Quick thoughts about e-newsletters

July 9, 2013

Filed under: Communications — jonathanpoisner @ 4:10 pm

Because I try to stay in close touch with both current and former clients, I subscribe to a large volume of e-newsletters from nonprofit organizations.

There are a lot of great ones.  But I also see clients repeatedly issue newsletters that violate some of what I believe are best practices.

Here’s five examples of mistakes I see being made on a regular basis.

1. Writing with a neutral tone.

Your donors/volunteers should be superheros.   Unfortunately, many e-newsletter writers received graduate training in public policy or other fields that train you to write neutrally.  Neutrality is not your friend in enlisting others to support your cause.

2. Writing to be read, not scanned.

The vast majority of your readers will scan your content, not read it.  Think Huffington Post, not New York Times.  Someone scanning your e-newsletter should get the essential story from the headlines/photos without having to read the full text.   Before issuing the e-newsletter, look at it without the text and ask: what would my reader come away with?  If nothing valuable, then work harder on your headlines and photos/captions.

3. Writing about process, not the ultimate goal of the organization.

Particularly with advocacy nonprofits, fights over process tend to absorb significant time.  Those in the middle of those fights often become passionate about them and falsely assume their donors/supporters will share that passion.  In reality, donors/supporters are almost always focused on the end goal/mission the nonprofit is trying to achieve.  Avoid process stories.

4. Pictures that don’t connect

Pictures are good, but not all pictures help.  Given how people are reading e-newsletters (many on mobile devices), focus on pictures where you have just one or two people and you should be able to see their eyes (and hopefully they’re smiles if appropriate).  Pictures of large groups where you can’t see anyone aren’t as effective in my opinion.

5.  Long sentences with parenthetical clauses

Many of us in college learned to write complex sentences that embody multiple ideas and show the relationship between those ideas.  These are almost always a bad idea in an e-newsletter.  My rule of thumb: if it can be broken into two separate short sentences, do it.

Let me know what other mistakes you see and think should be avoided?  I’ll cover them in a future blog entry.

 

Talking in values language

October 20, 2011

Filed under: Communications — Tags: , — jonathanpoisner @ 2:41 pm

I recently was speaking to a board of a conservation organization and said that they were working to protect “environmental values.”  And that we should lead with our values, not our policies.

One of them asked, what’s that mean?

Here’s my answer:

Values are the first-order rationale for why you want the policies you want.  They are too often unstated by advocates.

Clean water is a policy choice.

The value is why you want clean water.

Here there are multiple potential answers:

Safety — Because people deserve to be safe from poisons

Fairness — It’s unfair for current generations to rob future generations of the world’s precious resources

Responsibility — We have a responsibility to protect the natural world for future generations

And you can I’m sure think of other examples.

Safety, fairness, responsibility, legacy, family — these are examples of values that underlie the why behind the work that conservation advocates do.

Organizations focused on other issues have their own constellation of values.

The important thing is that we need to be up-front about our values.  When we are, people will pay more attention to us when we drill down into the policy.  If we lead with the policy, their eyes will glaze over and they won’t find us worth their time.

Growing your Facebook fan base

April 22, 2011

Filed under: Communications,Online Communications — Tags: — jonathanpoisner @ 11:30 am

Sometimes investing a little bit of dollars has a big impact on your base.

The good folks at Idaho Conservation League did an interesting strategy and let the folks at Groundwire share it with the world.

Bottom line:  Facebook for a very low dollar figure lets you microtarget ads at a very small group of people who’ll be highly likely to become fans.

I’d be interested in seeing how other organizations use this opportunity over the next few years.

Communications plans for institutions

April 19, 2011

Filed under: Communications,Strategic Planning — Tags: — jonathanpoisner @ 4:34 pm

I recently had a conversation which went something like this. . .

Person A: “We need a communications plan for our organization.”

Me: “Why?”

Person A: “We need to know who the swing vote is on our issue so we can persuade them.”

Me: “Why?”

Person A: “Because they’re the swing vote.  That’s who we should be talking to.”

Now I wasn’t pushing back on the “why” because I’m not a fan of communications plans for institutions.  To the contrary, I think they’re extremely valuable once an organization gets to a reasonable size.

But I’ve been struck a few times now by people coming out of the “campaign” world who don’t get how communications for institutions are not the same animal as communications for a campaign  — whether it’s a ballot measure or candidate campaign.

In a campaign, you have a very identifiable goal, with a timeline, and a specific set of people you’re trying to influence.  In most tough campaigns, Person A is right — your communications plan should identify the swing and figure out how you’re going to move them.

But what about institutions?  Institutions may engage in campaigns, but their interests run beyond the campaigns.  They may be trying to influence a variety of different audiences, making different asks of each.

In my experience, the most useful communications plan for an institution asks:

What’s our brand?

Who do we need to take action and what actions do we want to take?

Of these, which audiences are most important?

How do we reach our priority audiences?

What investments in additional capacity (staff, technology, other) do we need to make to have the capacity to reach them?

It may well be for an institution, very little of their communication is aimed at swing voters and the vast majority of its communication is aimed at potential donors, volunteers, and champion opinion leaders.  There isn’t a right answer here — the important thing is to make sure your communications plan for an institution is focused on the organization and not some campaign or project that has only short-term implications.

Great study on citizen to Congress communication

February 4, 2011

Filed under: Advocacy,Communications — Tags: , , — jonathanpoisner @ 8:32 am

Great study showing how Congressional staff rate different forms of communications as a means to influence members of Congress.

The bottom line: personal is king, and content is more important than volume.

http://bit.ly/hjhsI2

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