Giving Voice to Your Organization
Communicating who you are and what you do is one of the most important skills a nonprofit organization can learn. New Jersey’s environmental nonprofit world is populated with small and large groups like yours doing the important work of protecting, preserving, maintaining and monitoring our natural resources. Often, the viability of these groups depends on communicating their success stories to members, funders, and partners.
An organizational newsletter can be a great communication tool, but be sure to plan yours well.
A bad newsletter may be worse than no newsletter!
Once you have established that an effective newsletter is indeed a benefit to your organization, the next step is to determine what form you want it to take. Should it be in print or electronic form? Should you post it on your website? How often should you publish? Who is your audience? Are you preaching to the choir (your members) or are you trying to bring new people in to your organization and programs with the publication? How much is your budget? How much staff or volunteer time can you dedicate to producing the newsletter?
Many smaller organizations feel the constraints of limited staff time to dedicate to their newsletters and the corresponding squeeze on their budgets. Although publishing a newsletter will cost money, there are ways to minimize costs without compromising on a content-driven, visually appealing and readable newsletter. See the Helpful Hints for some cost saving ideas.
Be sure to also review the format and content of your current newsletter if you have one. Is the writing style consistent? Does your newsletter have a good story mix, including a wide variety of article types and topics? Does the newsletter directly address readers, inspire action, and/or solve reader problems? How about branding and image? The stylized name of your newsletter (nameplate) should be prominently displayed on the first page. A nameplate does not change issue to issue, so seek a design that is eye-catching and memorable. Did you include a masthead as well (a citation of the newsletter’s publisher/editor/organization staff with contact information)?
Consistency is key to a visually attractive and effective newsletter. Page to page, issue to issue, it is important that your newsletter maintain a uniform look. Readers anticipate the same columns and features in each issue, and look for them in the same location. Across the board, experts agree that a simple design is often best. A poorly designed newsletter is hard to read. In Every Nonprofit’s Guide to Publishing, Woodard and Hwang sum up the key elements to an effective newsletter design: “a large, eye-catching title logo or masthead; a clean and organized layout; one good piece of art; and headlines that promise the reader valuable information are often enough.”
Resources You Will Need
The following resources will assist in the production of an effective newsletter, whether in print or electronic form. The time taken to develop these resources will be time well spent.
- An evaluation of what needs to change in your current newsletter. This includes considering the possible benefits of an electronic newsletter for your publication.
- An editorial mission to guide the focus of article content. An editorial mission describes the purpose of the newsletter. For example, if your editorial mission is to keep members informed of efforts to protect and restore water and the natural environment of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed, then every issue and article should have an obvious connection to protecting and restoring the Watershed. If you cannot make the connection briefly and clearly, the article does not belong in the newsletter!
- An editorial calendar to help anticipate and meet publication deadlines. Create a calendar to plan themes, article content, and contributors several issues in advance. The editorial calendar should include in-house editorial deadlines as well as printer deadlines and turn-around times. This will help all involved work together in a timely manner.
- A style sheet and grid/template to ensure a visually consistent product. One of the first steps to facilitate this consistency is to establish a style sheet, which sets the formatting that will remain constant with each issue.
Electronic delivery is an important option to consider. Environmental nonprofits need to know that “the medium is the message.” Consider websites, emails, and electronic newsletters when planning or revamping your communications. Consider polling your readers to find out what format (print vs. electronic) they prefer to read, and what electronic formats they are comfortable using.
When considering the tone and posture of your newsletter, be aware that articles advocating particular legislation or endorsing political campaigns may run counter to your nonprofit status with the IRS. For more information visit the IRS web site: www.irs.gov/charities.
Look to local universities for talented design students to provide you with the design you require at a more affordable rate while they gain the experience they need.
Obtain multiple printing quotes. Send several printers the same information in order to find the best deal. Make sure to include the following information: number of pages, type of paper stock (recycled content, paper weight, color, bulk [thickness] and surface quality [glossy or not]), color printing needs, if any, and what type of binding you need (most commonly newsletters are bound with staples along the center fold).
- Business know-how Helpful article and links addressing issues that arise with spam.
- Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email The FAQ section is especially helpful for addressing spam issues.
- Idealware This website contains a wealth of resource articles on many information technology needs, including online publishing and broadcast email tools.
- Water Words That Work Blog by Eric Eckl, an environmental communication consultant, focused on helping the conservation world find more effective ways of translating “environmental shoptalk” into everyday language.