Build a Better Email Newsletter Strategy for Your Nonprofit

Email Newsletter Strategy for Nonprofits

What would happen if household tidying expert Marie Kondo took a look at your nonprofit’s email newsletters? If you’ve been struggling to keep organized, maintain your email list or stay on a schedule, it’s time to build (or rebuild) your email newsletter strategy.

Without a well-planned strategy, your nonprofit email updates might not be sparking a lot of joy for you, which is the crux of Marie’s famous method for tidying up. Just like dealing with household clutter, it’s important to be thoughtful and forward-thinking when it comes to organizing your possessions—including emails.

Even worse, your email newsletters might not be sparking anything for your subscribers. Imagine what would happen if your newsletters motivated people to read more, take action or click the donate button. Let’s clean up your email act and put together a strategy that works.

Where To Start

Before jumping into your pile of unsorted newsletter laundry, there are a few key elements of your strategy to figure out first.

What’s the point?

Your email newsletter should serve a purpose. You might find it helpful to create a newsletter mission statement to use internally to shape your plan and content. Just like your overall nonprofit marketing strategy, identify at least one specific goal that helps differentiate your email newsletter from other communication channels and give it focus. For example, one goal for your newsletter might be to convert more people on your mailing list to become members.

Who are you sending to?

Just because you have their email address doesn’t mean that they have to get your newsletter—especially if you’re not sure they’ve opted-in to receive them as you’ve gone about building your email list. In fact, list management on its own is a perfect candidate for the KonMari method. Beyond the list itself, take the time to think about the needs and goals of the people you’re sending to. Identify types of stories and information that they’d be delighted to receive.

What do readers do next?

There are a lot of benefits to nonprofit email newsletters, so make sure you know what you want people to do once they open and read it. Your calls-to-action should relate to the goal(s) of your email newsletter strategy and will factor into the stories you share. Your email template design can also reflect your calls-to-action, helping to motivate people to click.

How does it relate to a print newsletter?

If your nonprofit publishes a print newsletter in addition to sending an email version, you’ll want to consider how the two pieces fit together. You can repurpose stories in both places, but take the time to format your content in a way that best suits your method of communication. Just like you wouldn’t want to read a 500-word essay in an email, you can’t easily access a video from print.

Many nonprofits think about cutting their print newsletter to save time and money, but don’t get rid of direct mail without serious thought about your goals and audience.

Access Our Nonprofit Newsletter Virtual Library

Get on the right track with your email newsletter strategy using tips, examples and resources from the Wired Impact team and other nonprofit marketing experts. You’ll find links to top advice on topics like email design, strategy best practices, measurement, and list management.

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Implementing Your Newsletter Strategy

Once your strategy comes into view, there are a few more details to work on and smooth out for newsletter success.

What will your process look like?

Pick an email marketing platform that makes it easy to create new emails, preview them, manage your list, schedule and look at performance. We typically recommend MailChimp for nonprofits, but there are lots of options out there depending on your needs and budget. You’ll also want to put together a writing and review process to help avoid email mistakes, including a point person to ensure that everything happens as it should.

How often will you send?

There’s not a hard and fast rule for how often you should send an email newsletter. It depends on the volume of quality content you have to share and the urgency of your news. For example, it may make more sense for you to send a monthly or quarterly newsletter with more timely action alerts or e-blasts in between. Start with a frequency that’s sustainable for you and your organization for the year ahead.

What will your emails look like?

In terms of best practice, use an email template in a simple one-column template that matches your organization’s brand and style. The design should be responsive—meaning it seamlessly reformats to look good on any screen size. And don’t forget about accessibility. Putting text on top of images can inadvertently exclude parts of your audience. Steal some newsletter design inspiration from the experts like TechSoup.

How many stories will you share?

There’s no set number for how much content should be in an email newsletter, but you should aim for a selection of bite-size stories that interest your target audience. Try to keep the overall length and size of the email down to reduce the chance that your content gets “clipped” by services like Gmail.

A great way to pare down emails but still offer a ton of value is to publish stories on a blog and simply offer a photo, excerpt and a link in the email. Check out an example from Rails to Trails Conservancy.

How will you measure success?

Identify a few measurements you could take to see if you’re making progress toward your newsletter goal. Just looking at open and click rates won’t give you much insight. Instead, learn how to track website traffic that comes from email. Do those visitors donate? Or sign up to volunteer? You can also start testing your nonprofit newsletter to see how your results change. It’s more than OK to fine-tune your strategy over time!

Maintaining Momentum

The thing about tidying up is that it’s pretty easy to undo! Once you start implementing your email newsletter strategy, it will take ongoing effort to keep it on track. Whether you need help keeping a schedule or coming up with content, here are three tips to maintain your new strategy.

  1. Use an editorial calendar to map out your email newsletters as well as other pieces of content that you might leverage, like upcoming blog posts or new videos.
  2. Bring in other perspectives including fundraisers, volunteers, program managers and donors. Even if you’re the go-writer on staff, others can help identify stories and chip in a guest article from time to time.
  3. Conduct regular performance reviews. You don’t have to be a Google Analytics wizard to get a feel for how your strategy is working. Try to answer a few crucial questions like “Do people enjoy our newsletters?” and “What emails have been most successful?” You could even send a subscriber survey to get helpful feedback. Be sure to adjust your strategy or editorial calendar based on these findings.

As social media channels become cluttered with information and competing content, your nonprofit newsletter strategy is more important than ever before. Take advantage of the power of email to spread the word and motivate people to act with just a click or two. With a little tidying up, your email newsletter strategy can get better results and spark joy for all involved. In the words of Marie Kondo, “Life truly begins after you have put your house in order.”

Feeling stuck with your email newsletter strategy? Have questions about choosing a purpose and content for your e-news? Let’s talk in the comments.