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by Deane Brengle
Does your nonprofit group need a newsletter?
You bet it does. Meetings and gatherings are great ways for your membership to become informed, to socialize and learn. But how many of your members come to every meeting? I thought so, not very many. Don't feel bad, it's that way with every nonprofit group. The nucleus of the group will tirelessly dedicate themselves to the point of burnout while the fringe members will participate when it is convenient.
Your newsletter can reach every member every time. If properly written it can be a focal point of your cause, the call to action. It is how you keep the spirit alive in the fringe members even when you see them only infrequently. It keeps them informed and up to date of your groups activities, both what has happened and what will happen. It gives you many opportunities to ask for their time and money, not just when they show up to a meeting.
What kinds of nonprofit newsletters are there?
In reality there is only one kind of nonprofit newsletter. It's the physical makeup and delivery system that vary. All nonprofit newsletters should cover several basic content areas, but that is the subject of next month's newsletter article.
Most newsletters are paper based.
My daughter is a high school band member and that makes me an automatic member of the high school band boosters. Their newsletter is an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper copying machine printed on one and sometimes two sides with some very simple and somewhat tired graphics to spruce up the copy. It is produced by the same booster parent once a month, handed out in school by the band director in class and hand delivered by my daughter (when she remembers) to my wife or me. It sometimes comes folded in some very strange shapes, courtesy of my daughters imagination. To their credit it is a newsletter, abiet in its lowest form.
My family is a member of our local botanical gardens, the result of a genuinely thoughtful Christmas gift from my inlaws (no I'm not kidding, I count gardening as one of my favorite hobbies). Their newsletter varies in size according to the season and is mailed to my house four times a year. It is the product of a nonprofit group but it markets itself with the finesse of a thriving for profit company. They don't take up space in the newsletter to solicit for renewal of membership. That is a stand alone mailing. The newsletter is printed on a heavy stock that is lightly textured and has a very light lavender color to it. It is printed on 11 x 17 paper and folded once to a reading size of 8 1/2 x 11 and then folded once again for mailing but is never stapled. It is printed on recycled paper and is earth friendly. The graphics are professionally done and the copy stresses home gardening tips and articles, upcoming events and workshops. Some are free but most are offered at a reduced price or first priority for members. It is a superb example of marketing that generates income while it provides a focal point to bind the membership together.
I am a member of the National Rifle Association. This nonprofit group of over 3 million members actually puts out two separate newsletters. I use the term newsletters very loosely here because they are actually magazines. Each magazine caters to a separate interest group within the larger group. They share some editorial and membership information content, but most articles are specifically targeted (pardon my pun) to either hunters or gun enthusiasts. They are full color productions often with 50 or 60 pages and full page ads that can cost $20,000 or more depending upon the position. Cutting edge printing techniques allow each magazine to have a personalized message on the cover and as a bound in insert if needed. These magazines are used as a powerful tool to move the membership in directions that the NRA deems appropriate. They generate ad revenue to help keep the cost of production down. They are a sales medium for the authorized NRA branded products. Whether you agree with the message or not, this magazine along with my AARP magazine rate as among the most professional and effective nonprofit newsletters I am aware of.
Technology has given us several new physical makeups and delivery systems for newsletters.
The first is a fax newsletter. With the widespread use of fax machines this is becoming a hot new distribution medium, especially with business newsletters. It has some restrictions especially on type size, graphics and color but these are more than offset by the reduced cost of delivering the newsletter. This method may have limited potential for nonprofits.
The second is the email newsletter. Graphics are non existence (although that may change soon) and length can be limited by the receivers email system restrictions. Layout is challenging, columns may not transfer well to the email format. Delivery costs make this a most favorable distributions medium if the majority of your members are online. Sometimes it is administered by internet mailing list software. Most often it is offered as an alternative to a traditional newsletter.
The final high tech method is an internet web newsletter. That's what you are reading right now. We call it a cyberzine (magazine with a "cyber" transplant) but in reality it is a newsletter. It suffers from severe layout restrictions and graphics are possible but browser loading times must be watched carefully. The cost to produce and publish are a tiny fraction of a traditional print publication. The web newsletter is also usually offered as an alternative to a traditional newsletter because most nonprofit memberships are not online.
So what's the lesson.
If your group doesn't have a newsletter it should. From a cub scout den to the AARP - every nonprofit needs a newsletter. It's just a matter of how big.
About the Author:
Deane Brengle writes for several free online publications that cover fundraising for small nonprofit groups. You can visit these publications and read more about fundraising in articles by him and other experts in the field at The Fund$Raiser Cyberzine, The Fundraising for Small Groups Newsletter, and Fundraising Booklets.