Newsletter Considerations Overview
October 11, 2002
Table of Contents
This document offers the authors viewpoint of key considerations in producing a newsletter for small membership based organizations. The author has been a member of a number of small organizations, which at various times and stages in their organizations life cycle have produced a newsletter for its memberships. Having served several times in the role of editor, being heavily involved with Editor selection committees, on the board of directors for a money losing but award winning “magazine” and a part of many budget and content wars, the author hopes to provide insight gleaned from his experiences.
This document is in no way a complete analysis but it should be sufficient to point out the many considerations that may be involved in deciding a course of action in producing a newsletter for your organization.
The newsletter should remain focused on advancing the stated goals of the organization. This may seem obvious but many people have many ideas of what should or shouldn’t be in a newsletter. Over time, the focus may drift in various directions due to many influences. Sticking to the foundation of what the stated goals of the organization are can help keep debate and contention to a minimum. If you have non-profit status, keeping the newsletter focused along these lines may prove critical to your keeping your non-profit accreditation.
It is wise to periodically review the current incarnation of your newsletter and match it against your organizations goals to keep it from drifting off target.
If your newsletter is being produced as part of your organizations benefits of membership then:
· It should provide its members with a feel of belonging to a tangible group. Most non-profits (especially small ones) use a printed/mailed newsletter/magazine to deliver content about member activities and achievements.
The newsletter should be produced in a way that is sustainable over the long run. If it is difficult to produce or excessively time consuming, when the production changes hands, you will need to find people to take it over who are willing and able to maintain as it has been produced. While it may wonderful to have a great newsletter due to the skill, effort and devotion of one or two people producing it, the image and the resources of your organization are likely to become damaged once those individuals eventually move on if you don’t keep it within reasonability bounds.
A very important consideration is the transfer of licenses that and continued upgrade costs if specialized software is used. Often times, the change of editor usually means a change in the software application used to produce the publication when paper based. This may mean that fonts need to be purchased again and that the layout of the publication may not be precisely reproduced. In addition, standard templates for various page layouts may need to be recreated from scratch and significant learning curves may need to be endured. This all speaks to the idea of using the right tool for the right job and looking at the long term effect of your selections.
Be aware that as your organization grows, your newsletter may also grow. What is often overlooked are the mechanics and the decision points to reduce the size and scope of the newsletter to match your organization as it contracts.
Most non-profits use member dues to cover administration costs, including a newsletter/magazine.
Most non-profits run programs for members, frequently with a discounted charge for members (full-price for non-members) where the proceeds from the programs are reinvested into said programs.
Where is the demand for the newsletter coming from? Often the need to produce a newsletter is mandated because it fulfills part of your organizations charter. On the assumption that your organization does not exist for the purpose of producing a newsletter, then the newsletter is an instrument of your organization to achieve its stated goals. This being the case then:
· The newsletter is “Pushing” content towards your members. There is often some small percentage of people who may join specifically to get your newsletter. This is incidental. Your organizations goal is not focused on getting “subscribers”. The more energy you devote to getting subscribers, the more you stray from the organizations goals.
· Most members are generally doing the activities for which the organization is based. For example, if they are Dancers their focus is on dancing, if they are chess players, then playing chess, etc. Generally, they will do the activities regardless of your producing the publication. They are not “pulling” the information. That is to say, they are not demanding the information you have because you are preventing them from going out and doing. While your information may be of use and of interest, it is not critical and hence not “pulled”.
· Having a fine newsletter or publication may give you great pride and a feeling of accomplishment that you and the organization are providing a wonderful benefit to your membership. Generally though this is an illusion since you are pushing content and it is not pulled. With this in mind, you should consider well how much money, time and effort is put into your newsletter to push information to your members.
· How many members would you be likely to lose if the publication was stopped? If your membership must join to get some other benefit such as being allowed to attend the main activities of the organization, then you publication is not pulling your membership. From a cost perspective, you would most likely save significant amount of money and effort if you stopped.
· How many members would you gain solely because of the publication? This is a measure of the pull of your publication. If the cost of you increased membership pulled does not cover the cost of the publication that they receive for their membership, the increase in membership brings you no benefit other than volume.
Your members should feel like they can reach those in charge. Give a face to the organization. Make people feel that it is run by people who care. Organizational information should be located in one area of the publication for quick reference by the reader.
The President, Program leaders and other active position leaders should be listed.
Email addresses should certainly be provided. It is possible to establish organizational email addresses at low or no cost. This is a recommended approach for several reasons:
The primary URL you should publish is that of your own web site if you have one. Your URL should be easy to find and featured permanently throughout all your marketing materials. The URL of any closely associated organizations should be easily found. Articles in which URLs appear should be summarized for the reader in a consistent manner such as at the end of the article.
You should have established written policies regarding the nature and pricing of advertising. Many organizations choose to limit advertising to products that can reasonably construed to be directly related to the primary focus of the organization.
In a nutshell, this should be the material that is of interest to your members and tightly associated with the purpose and goals of the organization.
You should create a profile of what the benefits of taking out an advertisement with your organization are. This will serve as the primary means of attracting new advertisers. The effort may also help you improve your overall programs for you members and will help you keep your members aware of why they should remain members. This profile should appear in all forms of your organizations media, especially the newsletter and your web site.
