Lessons on creating an effective nonprofit newsletter

Pull media, like social networks, are incredibly powerful, but the power of the push media of email hasn’t much waned.

Nonprofits, companies and organizations still rely on its ability to land in the inboxes of busy readers, consumers and supporters. Since announcing that I’m leaving Back on My Feet, I’ve taken a bit deeper a look at the metrics behind the monthly newsletter and blasts that remains a large part of our outreach efforts.

I was proud of some progress we worked to make with our use of email marketing during my tenure there, though I didn’t find the time to focus on as much development as I would have liked (by offering more robust A/B tests and such).

More importantly, there are a dozen take aways, some of which may seem intuitive, that I can now comfortably call lessons:

Industry Newsletter Standards

Industry: Open Rate | Bounce Rate | Click-Thru Rate

Education: 18.6% | 5.9 | 15.1

Nonprofits: 20.0 | 5.9 | 12.3

Marketing: 13.5 | 6.4 | 13.5

Publishing: 18.1 | 4.5 | 27.6

Web Developer: 17.4 | 5.8 | 16.4

  • Subject lines should ideally be between 5-10 words, preferably with a call to action — Give people an easily recognized reason to open your blast and do it in fewer than 30 or 40 characters.
  • I pushed for our blasts to be sent 10 a.m. on Tuesdays, or as near to it as possible, for similar sentiment as this. — Timing is nearly everything (We sent our national blast the first Tuesday of every month), and consistency helps.
  • A bigger newsletter contact number comes in conflict with a more engaged audience — The moment you start adding users on your own (which comes breaks any sense of opt-in marketing) or otherwise coercing user acquisition, your open and click-thru rates fall.
  • Smaller, more targeted lists are opened more often — I started establishing city-specific lists and those blasts were better opened and had more clicks
  • Almost no one will ever complain about not getting enough emails from you — Despite what your staff might try to tell you, it’s true, so stick to a monthly regular newsletter and perhaps the occasional blast. If you want to send out more often, start collecting more targeted lists for those other reasons.
  • Give good content, not just organization or promotional updates — If people can feel good or learn something from your newsletter,  it’ll surely get better traction. In our case, we pushed for sharing a member story in each of our monthly newsletters and often other related content to boot.
  • Fewer exclamation points — Good God, fewer exclamation points.
  • We use Constant Contact, which offers enough flexibility and metrics to allow additional growth. It has survey options to better segment contacts, which I never had the time to explore.

Compare this November newsletter here and one from before I arrived, a December 2009 newsletter here.

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<p style=”text-align: center;”><em><strong>Art Holiday shooting update</strong></em></p>The controversial, unlicensed nightclub in the former Art Holiday building near the intersection of Kensington and Frankford avenues of Frankford has been shutdown, says 15th police district Sgt. Mocharnuk.

The building will remain closed until its owner pays back taxes and receives appropriate approval, the sergeant said.

Last month a shooting outside the building left a 19-year-old woman in critical condition and <a href=”http://neastphilly.com/2010/10/20/councilwoman-maria-quinones-sanchez-fight-absentee-landlords-with-tax-overhaul/”>launched a fury of community outrage</a>.

Department of Licenses and Inspections representative Dominic Verdi closed the operation days after, the sergeant said.

Mocharnuk said the woman who was shot has survived.</div>