newsletter on keyboardI hear something like this from nonprofits fairly often:

“We used to do our print newsletter quarterly. Then we started doing email and social media too, and we got too busy (or the newsletter person left, or we had budget issues) so the print newsletter only went out three times last year. This year, I think we’ll only do it twice. Does that make sense?”

No, it really doesn’t. Who would consider anything you only get twice a year to be news?

A few things are going on with situations like these:

(1) Nonprofits know that the role of print communications is changing with the rise of online communications, but they aren’t sure how that affects their current publications.

(2) Nonprofits still see value in print, especially to reach some of the older people or traditionalists on their mailing list, as well as the people without email addresses in their databases.

(3) Newsletters have always been a “given” for nonprofits, but not necessarily with clear marketing or fundraising goals attached.

So what do you do with that print newsletter?

Option One: Turn it into a Progress Report

If you really only want to produce that print document twice a year, I would turn it into more of a progress report. If you work on a calendar year, do one in early-mid spring and another in early-mid fall. Make it a very donor-focused piece of communications that reinforces all the great work and progress that your supporters are making possible.

That way it becomes less “newsy” and more of a leave-behind piece you can use in other ways. Strip out anything that does feel more timely, like event calendars.

Then I’d do a real newsletter — one that is full of more timely information  — via email, most likely monthly or even twice a month, if you have enough real news to share.

Option Two: Recommit to a Quarterly Print Newsletter with a Very Specific Goal

If you do have a specific goal in mind — like fundraising via the newsletter or using it as a “keep in a binder” type of resource for your readers, then recommit to your quarterly schedule.

If it’s for fundraising, make it entirely donor-focused, full of great storytelling and gratitude for your donors. There is a well-tested methodology for producing these kinds of printed newsletters for donors and when you follow it, you can raise a significant amount of money via the newsletter. It’s called the Domain Formula and Tom Ahern will teach you all about in our December e-clinic, Donor Newsletters That Raise More Money, if you want to know how to put it to work for your nonprofit.

If you see this publication as less about fundraising and more as a valuable resource for readers, more akin to sharing a how-to guide in four sections each year, then map out your editorial calendar so that you are giving the readers the resources and technical know-how they need, when they need it most. What do they need to know how to do in spring, summer, fall and winter?

Simply scaling down the publication schedule of your newsletter is probably not the answer. Instead, revisit your goals and then decide how to best use print and your other communications channels to achieve those goals.

What do you think? How has your organization addressed this situation?

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