Rates should be established and published in the newsletter and your web site.
Policy regarding the relationship of advertisements taken out in one form of media to the others. Some example questions to resolve are:
Consideration should be given to the handling of time sensitive material going into the newsletter. Local event information and Advertisers Event information in the newsletter will make on time production critical and place the burden of meeting the deadlines one of the constraining factors in getting the newsletter out.
If event information is to go into the newsletter, it will have to be known about by the submission deadline and the newsletter will have to be published reliably on time or the event information will become outdated. This will lead to frustration by our members. If the most up to date information is always maintained on the web, a reference to that fact should be published in the newsletter so that people will know to look there as well.
Getting information to your members can take several forms. You may wish to focus on just one primary means of communicating with your members of you may wish to do a combination of several approaches. You may choose to have identical information or different types of information provided through the different avenues. Here are several methods and some considerations in selecting them for your use:
Many options and configurations are available. Some possibilities to consider are:
· Web shows old versions of paper based only – Avoids working against your main paper based subscription to a limited degree. Some people may choose to never join and simply read the material as it becomes available
· Members only version – This requires individual password maintenance and places greater implementation and maintenance burdens on your web team. Can probably be one time purchased for implementation at a reasonable price to provide the capabilities.
Not all users of the web site may be comfortable with the use of PDF. Information should never be provided in solely PDF version. Ideally, all content that appears for the web page based version should be provided in PDF format as well. If original content is produced in a software package such as MS Word, producing a PDF version, with the PDF creation software installed, is a trivial matter.
Sending out an email that uses no HTML is the no frills way to get the information out to your members. You will need to address what is to be done about those members who do not have email.
An email newsletter could be sent out as HTML formatted mail along with a PDF version. Most email programs will properly handle HTML and as time marches on, the number of programs remaining out there that don’t will continue to diminish. Sending a PDF version of the newsletter will allow for near perfect printing of it as it was intended to be viewed and will allow for long term convenient storage and reference of the material.
Anecdotal evidence: The Wayside Quilters guild which has a little over 100 paying members in 2002 has just under half of their membership who have opted to receive the newsletter by email only. This group is a very "low tech" group but they're comfortable reading email. The email version has very limited use of HTML formatting, primarily just the use of occasional bolding. The fact that almost half are willing to forgo the paper based email cuts the productions costs tremendously as well as reduces the manual labor to physically produce and mail the newsletter.
Having a paper based newsletter is usually the most expensive form of media and typically difficult to run at a profit. Your newsletter therefore should strive to have a balanced budget. If a balanced budget can be achieved, you can theoretically have the newsletter be as large, elaborate or expensive as you may be desire. If it cannot be self-supporting, you must constrain it to remain within the budget allocated for it. Ideally, Advertisement revenue should be reinvested in marketing your organization of which the newsletter is only a part.
A return to the discussion of the push and pull of your newsletter is necessary to determine what your level of committed funding for the publication should be.
The newsletter as well as any other publication of your organization should consume no more than some fixed and appropriate percentage of the total budget. As was stated elsewhere in the article, the newsletter is one of several possible tools for your organization to achieve its goals.
Some anecdotal observations in 2002:
Print houses are as a general rule, very slow on adoption of and use of technology. The big chains appear to be on the cutting edge. As of a year ago, two large family owned print houses had just purchased a couple more PCs so they'd have more than one that could get email.
It would be surprising if we could really expect to just send a file over to a new printer and have it come out looking as we expect. One day it may all be seamless where it is just drop and run it but as of 2002, the world isn’t there yet. General considerations:
When you leave a print house, you are generally considered dead to them, unless your represent big bucks, which most small organizations aren’t. You might be able to go back in a couple of years when they've forgotten about you, if they do. This is important because:
Magazines are made up of signature sets. If someone reports missing pages, then a signature got "dropped" out of missed when that copy was made. This type of situation can mean:
If there is an over-run of the job available, then vendor should be contacted and asked to do free inspection. Good vendors are usually willing to do this to help identify that problem is NOT serious, especially if they value your specific account. They usually pickup whatever needs to be inspected - will generally coordinate pickup near a delivery they are making somewhere.
Inspecting the over-run will provide at least some sort of statistical sample of the problem. But be warned, it could also totally miss the problem - problem may have been on first 500 copies but over-run came off the end of the run. Still, inspection is usually worth doing....
If problem is found during inspection, then it's time to figure out what should be done:
Binding is a mechanical process so mis-binding isn't completely unheard of. It might raise an eyebrow on a first time run, when vendor should be really making an effort to inspect work and ensure good first time experience. Can be a warning flag but if addressed professionally by vendor and no re-occurrence then just one of those things that happen in printing.
Even if the overs have already been delivered, the printer should still be willing to do the inspection. Also, a good printer (with good staff) will notice that there extra pages left over at the end of the run in some of the bins. This should alert them that there was a problem and that it could give them/us an indication of how bad the problem was. It would probably be worth at least an inquiry with them to see if they noted how many "extras" they had in the bin and if they could estimate the extent of the problem. Would be good to see if they were even aware of it and if so, why they didn't bother to tell us.