When donors (and other constituents) aren’t hearing much about what’s happening in an organization, they tend to perceive that things aren’t going well. Communications are extremely important. Yet communicating well is a huge challenge for most organizations – and especially for smaller ones with overworked staff and many competing priorities. Finding the time, resources, and expertise to communicate this work to their internal and external audiences is difficult.
Although some of the function of newsletters has been replaced by the immediate connection made possible by social media, they are still very important. A newsletter is the best way to tell longer stories; to demonstrate the impact of your work; and to describe your vision for the future. They are also a good venue for recognizing donors (memorial/honour of tribute gifts, giving clubs, legacy societies), distributing short annual reports (financial statements, board member listing, highlights of the year), showing the work through photos, and honouring staff and other constituents. We often hear donors say they don’t like it when the only time they hear from a charity is when it’s asking for money; a newsletter can be a great way to address this concern.
A newsletter’s effectiveness is closely related with its suitability to your organization’s programming, budget, and donor preferences. Spending some time determining the best practices for your newsletter is well worthwhile. Considerations might include,
- Timing/frequency – Do we have exciting things happening all the time that could be reported, or do stories of interest tend to happen just a few times annually? Have we the staff/volunteer resources to put out some form of monthly publication? a quarterly one? an annual one?
- Should the newsletter be distributed in print, electronically, or in both formats? (Print is more expensive but can also be placed in a narthex or foyer, where people not on the mailing list might read it and become engaged. People with poor vision may prefer an electronic format, in which print size can be increased, or technology can read the content aloud. Those who move frequently, such as students, may be easier to follow electronically.)
- If our patrons are young or otherwise sensitive, have we secured permission to distribute photographs of them in print and online?
- How can we make our newsletter stand out so that people will actually read it?
The most important consideration is perhaps to ensure you have enough interesting things to report. There’s no point in putting time and effort into producing a boring newsletter that won’t excite donors or encourage volunteers or participants to become involved in your program.