3 min Read
February 10, 2011

7 tips for an effective e-newsletter

E-newsletters. Many nonprofits have one, and too many of them go unread. Here are a few simple steps you can take to help yours pop to the top of the inbox.

  1. Get clear about your goals.
    Do you want your newsletter to keep your donors interested and informed? Inspire volunteers or activists to get involved? Inform members about programming and resources? Decide what you’re hoping your e-news will achieve, and write and design it with those goals mind. If you have multiple goals, put them in priority order—it helps with decision-making.
  2. Give the people what they want.
    If your e-newsletter isn’t interesting and valuable to the recipient, it’ll never get opened. So how can you create an email so awesome that people look forward to seeing your name in their inboxes? Brainstorm about what you can offer that will be of use or interest to the folks on your list, and if you’re not sure, send out a survey or make a few phone calls and find out.
  3. When it comes to layout, forget everything you ever knew about print newsletters.
    I realize that I’m being a tad dramatic with this one, but I see many nonprofit emails that look suspiciously similar to (and in some cases, exactly the same as) the organization’s print newsletters. Printed materials and emails are both useful communications tools, but they’re very different media, and each deserves its own approach. Email recipients have shorter attention spans, less patience, higher expectations of relevance and timeliness. So choose a format and content that are well-suited to email and to your audience’s needs—simple, short, and easy to skim.
  4. Strive for simplicity.
    Your organization is doing so many wonderful things—how can you choose just a few to tell your subscribers about? It can be tough to be selective, but unless you try, you may end up with a newsletter so full of information that it’s overwhelming and difficult to sift through. The best emails are focused, targeted, and well-organized, so that it’s easy to spot the most important information.
  5. Timing is everything.
    How often you send your e-news and when can make a big difference to your open and click-through rates. The right time to send your e-newsletters varies list to list, but the general rule of thumb is midweek, midday. If you blast your emails at 7:00 p.m. on a Friday, you probably won’t see as many clicks as if you send it at noon on a Wednesday.
    In terms of frequency, most nonprofits find that monthly is just about right: not too much, not too little, and manageable for staff to produce. However, if you find that you’re trying to cram a massive amount of news into your monthly emails (and you’re sure your list really wants to hear about all of it) or your content is particularly time-specific (like notices about regular meetings or programs), weekly or biweekly may be the way to go. If you can’t commit to producing an e-newsletter at least monthly, you may want to hold off for now—it’s hard to build relationships online if your recipients can’t expect to hear from you regularly.
  6. Use your subject lines to inform and intrigue.
    “November 2010 E-news” doesn’t give me much to go on. “How you can help solve the climate crisis,” on the other hand, gives me a much clearer picture of why I should be interested in opening your message.
    That said, some recipients like to know up front that they’re opening your e-newsletter, so a clue might be in order—the American Red Cross, for example, starts their e-news subject lines with “One Minute Update – ” so that recipients know what to expect. Test and see what your list likes.
  7. The name of the game is improvement.
    After every issue, look at the stats. How many clicks? How many opens? How many unsubscribes? Try new things once in a while (e.g. layouts, subject lines, sender names, etc.), and make note of what works best. Maybe you’ll learn that sending your e-news from your Executive Director’s name generates more opens than sending it from a generic account. Perhaps you’ll discover that linking to a full article on your website, with just a blurb in the email itself, is a great driver of traffic. With careful monitoring and thoughtful updates, you can make each email better than the last.

Here are some examples of email newsletters I enjoy opening:

What are your favorite e-newsletters? Any other tips you’d share? Hit up the comments.