Sunday, 24 January 2010
7 Steps to Transform your Community Newsletter from junk to jewel
Is it time to dump the traditional newsletter? Is your newsletter your jewel in the crown, or just junk mail, destined for the waste bin? Many voluntary and community groups are becoming addicted to e-communications. It’s quick, cheap and efficient. In a few clicks your message has reached millions! And the pressure is on to Modernise. The new social media scene from Twitter to Facebook offers bewildering, enticing, and self-indulgent opportunities.
I’d like to step back from the fast-track path to new technology and suggest that we ask some questions about what your organization is trying to achieve in and through its newsletter.
Are you trying to reach out to the general public, to raise awareness, or to raise funds?
Is your focus more on volunteers, or on users of your service?
Are you directing your message at existing or new services users?
Is your primary aim to recruit more volunteers or to inform the ones you have already?
Is your message directed at sponsors and funders, or at other stakeholders?
3. The Attention span fix.
As people have more and more pressure on their time the tendency is to read only what you feel is relevant to you. If your newsletter is trying to do everything then most of it won’t get read. If you have several target groups it might be worth dividing your newsletter into themed pages such as ‘Volunteer News’ or ‘New Services.’
4. Be Interactive: Listen and Reflect
Having identified your target groups why not find out how they respond to your newsletter. A survey may be helpful but 90% may not respond. Undertaking some 15- minute interviews with your readers could be time well spent. Newsletters can tie down a lot of effort and energy that could be devoted to other services. So let's try to tailor them better to their target. Mix in traditional forms of enquiry: call your readers on the telephone to find out what they really think. Quality always beats quantity when it comes to winning.
5. Quick Fix Improvements
The most common complaints about newsletters is that they are too long or irrelevant. Do you really need eight sides of A4 every fortnight? What’s the minimum needed to keep members up-to-date? Could you move to a monthly 1-pager with events and a quarterly with more reflective articles? If you really feel that there is no news will you produce a newsletter out of obligation?
6. The Monster Newsletter in your Office
Newsletters sometimes devour resources with little or no return. The poor editor(s) end up feeling tired, stressed and guilty. The idealistic or practical campaigner becomes a frustrated drudge. Going electronic will multiply rather than reduce your problems. More waste bins filling up with unread newsletters, emails and blogs, leaving volunteers irritated if not alienated.
7. It's the Vision Thing
But let’s not despair! Tackling the issues with your newsletter could be fundamental to the existence and future of your organization. The big questions, that need to be discussed from time to time are, What are we trying to achieve?
How do we get there?
What do we need?
These questions are at the centre of any vision and are essential to your business plan, and to success in future funding. They are also questions that your newsletter needs to address.
Turning your newsletter into a treasured, sustainable resource could unlock the inspiration and energy needed to take you forward. Before we dash for digital let’s check the junk mail.
Dr Ian McCormick is a community film maker and a freelance media writer and consultant. He also serves as a Trustee of the Birmingham Ethnic Education Advisory Service.