Creating Effective E-Newsletters:Building Your Distribution List


By James V. D’Ambrosio

(This is the second in a series focusing on e-newsletters.)

(Note to readers: Originally I was going to write about online protocols and e-mail marketing applications in this post. I will address that topic later in the series.)

An important aspect of an effective e-newsletter is building your distribution list. For nonprofits, membership-based agencies can start with member e-mails, including the newsletter as a benefit. For others, begin with core stakeholders — employees, donors, public and private funders, government agencies, board members, organizations you belong to, populations served, and agencies with similar missions. Much like a job search or political campaign, connect with your base and expand outward.

Strategies for growing your list has been a subject of debate. While some organizations purchase e-mail lists, I don’t recommend it. You risk having your publication show up as spam in inboxes and, with so many e-newsletters out there, it will likely be deleted even if it does get through.  A far better approach is developing a permission-based list containing only opt-in subscribers — those who really want to hear from you. 

So how do you generate an opt-in list? First, leverage your Web site. On the home page — and every page — provide a ‘subscribe’ box prominently displayed in the same place (the upper-right or left of the screen) for maximum exposure. You can offer opt-in incentives such as white papers, discounts, and special reports to encourage people to leave contact information and give permission to be contacted with further information.

When sending your publication to a new subscriber, provide a link to the ‘extras’ you promised in your welcome letter. Keep the sign-up form simple, just ask for an e-mail address — that’s all you need and the most many people will provide.  Make sure to clearly outline your privacy policy and what customers will receive after signing up.

Offline strategies can also be effective. At special events, have a sign-up list at the registration table with a clipboard and pen for attendees to sign up, or have staff distribute forms to the crowd. When sending a print newsletter or mass mailing, include a mail-in form for people to subscribe. Additionally, you can train front-line staff how to ask callers to sign up, just make sure there is a clear privacy policy nearby to allay concerns and reassure callers that it is easy to unsubscribe. Also ask librarians and community leaders to make your print newsletters available to the public so those without Internet access can benefit from the information.

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