Even though your newsletter readers may be incredibly generous individuals, it’s helpful to think of them as very self-centered, selfish people when they are reading your email newsletter. Here’s why: if the content isn’t immediately relevant and valuable to them as individual human beings, they’ll delete it in an instant. You go through your inbox the same way, don’t you?
Know What’s in It for Them
We know what’s in it for you – you want your supporters to know all about what you are doing and to support you even more. But what’s in it for them? As you write your newsletter articles, keep asking yourself these questions:
• How will this article make our readers feel?
• How will it make their lives easier or better?
• Does this article show our readers how important they are to us?
• Does it celebrate successes they helped our organization bring about?
Survey your readers at least a couple of times each year to find out what they want to know about, what questions they have, and what kind of information
they want to receive from you. Keep your surveys very focused and short (just a few questions) and offer an incentive, if you can, for completing them. Many ESPs have surveying tools built into their packages, so check with your provider.
Call supporters on the phone and ask them what they remember from your last newsletter and what they’d like to see in your next one. You can also identify trends in your readers’ interests by tracking which links they are clicking on in your newsletters and on your website. Remember, what you find interesting and what your readers find interesting may not be the same thing. Always put yourself in your readers’ shoes.
Also keep in mind that your staff and board members are not your primary audience. They are hyper-connected to your cause and your organization and would be motivated to read anything you produced. They are also more likely to be interested in administrative details and background information that your typical newsletter reader would find boring.
Always End with the Next Step
Every newsletter, and every newsletter article, should end with some kind of call to action. What do you want your reader to do next, now that they’ve read your newsletter? Surely not just delete it and move on with their day?
Once your supporters read your newsletter, offer a next step. Do you want them donate, volunteer, register, tell a friend, learn more, talk with others about it, write an email, make a call or what? Include specific calls to action and links that make following through as simple as possible. Make it, as Network for Good’s own Katya Andresen says, a “filmable moment.” Could you film your supporters following through on your call to action? If it is clear and simple enough, your supporters should be able to easily visualize themselves and others doing it.
Even if you really just want to educate people or share information, what are people supposed to do with this knowledge? Can you take them to the next step, whatever that may be? Of course, that will often be donating to your organization or volunteering for your cause in some way. Try to think more creatively about other ways your newsletter readers can interact not only with your staff, but with other supporters and allies in your field too.
Remember, people like two-way conversation and interactivity. A recent study released by Nielsen says that people now spend more time on social networking sites and blogging than they do on email. All those “FYI” emails nonprofits send are snoozers in comparison. Jazz up the great info you want to share with links to photos and video where people can leave comments and discuss your content.
Include Articles That People Like to Read
Here are five types of e-newsletter content that can work for both you and your readers.
1. Success Stories. Report back to your donors and other supporters on what you are doing with their money and time by sharing some success stories. Even better, give your readers credit for that success and make sure they understand just how important they are to even more success in the future. You don’t want to brag, but you do want to demonstrate that what you do really does matter.
2. Back Stage Passes. Take your readers behind the scenes. Tell stories and report back on what you are doing from the insider’s perspective (but not too deep inside – we want the intrigue, without the tedium.) Or explain how you goofed something up, what you learned, and what you are doing differently now. It’s all about being more transparent. OK, yeah, “transparency” is a big buzzword right now, but the concept is rock solid.
3. Next Up – and Fast. Remind your supporters what’s happening in the next few days. Sure, you can use email for “Save the Date” announcements, but if you are spending too much time and text talking about events that are still far off in the distance, you won’t get much attention. You need to create a sense of urgency. If you have a big event coming up in three months, create lots of other intermediate dates of importance or milestones – super saver deadlines, 100th person to register – to create some timeliness.
4. Empowering How-Tos. Your supporters can help you implement your mission by donating to you and volunteering. But there are probably things they can do in their own personal and professional lives that would also contribute to your definition of a better world. Give them some suggestions and show them the impact that their actions, on their own time, can have.
5. Straight Action Alerts. All of the previous four types of articles can be used to lead supporters to a call to donate, volunteer or support you in other ways. But you can also do a much more direct action alert. Email is great for asking people to take action on an issue, whether it’s completing an online petition, emailing a member of Congress, or donating to a specific fundraising campaign – if you include explicit and easy instructions on how to take that action. Be sure to relate how their individual actions support your organizational actions and vice-versa. Show them the benefits of your team effort.
taken with permission from, The Nonprofit Email Marketing Guide: 7 Steps to Better Email Fundraising & Communications.Written by Kivi Leroux Miller of NonprofitMarketingGuide.com.