity building and grant-making organizations, advising on communications strategy, and writing stories and other content.
Marlene Oliveira
Marlene Oliveira