Creating Effective E-Newsletters:Some Final Thoughts

By James V. D’Ambrosio

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

Throughout this series I have provided information and ideas to improve the effectiveness of e-newsletters for nonprofits. Here are some final thoughts worth considering:

Include a Text-Based Version: This is helpful for Internet users with only text-based e-mail capabilities. Most reputable e-mail software applications have a feature to include a text-only version. Without it, some users will just see HTML code and not be able to read content.

Distribution Timing: Sending newsletters mid-week (Tuesday-Thursday) is generally more effective than Monday or Friday. Monitor your open-rates to see which day(s) attract the most readers and then consistently distribute on those days.

Avoid Duplication: Make sure all e-mail newsletters are sent by one designated department in your organization. Confer with colleagues to ensure this is the case.

Plan In Advance: How will you manage incoming e-mail, a growing distribution list, and other operational issues generated by a successful e-newsletter? Having a plan in place will help avoid unexpected problems. 

Manage Subscriber Expectations: If your policy is NOT to respond to e-mail replies, make sure you state that in the newsletter itself. Alternatively, consider directing readers to your Web form or company e-mail address.

Use it or Lose it: Do not collect e-mail addresses until you are nearly ready to send your publication. This is important: when people sign up they expect to receive something soon, and e-mail addresses can quickly become outdated. If too much time elapses between sign up and delivery, people may forget they subscribed and view your publication as spam.

Involve Staff: Solicit story ideas and discuss efforts at staff meetings to ensure your publication has adequate input from other departments and accurately reflects the scope and breadth of your organization. Doing so provides a sense of camaraderie with colleagues and can result in additional story ideas of interest to readers. 

In closing, e-newsletters involve a certain amount of thought and planning to be successful. I’m sure there are other things I haven’t thought of, so I encourage reader’ comments on the subject.



Creating Effective E-Newsletters (Part I)

By James V. D’Ambrosio

(This is the first in a series focusing on different aspects of e-newsletters and maximizing their effectiveness.)

The proliferation of e-mail newsletters, made possible by new technologies allowing organizations to easily produce and distribute them while saving money on printing and postage, is an important marketing tool, especially in this challenging economy. While moving to e-newsletters is a solid business decision, there are some unique characteristics of electronic publications — and how people read them — that you should consider before hitting the ‘send’ button.     

First, consider the nature of electronic communications itself. Unlike printed publications arriving in the mail where someone might sit down and read without distraction, an e-newsletter is a very different dynamic. Often it arrives in a crowded inbox, vying for attention with other personal and professional messages. Increasingly, it is likely to be opened at work during a break or lunch hour, providing precious little time to be read in a meaningful way. Despite these constraints, there are several things you can do to increase the chances that your newsletter will be opened, read — and valued — by your readership.    

Create an engaging message in the subject line of the e-mail. Instead of a generic  “XYZ Newsletter,” highlight an interesting fact to pique readers’ attention. You might say something like “Learn about X’s new book on…” or “XYZ charity recognized for…” This can help your publication stand out, climb reader’s list of priorities, and, in some cases, prevent it from being deleted altogether. The goal is to give people a compelling reason to open the document, learn something of value, and look forward to the next issue.

Careful consideration should also be given to content — online reading has limitations. Research indicates the average person reads 200-250 words per minute and spends roughly 90 seconds reading a story online. Some quick math indicates that keeping stories short — about 300 words — will help maintain reader’ interest. Design and layout is also key. Use photos, graphics and callouts strategically to break up large blocks of text, making it easier on readers’ eyes. Large, bold headlines can get the attention of those just skimming.

Taking the time to consider the unique dynamics of electronic publications — and how people consume them — can pay huge dividends in maintaining and growing your online readership.

COMING IN PART II: Building an e-mail distribution list.

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