Determining the purpose of your non-profit e-newsletter

Many non-profits have e-newsletters, but they’re often thought of as something that just “must” be done. Maybe you inherited the e-newsletter from a predecessor or your marketing team has decided to “keep in touch” with donors and supporters. But there are many purposes a non-profit e-newsletter can have and it’s important to identify the primary and secondary purposes so you can evaluate the success of your e-newsletter program.

So let’s take a look at three possible purposes for an e-newsletter and ways to improve given those purposes.

E-Newsletter Purpose #1: Donate/Give

If you’re a non-profit primarily funded by donors, this metric should be your #1 purpose. The exceptions, which I would say are rare, are non-profits funded more by grants or contracts and they may have Learn/Read or Click/Take Action as more of a primary goal.

But for most organizations, a financial action should be the primary goal of your non-profit e-newsletter and there are several ways to make that happen. Here are some examples (or mandates):

  • Non-Profit E-Newsletter PurposeAlways include at least one super obvious Give/Donate option. You can even use to create quick and easy buttons to import into your e-mail system.
  • Consider including a link to your Giving page in the footer of your e-mail, just as you would an Unsubscribe or Contact link.
  • Find ways to link text to your Giving page. For example, describe a program or accomplishment and then ask subscribers to add their support.
  • Thank your donors, including individuals in general, individuals specifically (donor highlights), corporations, event sponsors, etc. Be sure to send a copy of the e-news to anyone mentioned by name (or company).
  • Articulate how donations make things happen. Be explicit about what a dollar provides or what the outcomes are.
    • For this example, I like to go big and small: highlight large impacts and specifics. (“Your support has helped us serve 220,000 children!” and “A gift of $10 provides 3 books to a local library!”)
  • Check each segment of your e-news for a call to action, whether that’s a donation, a social share, an event registration, or a volunteer link. Every box/widget/section should have an actionable item (see Click/Take Action) and the actions should skew toward donations.

E-Newsletter Purpose #2: Click/Take Action

Many non-profits need more than just financial support. They could use legislative support, donations of goods or services, participation in their events, volunteers, or many other actions.

So here are some examples to ensure and increase actions taken through your non-profit e-newsletter:

  • Be explicit about what you’re asking subscribers to do. Write short, blunt sentences after you’ve made your case through text, photos, or videos.
  • Non-Profit E-Newsletter Call to ActionMake your Ask through buttons. Use, mentioned above, to create a bevy of calls to action such as “Register Now,” “Get Involved,” “Sign Up Today,” “Call Now,” etc.
  • Check each segment of your e-news for a call to action. Every box/widget/section should have an actionable item. Even if you’re only thanking a donor, include some text and a link about how others could give or get involved similarly.
  • Link all relevant Asks to a website or an e-mail address, including images. If you’re asking a subscriber to register for an event, hyperlink the words “Register Now” to the registration page. (And be sure to use campaign tracking code to follow-up in Google Analytics.)
  • If there’s a big Call to Action, clearly state it in the subject line. A question or a sense of urgency can increase your open rate.

E-Newsletter Purpose #3: Learn/Read

I know of a few non-profits putting out copious amounts of excellent content. In their e-newsletters, I’m not overloaded with donation requests or calls to action, but there are still links and opportunities for both in the e-news and on their website. Their purpose is to provide such interesting and valuable information that, once they do ask, you won’t hesitate to give or get involved.

I’ve also seen non-profits approach this purpose very differently. One, for example, has a sleek and simple e-news design, with professional photos, strong headlines, and short text that really just teases you with enough info. If the content is relevant to you, you can click on the “Read more…” link back to their blog. Another has a more academic style and they provide much of the information right there in the e-newsletter. There are essentially entire articles about legislation within the e-news and not too many opportunities to click on anything.

If your goal is to inform your audience, consider these steps to make your non-profit e-newsletter a success:

  • Write really good content. Consider hiring full-time or freelance writers and copyeditors.
  • Generate an e-newsletter editorial calendar so you’re never short on content.
  • Place a table of contents at the top of the e-newsletter and link the titles to their sections of the e-news. In general, subscribers won’t scroll more than 3-4 times down a screen (on a desktop), so make your content easy to find.
  • Experiment with the subject line of the message. You may want to announce your lead/first article in the subject line, but you may also want to use the subject line to highlight a more unique piece a few scrolls down. After all, the first article, if subscribers open the e-mail, will be visible automatically.
  • Consider whether you want subscribers to get all of the content right there in the e-mail or click-thru to your blog or website where that content is, presumably, already published.
  • Consider re-using content if you don’t feel it was read or clicked on in a previous e-mail, especially if the content is still very important or timely. You may want to consider changing the headline and image associated with the content, though.

An e-newsletter is a fairly time-consuming project for any non-profit. It requires a point person on staff, time for gathering and writing content, an e-mail system such as iContact, Emma, Constant Contact, or MailChimp, and more than a few pairs of eyes for editing. But the returns can be significant.

At one non-profit, my e-newsletter program raised more money than the e-appeals our direct mail firm sent out. That’s nothing to quibble about. But even if you don’t judge your e-newsletter by donations alone, an e-newsletter can be a significant channel of communication with your supporters since e-mail is more ubiquitous (still) than social media channels, more reliable than Facebook, less intrusive and time-consuming than a phone call, and incredibly efficient.

Just be sure to have a goal for your e-newsletter program, and build it up around those goals.

If you’d like assistance with your e-newsletter program, I would love to help. My marketing services can take many forms, including a quick look to troubleshoot problems or ongoing management. Please feel free to contact me, with questions or projects!