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Back to the Basics: How to Write a Newsletter That Gets Read

An engaging, well put-together newsletter is a vital part of any organization’s communications strategy. Newsletters help sustain interest among your stakeholders even when you don’t have a major event or activity coming up. They connect you with current and potential donors by letting them know their contributions are being put to good use. Most importantly, they allow you to shape a narrative of how your organization is perceived by articulating the value you add to your community.

Getting Started

Begin by setting realistic goals in terms of how much and often you can publish, and what kind of content you plan on including. Recruit some volunteers from your staff to contribute writing or photography. Develop themes and ideas, and begin thinking about layout early so you can give your contributors accurate length requirements.

If your organization doesn’t have a dedicated communications officer experienced in shepherding a newsletter to publication, it can be easy to overlook technical mistakes that will turn off readers. Here are some things to remember when you are editing written content:

  • Remember the first rule of journalism: A headline for every article, a caption for every photo
  • Articles should follow an ‘inverted pyramid’ structure: begin with the most important parts of your story – the who, what, where, why, when and how – followed by the details which flesh out this summary, and conclude with broader context or background information
  • Be visually appealing: if your newsletter is going to be distributed electronically, there’s no reason not to include lots of bright, colour photographs
  • Write simply and accessibly; include a glossary for any technical terms if they aren’t defined in the article
  • Use inclusive language: be mindful of using gendered terms or any words that exclude groups of people

Beyond the Basics

Your newsletter should reflect your organization’s overall communications strategy: who are your stakeholders? How are you funded? Who do you help? What, in a larger sense, is the message you are trying to promote? Your organization’s “brand” should extend to your newsletter: have a distinct and credible voice, and remember that the purpose of all communication is to give your audience the tools to further promote your work.

That being said, what are the best ways to develop content for your newsletter? Once you’ve established who your audience is, begin by brainstorming ways to engage them. Think broadly about the work your organization does, and what kind of “lifestyle” content is relevant. If your group works on food or public health issues, think of including healthy recipes or exercise tips. Environmental organizations can include practical advice to help consumers and homeowners go green: pick a random item that most people use regularly – say, dish soap – and investigate ways in which they can be making more environment-friendly choices. Content like this is very easy to produce, and highlights the broader importance of the work you do. Building these links, between the people you serve and the general public, is important to donors looking for ‘take-away,’ and creates networking opportunities that can help your organization grow.

Your newsletter is a chance to show your organization’s personality. Tell stories about the people whose lives are affected by your work. Try to encourage a dialog by printing and responding to letters to the editor. If you are in the process of planning a major event or fundraiser, show some of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into preparing for it.

This also generates excitement for the event. Consider asking a staff member who does program work to write an advice column: they’re fun (people love reading about other people’s frustrations), they’re interactive, and they allow you to demonstrate your organization’s expertise in its field. If your organization works with underprivileged or marginalized populations, try to encourage your audience to think about the commonalities between them and the people you serve.

Ultimately, the shape your newsletter will take depends on a number of things, not the least of which are the nature of your organization and the scope of your ambition. As an important part of your overall communications strategy, a well-written newsletter is your way of bringing the work you do to the communities you affect.

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