By Sarah Squire
A great newsletter will inspire and inform your support. It will bring them closer to you. And it will make them more likely to support you again. This means that the time you invest in getting it right will be time well spent.
What makes a successful charity newsletter?
There are four main elements to a great newsletter: creative, content, copy and data.
- Creative: Appearances matter and the way your newsletter looks is crucial. The good news is you don’t need to be a designer to create a great looking newsletter. These are the main things you need to consider when developing your creative:
- Get the balance right: Strike the right balance between looking too glossy or too homespun. In my experience the truth often lies somewhere in the middle. You need to create a newsletter that feels professional, without looking as though it has cost you the earth.
- Add a table of contents: Make it as easy as possible for readers to find what they are looking for. A simple table of contents will make your newsletter easier to navigate.
- Use full-face photos: Images matter. They help draw in the reader, helping them feel part of your charity’s story. A large, full-face photo of a person smiling will do exactly this.
- Don’t forget the skimmers. Always keep in mind those readers who will skim the document. As a prolific skimmer myself, the heading, subheadings, pictures and quotes are super important. Make sure that they summarise your key message for those who won’t read the body text.
- Content: What to include – and what to not include – in a newsletter can cause friction. The rule of thumb here is to think about your audience and what their needs are. Do they want to hear about your latest strategic plan? Are they interested in your new fundraising database or accounting package? Or do they want to see the difference their support is making?
Stories are important content in any newsletter. Every fundraiser needs to hone their storytelling skills. Whether you call them ‘beneficiaries’, ‘recipients’ or ‘service users’, your newsletter needs to include stories from the people your charity helps. When writing stories, remember to:
- Tell person in advance why you need the story. Let them know that their story will show the difference they make and will inspire people to support you.
- Keep your story short. I usually aim for around 400 words. This ensures any superfluous information doesn’t appear in the story.
- Get permission before you publish.
3. Copy: Trained copywriters spend years learning their craft. Great copy is often the result of several painstaking iterations and input from different people. But for lay people like you and I, there are some simple techniques to help you write well:
- Keep sentences short and simple because people have short attention spans. Make it easy for them to read.
- Use a virtual editor such as Hemingway which will show you how readable and accessible your copy is. Never let your copy leave your laptop without running it against a virtual editing tool
- Break the rules: Don’t be afraid to break a few grammatic rules. Your English teacher is unlikely to be reading your newsletter. Allow yourself to start a sentence with ‘and’ for example.
- Use a framework: Writing great copy isn’t just about creative writing skills. Many of the best copywriters use a framework to help shape their prose. l find AIDA useful but there are a whole range of other frameworks out there if that one’s not for you.
- Make your email subject line stand out: For e-newsletters, the subject line is needs to be interesting, funny, personal or emotive. Avoid boring subject lines at all costs. The average person gets over 200 emails a day, so if you want the reader to open your email, your subject line will need to stand out. Try Barack Obama’s best email subject lines to get you started.
4. Data: There’s no point having great creative, content and copy if your data is in bad shape. Your newsletter may be brilliant but if the recipient has consented to receiving it (or worse still, has passed away) you will get nowhere. Spend time ‘cleaning’ your mailing list, making sure it is accurate and ensuring that you are fully compliant with data protection legislation.
In many small charities, writing the newsletter can cause friction. This is particularly true if the newsletter is something a person has managed for many years.
Agreeing charity newsletter content can also be fraught with difficulties. Fundraisers may clash with the CEO or senior staff, who have the board of trustees, rather than the donor, front of mind.
The most important thing here is to think about the people or communities you serve – and the donors who make your work possible. Steer clear of talking about your operational strategy, your new management team or your new HR policy. Those things belong to the boardroom, not the newsletter.