Because email is such a personal and direct medium, recipients of email can be particular about issues such as frequency, formatting and style. The following techniques are designed to maximize your effectiveness and success.
Create a regular e-newsletter: Initially, you need only create one edition of your e-newsletter. An e-newsletter lets you communicate proactively to inform your constituents about official announcements, news, events, holidays, festivals, advocacy campaigns, giving opportunities, and more. Your e-newsletter takes the news to them on a regular basis, with hyperlinks back to your site where people can learn more, take action, donate, etc. Your e-newsletter will contain different types of information since you're communicating with the broad range of your membership. The key to a main edition is regular and predictable distribution. If you decide that your e-newsletter is going to be monthly, then say so, and stick to your schedule. If you decide to send it out the 10th of each month, people will expect to see it around that date, so don't disappoint them. Frequency should be dictated by the ability of your staff to write each issue on a regular schedule, as well as the amount of relevant and interesting information you have to relay to your database. The key is to be consistent with your timing; consistency is a great tool for building brand recognition and loyalty.
Use headers and footers: An e-newsletter should be clearly branded with the name of your organization and should indicate that this is an official publication, with the same authority as a print publication. One way to brand an e-newsletter effectively is to use a standard header and footer on each issue. A header might include the name of the newsletter, the name of the organization, the date of publication, and the Web address of your web site. A footer may include other contact information as well as an unsubscribe feature.
Relay interesting content: The content of your e-newsletter should be designed with your audience in mind. Your goal is to interest and engage people. Don't make your e-newsletter too long, or readers will be overwhelmed. It's better to have a short e-newsletter - 4 or 5 items, each a few lines long, with links to additional information on your web site. Consider putting a table of contents at the beginning of each issue to make it easy for people to scan. Write in a direct and upbeat style to keep people engaged. Creating a consistent personal "voice" for the newsletter can be especially effective. You can also configure emails so that they come from an individual - your director, president, or a well-known volunteer. The content itself can be as varied as the work of your organization, including: news on your cause, successes, personal stories, updates on campaigns and events, appeals for volunteers and donations and just about any other relevant topic.
Plain text vs. HTML: There are two kinds of formatting techniques for e-newsletters. One is plain text, which is a colorless and unformatted message, like most emails that you send and receive. Plain text is easy to create and can be read by all recipients, irrespective of what Internet service or software they use to read their email. HTML email looks like a Web page - colorful and formatted, sometimes with images and colors embedded into the message. HTML emails are more difficult to create and not even all people who can receive HTML mail will receive it the way you intend them to. While basic HTML can be effective, many images and complicated HTML style sheets will not be viewed properly, if at all.
Making it easy to unsubscribe: A key to good relations with your constituents is to respect their wishes on receiving email. It's good Netiquette to honor people's requests to be removed from your distribution list. The footer of your e-newsletter should contain easy unsubscribe instructions. If people don't understand these instructions or don't see them, you'll likely receive email and phone requests to be unsubscribed and removed, which you'll then have to do manually before the next mailing. Acknowledge by email that you've removed that person from receiving your e-newsletter.
Create special editions: You can also create special editions based on a particular issue, theme, or event to grab people's attention. A Special Edition could also be crisis focused, such as a natural disaster or the approval of detrimental legislation. You know your membership best, so be creative in choosing different ways to present and distribute your e-newsletter.
Segment your list: As you get better at managing your e-newsletter and grow your list, you can consider creating other editions. Test different subject lines or formats and present different information to see what is responded to best, and by whom. You can also segment your list by gender, zip code, donation amount and frequency, and interest and issues. Thus, you could create an e-newsletter edition for young adults, donors, women, new arrivals in your area, etc.
Create discussion lists for small groups: A variation on the theme of an e-newsletter is to create a special discussion list - often called a "listserv" - for small groups of people such as committees, campaign teams, staff or volunteers. A discussion list differs from an enewsletter in that anyone on the list can email a message to everyone else subscribed to the list. If you have 25 people on your event committee list, anyone can email a message to everyone else. It's really no different than using everyday email, except that the list of everyone's email addresses is stored in one location, so you never forget anyone. Because these discussion lists can generate so many emails every day, it's essential that you get explicit permission before you add anyone's name to the list.
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