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3 Pitfalls of Nonprofit Newsletters and How to Avoid Them


By Allison Gauss

Woman Writing Nonprofit Newsletter

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Published August 20, 2015 Reading Time: 4 minutes

The monthly, bimonthly, or weekly newsletter is a mainstay of nonprofit communications. For decades, social impact organizations have been using it to update supporters about their latest events and achievements. But the nonprofit newsletter has evolved over time. While newsletters used to be delivered to your mailbox, they are now sent to your inbox.

While this cuts the cost of printing and postage, your contacts can now trash the document you worked so hard on with a push of a button. If your nonprofit newsletter doesn’t grab readers’ attention and keep them engaged, your updates can become just another piece of junk mail.

Here are three of the most common nonprofit newsletter problems and how to solve them at your organization.

Problem # 1 – Too Boring

Your supporters will only read your newsletter if they find it interesting and entertaining. Your fight for their favor begins with the subject line. If your subject line doesn’t motivate them to click on the message, none of the rest matters. While many organizations will simply use a static subject line, such as “OCLS Newsletter – January,” this wastes a chance to intrigue and attract readers. Email subscribers can already see who the email is from, so repeating it in your subject line is unnecessary.

Every nonprofit newsletter should have a unique subject line that references its content. To write a great subject line, take a look at your finished newsletter and find the most interesting story, or a fun or unexpected fact.

Some more subject line tips:

  • Keep it short – Most email providers only display 50 characters or less in the subject line
  • Create a knowledge gap – Pose a question or say something that surprises readers and makes them wonder, “What do they mean by that?”
  • Cut “help” and “reminder”MailChimp warns that these words (along with “percent off”) can trigger spam filters or cause subscribers to simply ignore your email.

After sprucing up your subject lines, you can look at how to make the content of your newsletter interesting, engaging, and fun. The trick is to balance what donors want to hear with the information you want them to know. What will delight and intrigue your supporters, and what actions do you want them to take?

A few things that will delight donors:

You can then weave information about upcoming events and campaigns in with these crowd-pleasers. For example, an education charity might share an adorable picture of a five-year-old starting school with a new backpack provided by the organization. Below, they could add “Want to send more kids to school with the supplies they need? Donate notebooks, pencils, and crayons at these collection sites…”

Problem #2 – Too Long

If you’re still reading this blog, you’re doing great because some people have probably stopped. Many online readers only bother to scroll through half of an article. It’s not a far leap to think that numerous people abandon a nonprofit newsletter without reading it all. This is why you should approach writing your newsletter not as a novel or essay, but as a collection of images, blurbs, calls to action, and practical information.

Make your newsletter scannable with bold headlines and bullet points where applicable. When you want to include a story or event, start by thinking about what is the most important information you need to convey. If you have a 5K run/walk event coming up, there are lots of details you can include, but that doesn’t mean you should. You might have tons of facts about past race winners and the importance of cardiovascular exercise, but these details aren’t necessary to deliver your message.

Readers need to know…

  • You’re hosting a 5K run/walk
  • The date, time, and location
  • How to register and start fundraising

One of the best parts of transitioning to email newsletters is that you can link out to other content. For your 5K run/walk, you can present a “Learn More” button that takes them to the event’s webpage or registration form. Use links to give readers access to the stories and events that interest them. This allows you to cut down on unnecessary text in your newsletter.

Problem #3 – Too Unattractive

Because nonprofits have been producing newsletters for many years, they often fall back on old designs and formats. Revamping your nonprofit newsletter to make it more pleasing to the eye, however, is definitely worth your time.

Review these elements and see if your newsletter needs an update:

  • Layout – Is only one story visible at the top? Is it a wall of text?
  • Branding – Make sure to include your logo and brand colors to give your newsletter an official appearance.
  • Font – Is the font type distracting or hard to read? MailChimp suggests a minimum font size of 16 pixels and basic fonts such as Arial, Tahoma, and Verdana.

The quality and placement of images are also important to the overall look of your nonprofit newsletter. In the same way it should have new updates and stories, it should also have new pictures. You can feature a donor, fundraiser, or volunteer, or add some action photos from the field. Breaking your newsletter up with images also makes it more scannable and easy to read.

Finally, your nonprofit newsletter needs to be mobile-responsive. With over half of emails being opened on a mobile device, having design that adapts to the reader’s screen size is simply a must.

Like the social impact sector as a whole, the nonprofit newsletter must continue a long tradition while still evolving and adapting to meet the needs and tastes of a new generation. Impact updates and stories are important tools to connect with donors, and a well-written, beautifully designed newsletter can prove the difference you’re making and incite readers to get more involved.

Write Emails that Activate Supporters

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