It might be time to kill your newsletter
Ah – the nonprofit newsletter. That communications tactic that’s so ubiquitous that you probably can’t imagine life without it. Like sliced bread. Or kale in Brooklyn. From the days of twenty page printed quarterlies (mailed the old fashioned way), to 2017 when our subscribers spend a few seconds thumbing through our content on their mobile devices, if we’re lucky. The nonprofit newsletter is destined to stand the test of time. Right?
I’m here today to make a potentially controversial statement: It’s time to say goodbye to the newsletter as we know it.
Chances are your investment in it is simply just not worth the time and energy as it used to be.
As you are well aware, developing a newsletter takes a lot: content sourcing, writing, designing, formatting, testing. It can take hours, days, weeks to assemble—with touches, input, and approval from countless people throughout the organization—inside and outside the communications team.
Why do so many nonprofits take on the burden of producing the equivalent of a magazine a month that gets an average 1.5 percent click through rate and 14 percent open rate? Those figures are down from 2015, according to M+R’s 11th Benchmarks Study of nonprofit digital advocacy, fundraising, social, and advertising. If your organization is in this predicament, it’s time for a new approach. This doesn’t mean you should scrap the operation entirely (though it could)—but I bet there are some adjustments that you could make to get a better return. So, hold your horses, I’m not saying that the goal of your nonprofit newsletter isn’t important, I’m just saying that there are probably better [i.e. more efficient, leaner, and high-value] ways to achieve that goal.
Before you pull the plug (or press pause on that enews that’s about to blast in an hour) here are some questions to help you think this through.
What’s your enewsletter costing you?
How much total time is your entire team spending on your enews? Don’t know? Add it up. Track it honestly (There are lots of free time-tracking tools you can use if Excel is not your friend). Once you have a rough figure, take a hard look at it and ask yourself “Is it worth it?”
The time has come to approach nonprofit marketing with ruthless rigor. If you’re not already, you should ask yourself with every project—is the time and investment spent here a smart use of my limited resources? If you can look at that time calculation and make the case that it’s worth it, keep on trucking. If not, take steps to be more efficient.
What’s the point?
Every communications piece should be connected to a goal—the more specific the better. And the newsletter is no exception. You probably have several important goals for your newsletter—keeping your donors up-to-date, communicating impact, telling stories, putting a face to volunteers, showcasing exciting new programs, etc. And you 100% should keep in touch with your supporters, especially before fundraising asks. But take a step back and ask yourself, “is this newsletter in its current form the best way to achieve these goals?”
Who do we want to read this piece?
Knowing your audience is key. Ask yourself, who is our primary audience for our newsletter and what are they looking for? If you’re not sure, ask them. A simple survey to newsletter subscribers can go a long way. When it comes to communication, personalization matters. A recent study by Abila about donor loyalty reports that approximately 71 percent of donors feel more engaged with a nonprofit when they receive content that’s personalized to them. Investing all of your efforts on one-size-fits all newsletter may not be the right approach.
What content do we need to deliver?
We live in an age where good content matters. In that same study cited above, nearly 75 percent of donors say they might stop donating to an organization based on poor content, including vague, dull, or irrelevant content, and inconvenient formatting. With that in mind, your communications team should be in the habit of regularly developing content that will resonate with your audiences and assessing what channel is best for that content to be delivered. Maybe that one-size-fits-all monthly enews that takes weeks to assemble could be scrapped in place of shorter, more regular email updates or Facebook posts. Or perhaps you can build up your blog and treat your enews as a simple round-up of what you’ve already developed, segmented by audience type and emailing content to people in more targeted ways.
Think through first what content you really need to deliver, and then put pressure on whether your newsletter is the best format to deliver it. (Need help? Check our Sarah Durham’s content planning and management workshop coming up this summer.)
What does the data say?
If you aren’t already, you should be keeping a close eye on how your enewsletter is performing. Try comparing your open rates and click-through rates to industry averages using M&R’s 2017 e-benchmarks. If your enewsletter is performing at or below average, there’s probably a good case to be made to approach it with fresh eyes.