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Does your nonprofit have a newsletter? Or are you thinking about starting one for the New Year? An effective email newsletter can help you promote events, fundraising campaigns, and your content.
TechSoup sends out a few newsletters, including two written by me (By the Cup and TechSoup for Libraries). We're constantly figuring out new ways to package our newsletter content. I often look at other newsletters — both nonprofit and not — for inspiration. Here are a few of my favorite newsletters to help inspire you and get you started on your own! There are also a few out there that serve as examples of what not to do in an email newsletter, but I won't name any names.
Cultural Vistas is a nonprofit cultural exchange organization that gives young professionals and students the opportunity to work in another country and develop their skills. I really like how this issue of their newsletter is focused on the Cultural Vistas participants.
Telling the stories of the people who benefit from your organization can be a really effective way to share your impact. The secret to telling these stories, at least for newsletters, is to keep them brief and show images of the real people impacted by your organization.
Cultural Vistas follows this formula:
Each description is about one to two sentences long and is accompanied by an image of the person onsite at her or his program. Cultural Vistas also effectively uses the limited space of the newsletter by doubling up the stories and images in a grid format.
I also really like the "What We're Reading" section. This is a great way to show your organization's personality and a fun way to engage your staff in the newsletter. It's also a tactic to share important resources or things that are simply fun with your subscribers.
Benefit Cosmetics has distinctive packaging, campy names for its products, and some of the best copy out there. It should be no surprise that the company's newsletter matches the fun brand. What I really like about this particular newsletter is that it leads with a simple "how-to." A reader can quickly skim this email and come away with learning something new (for example, making your eyebrows look good).
For nonprofits, I could imagine adapting this model to a fundraising cause. For instance, you could do a fun visual for "3 Ways to Support Example Charity" and outline different ways people can donate or volunteer. You can also convey practical how-to information or tips pertaining to your nonprofit via your newsletter (3 Ways to Save Water, How to Start Your Own Social Good Meetup, 5 Ways to Support Early Literacy, and so forth).
Your volunteers and interns are important to you, so why not feature them in your newsletter? I like this example of intern appreciation from Rocket Dog Rescue, a Bay Area animal welfare organization.
It shows what the interns get to do (hold puppies!), what kind of people intern (high school students), and gives appreciation for their work. This is also an excellent strategy for volunteer or intern retention.
"Killing baby monkeys."
"There aren't enough tiny sweaters for hamsters."
"I can barely read through the tears."
"He will die today without your help."
Three out of four of these are real subject lines from a newsletter that shall remain anonymous. Can you guess the fake? It might seem obvious at first … until you realize that these are all ridiculous subject lines. I can understand the desire for shock value in your subject lines because it makes people want to click and open your newsletter. But do you really want to make people feel awful before even reading what's inside?
And if you dare open the email, the sad story continues with a plea at the end to donate or sign a petition. I think it would be much more effective to put the action item at the top and then have the story follow it. Perhaps this strategy works for this organization because they send out a high volume of these newsletters, but they are also quite well-known and funded and can take that sort of risk.
Here are a few key points to remember as you embark on your newsletter adventure:
Which newsletters do you subscribe to? Which nonprofit newsletters are you inspired by? Let us know in the comments.
Images 1 and 2: Cultural Vistas
Image 3: Rocket Dog Rescue
Ginny Mies is a Content Curator at TechSoup Global.