It was a huge honour but an equally big responsibility to help organise a brilliant day for over 100 people and, of course, give the best man’s speech.
This is a difficult balancing act – you are expected to be funny yet sincere, poke fun at the groom yet also be complimentary, all while catering for the broadest audience imaginable.
On the plus side you have a merry, supportive crowd. They give you their full attention, are guaranteed to be interested in what you're saying, and are ready to laugh at (almost) every joke.
When talking to your supporters, you're much less likely to have their full attention. In the age of online information, we read things quickly in a spare moment and are accustomed to punchy and engaging content, otherwise we switch off. People tend to be on several charity mailing lists, so writing a charity newsletter is a lot like attempting to give a best man's speech with many other people in the room trying to talk over you.
Consider this: the average email open rate in the charity sector is 20%. Many charities fall below that. So for every five people that you write to, four of them won't even open it.
This is why we need to talk about charity mailings.
I receive regular updates from many charities and most usually have really interesting news to share. Some do this in a slick, engaging way. However, too many smaller charities rely on the old-fashioned method of sending a mass email with a PDF attachment which often wouldn't have looked out of place as a school or village newsletter 20 years ago. I find this off-putting, even if I know the charity will have something interesting to say.
- Appearance – regardless of the content, they tend to look flat, dated and uninspiring.
- Volume of information – if you have a lot to say, it’s difficult to present it in a way that is friendly for the reader. I've seen some newsletters running across almost 10 pages!
- Lack of engagement – PDF newsletters often fail to create that ‘what next?’ or ‘where next?’ moment. The reader simply opens the newsletter, reads a couple of stories and either deletes it or files it away.
- They don't get seen – manually sending out mass emails with a PDF attachment is a sure-fire way to trigger spam filters. Put simply, many emails sent this way will never reach the inbox.
- You're working in the dark – to compound the problem, you have no idea who receives your email or not. How many people open it? What do they read and what do they like? It's impossible to know.
- The admin burden – the process of manually preparing a mailing list, sending an email out – often in batches of 50 or 100 to avoid issues with your email provider – and individually dealing with any unsubscriptions is hugely time-consuming. This means that you have less time to focus less on engaging and inspiring your supporters.
- Design an engaging email template to use quickly every time. This will give your newsletters a much more engaging, consistent and professional feel.
- Send mailings at the touch of a button. They're gone in seconds, there's no need to send them in batches and there's no risk of getting caught in any spam filters.
- Manage content between your newsletter and website. I recommend putting shorter stories in your newsletter with links to full articles on your website. This will make your mailings more engaging and digestible. Your best content will achieve more as it'll be seen by both your newsletter subscribers and website visitors. You can also see how popular your content is by monitoring which stories people click through to read fully (see below).
- See crucial statistics at a glance - how many people opened your mailings, who clicked on links and how many email addresses bounced. You can start to build a picture of what type of content is most popular and follow up with individual supporters who, for example, click through to an events sign-up page.
- Save time - people unsubscribe with one click and are removed from your mailing list automatically. New subscribers will automatically join your list ready for your next mailing (however, bear in mind that you still need to update any separate database / CRM).
If you can design a PDF newsletter or do basic web page editing, you’ll be capable of using the software. The small amount of time that you invest up front in getting to grips with it and designing an email template will be completely outweighed by the ongoing time and efficiency savings.
There really is no excuse for persisting with PDF mailings – it’s time to get out of the dark ages! If you’d like some help to plan your charity’s communications or set up and use email marketing software, we'd be happy to help...
1. Consistent branding – use the same header image, logo, font styles, colours etc. to create a strong and trustworthy impression with your supporters.
2. Cut the jargon – some words that you use every day with colleagues will actually mean very little to your supporters. What you write needs to be 'human' and easy to understand. My pet hates are words like 'learners' (instead of children), 'facilitating' and 'capacity building'. Read communications sent by the largest charities like UNICEF and Save the Children and you'll see that every single word is carefully considered, accessible and crystal clear.
3. Use strong imagery – a powerful, relevant image can be the difference between a mediocre mailing and a great one. Like-for-like comparisons show that strong images increase click and response rates. So don’t just slot in any old image as your last act before pressing send.
4. Perfect your subject lines – email subject lines can also become a last-minute afterthought but a weak, vague or boring subject line may mean that people never even open your email. Your subject line is the first and sometimes the only thing that people see, so make it compelling and informative.
5. Don’t waste your words – often introductions accomplish very little other than boring people. For instance ‘Welcome to the latest edition of our newsletter. It’s been a busy month...’ is little more than a waste of words. A good newsletter doesn’t need to refer to itself – you should be grabbing attention immediately.
6. Prioritise your content – before writing a newsletter, think carefully about your priorities. Which one story do you want people to read the most? What is the single most important action that somebody should take after reading it? Use this to inform the order and layout of your stories. Some messages (like ‘sign up to our new event’ or ‘sign this petition’) will often do better as a single-theme email bulletin that stands out, rather than as part of a longer newsletter.
This blog is an adapted version of a blog first published on Eventbrite on 13 August 2015.