Here is some fundamental information about the uses and challenges of producing a newsletter from your organization, either in print or online or both.
What is a newsletter?
- It is a printed report of information and ideas, in paper form or online or both.
- It is distributed regularly to a group of interested people.
- It is typically two to eight pages long in printed form. Online versions can be much longer.
- It can vary considerably in cost, form, frequency and content.
Why have a newsletter?
- To update and educate people: announcements, meeting summaries, issue discussions.
- To build cohesion among a like-minded group, attract new members and motivate others.
- To increase interest in and recognition for the group.
- To provide a regular, reliable information source and platform for discussion of an issue.
- To get feedback for exchanging ideas, information and plans.
- Outline your goals:
- Who is the audience?
- What do you want from them (the purpose of the newsletter)?
- How will you measure your success?
- Make a plan related to your budget:
- How often will you publish?
- How many copies? Will you print yourself, fax, photocopy, use an outside printer?
- Will you need a designer? Outside writer/editor/contributor(s)/photographer?
- How will you distribute the copies? Mail, email (PDF? In message body?), blog, fax?
- Where will you get the audience/target mailing list?
- Start small. A newsletter can be only a cheap 1-2 page photocopy or fax and still contain lots of useful information.
- Consult broadly to plan the contents. Choices include regular features or one-time items: seasonal health tips, local event notices and reports, services lists for elders/families, legislative updates, issue discussions, essays, cartoons, editorials, opinion pieces, interviews, letters to the editor, profiles of your issue activists, a calendar etc.)
- Involve the community. Their “ownership” builds interest and engagement with the issue.
- Ask community leaders and neighbors alike what they would like to see in a newsletter.
- Ask community leaders to write for the newsletter, submit photos or action tips. You can offer to draft something for their signature if they say they are too busy.
- Create an editorial section, a youth/elder column, an advice column.
- Engage young people! They will be computer-savvy and eager to help you put out a blog, keep the website updated, or use social media.
- Ask readers for feedback and provide an email and regular address for it.
- Work backwards from the pub date to set deadlines for articles, photos, etc.
- Assign and create more items than you think you need. Some won’t pan out. Something big may happen that you need to include right away.
- Borrow shamelessly. Reprint good news items on your issue or coverage of your groups’ events, their news releases, etc. Give CREDIT!
- Include a subscription and/or contribution form in every edition.
- Enforce deadlines. Don’t let your contributors get into the habit of being late.
Make the Layout User Friendly
- People are busy and won’t read something dense or dull.
- Use principles of good layout: white space, illustrations, bullet points, lists, subheads.
- Have at least one graphic, drawing or photo per page.
- Keep the newsletter title short and catchy; use your group logo at the top but spell out the full name. Consider getting professional design input for the logo.
- Your readers might include people with reading challenges or poor eyesight, so keep your text at a good size and use only two or three simple clear fonts, one per page.
- Headlines should summarize the article in one or two lines max. No periods.
Edit, Edit, Edit!
- Use principles of good writing and journalism: the lead goes first. Put a face on the issue.
- Boil down each thought to its essence. Use short paragraphs, sentences, words.
- Avoid jargon. Spell out abbreviations on first use, even if you think your audience knows what you’re talking about. You’re after new readers, remember.
- Make sure all photos include full names and titles of anyone pictured. CAPTIONS are critical and can tell the whole story.
- Get outside help if necessary to ensure thorough editing and proofreading (checking spelling, grammar, punctuation and consistent structure) for all your items.
- Update the website version regularly.
- Choose medium-quality paper in a neutral color and standard size.
- Consider advertising (and the difficulty of securing and pricing ads).
Check whether postage rates might be lower for officially non-profit groups.
- Consider bulk mail and bar code use.
- Limit the paper edition size and print run, offering most content online.