How to Build a Great Nonprofit Newsletter

Newsletters are some of the most challenging messaging tools nonprofits have; they have a large, usually unspecific audience, and every department wants to inundate them with information. Programs wants to promote enrollment, fundraising wants to include asks, the management team wants to thank the Board and partners, staff want to talk about volunteers, and so it goes…

Often newsletters are too text-heavy and overwhelm, or they are too image heavy and take so long to load many readers delete before completion.

Get’em Hooked.

I can’t tell you how many times I see a nonprofit newsletter with a subject line “CharityX March Newsletter.” So boring. Spice it up! Coming up with a clever name for your newsletter can help get attention. Take a look at how retail stores market; their subject lines are always enticing. We have amazing Metrics and we should put them right into the subject line where everyone can see them. According to the Salesforce blog, 64% of people open an email because of the subject line.

Always think On the Go.

Nearly 500 million people use mobile email, and that dramatically increases the likelihood that your newsletter will be viewed on a phone or tablet. Many mass messaging platforms (like mailchimp or constant contact) automatically optimize their newsletters for mobile, but you can take some easy steps to make sure that your message will be seen regardless of the device its read on.

  • Use large fonts, and avoid massive paragraphs of information
  • Always make your communication portrait orientation
  •  Avoid more than 2 columns. Sometimes columns can condense or reformat incorrectly, skewing your test and making it impossible to quickly discern information.
  • Don’t get too fancy. Make sure that you’re using standard fonts that are web ready and will easily translate (ex: Ariel, Calibri, Times New Roman, etc.)
  •  Send test messages to yourself and preview your newsletter before sending. Repeat the testing if you make significant changes.

Consistency is Your Friend.

Don’t make it harder on yourself than needbe; once you find a reliable, attractive newsletter template, stick with it. Use it for at least a year. Have special areas if you think it will build consistency, like Calendar Updates with upcoming events, or Volunteer Corner with volunteer needs in the bottom of left. This will help to segment your audience so they can quickly get the information most pertinent to them and move on, versus skimming the entire newsletter and potentially missing valuable details.

Follow the Law.

Ever heard of the CAN-SPAM Act? If not, you should. The federal government passed restrictions on commercial messaging, which includes nonprofit newsletters. You need to include:

  • Your physical address.
  • Opt out or unsubscribe information.
  •  A clear sender identification.

Get Social.

By the time people read to the bottom of your newsletter, they need a call to action. Urge them to follow you on social media, visit your website, check out a video, etc. There are tons of free social media graphics for you to use across the internet. According to Get Response, emails that include social sharing have 158% higher click through rates.

Timing is Important.

Great Nonprofit Newsletter Graphic.png

Mailchimp recently did a great analysis of client email marketing. More emails are sent on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, which makes Friday and Monday prime timeslots. Subscribers are also more likely to open an email after 12pm, with the most active hours between 2pm and 5pm. Fewer emails are sent over the weekend, but that also means that if you are sending to work accounts, it will be stacked up with the other weekend mail.


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