You don't have to try hard to find people who despise the idea of nonprofit newsletters, whether in print or email. Boring, they say. A huge waste of time and effort. No one reads them. And, you know what? In many cases, they are right.

But that's because many nonprofits have drifted away from the original intent of newsletters.

Look at the word itself: news + letter. That to me says timely + personal. Because of our 24/7 media culture where we prefer everything in snack-sized bites, I would also add short to the equation.

Newsletter = Timely + Personal + Short.

It's the perfect formula for the majority of your nonprofit communications, and especially your newsletters!

But what if the equation at work in your nonprofit is more like Newsletter = Outdated + Impersonal + Long?

Here are a few tips to get your newsletter back on track.

From Outdated to Timely

Focus less on reporting what you've done in the past, and more on what you are doing right now, and will be doing in the coming weeks. It's so depressing to get nonprofit newsletters in the mail and to see them talking about stuff that happened months ago, while inviting me to an event that took place last week.

Keep a realistic production schedule in mind, and only promote upcoming events when you are absolutely positive that a printed newsletter will reach people at least a week before the event takes place. Obviously, with email, you have more leeway and you can send reminders for events that are just days away.

The point here is to really focus forward instead of backward in your communications, so they feel much more timely.

That's not to say you shouldn't report on accomplishments. But try to describe that work in ways that aren't so date-stamped.

From Impersonal to Personal

The easiest way to get more personal is to simply change your writing voice into the first and second person (I, We, Our and You, Yours). Let us hear the voices of your staff, rather than the monolithic voice of the 501(c)(whatever you are).  You can do that by putting bylines on your newsletter articles and by including lots of direct quotes and photographs of people.

As much as you can, also get away from talking generically about the people you serve. Instead, give us some real examples that involve real people.

From Long to Short

Can you take whatever you producing now that you would describe as long and cut it in half?

Can you reduce your print newsletter to four pages, or even two pages?

Can you reduce your e-newsletter to less than 500 words and link to your website for everything else?

In most cases, it's better to communicate less content but more frequently than to communicate a lot all at once. Think tapas, not a four-course meal!

Want More Help with Rethinking Your Newsletter?

Join us for Rethinking Your Nonprofit Newsletter: Making It More Relevant for Today on September 20, 2011.


This article first appeared in Kivi's Nonprofit Marketing Tips, a free e-newsletter that we try to keep timely, personal, and short!