Nonprofit groups often jump into the time- and resource-consuming task of putting out a newsletter, just to have one to share with colleagues, funders, and friends. Or worse, groups continue to publish one because the group has always had a newsletter. Keep in mind that in today’s world, people have less personal time and are busier than ever. The average person receives dozens of messages each day and innumerable publications at home and at the office. In many places, newsletters just stack up or end up in the trash without being read by your target audience.

Before producing another newsletter, consider alternatives such as a “blast” fax or mass e-mail sent to many recipients simultaneously. When the W. K. Kellogg Foundation launched Families for Kids, an initiative to promote adoption and foster care, they developed for grantees and others a monthly two- to three-page fax called Successes and Challenges instead of a newsletter. It had a distinctive masthead design and was simple to produce regularly. Each page cost 4 cents, for a total of 8 cents or 12 cents per fax, whereas for a traditional newsletter, the postage alone would have cost 32 cents per recipient, above and beyond the paper, printing, and envelope costs. The information in the fax was also used to update the foundation’s Web site.

If you are thinking about launching”or deciding to maintain”a newsletter, ask yourself and others, whom do we want to reach with what information? What will motivate people to take the time to read it? How will it compare with the competition in the quality of writing and production? Is there a better way to communicate with our target audiences? How much upkeep and waste can we anticipate from the start? Who will update the distribution lists? Then total up your direct and indirect costs.

A mailed newsletter or mass e-mail should never be seen as a final objective but rather as another way of packaging and disseminating information. Other outlets for a standard newsletter might include a regular column or blog on your Web site, individual e-mails, and even personal letters for those of the 40+ generations.

Ways to Spread the Word

This idea of having multiple outlets brings us back to the fuller discussion in Chapter Five about developing messages and making sure they are repeated over and over in a number of formats. As before, start with your basic message and reformat it in a number of ways:

  • A few words for billboards, print ads, posters, flyers, and booth or Web site banners
  • Copy for public service announcements (thirty seconds or a hundred words), flyers, letters to the editor, and background information for very busy people”CEOs and top decision makers, governors and elected officials, editors and publishers
  • Several pages of copy”including press releases, executive summaries of reports and articles, brochures, op-eds, newsletters, Web sites, and direct mail”for potential donors, new members, people with limited time, or people who might help your organization by writing a story, sending a check, or volunteering time
  • Documents of 30 pages or more”including books, manuals, Web sites, scripts for videos, and annual reports”for people with lots of time or people who have already indicated that they want your information