The Basics of Newsletters

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.

Initial Steps:

  1. Outline your goals:
    • Who is the audience?
    • What do you want from them (the purpose of the newsletter)?
    • How will you measure your success?
  2. 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?
  3. Start small. A newsletter can be only a cheap 1-2 page photocopy or fax and still contain lots of useful information.
  4. 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.)
  5. 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.
  6. Work backwards from the pub date to set deadlines for articles, photos, etc.
  7. 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.
  8. Borrow shamelessly. Reprint good news items on your issue or coverage of your groups’ events, their news releases, etc. Give CREDIT!
  9. Include a subscription and/or contribution form in every edition.
  10. 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.

Cut Costs

  • 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.