Kivi Leroux Miller of recently joined us for a webinar in which she outlined her five-step process to convert a lousy nonprofit email newsletter into a communications tool that neither you nor your supporters can live without.

In case you missed it, you can watch the full replay below:

Full Transcript:

Steven: Well Kivi, my watch just struck 1 o’clock. Do you want to go ahead and get it started officially?

Kivi: Yeah, let’s go ahead and do it.

Steven: All right cool. Good afternoon everyone if you’re on the East Coast and good morning if you’re on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for joining us for today’s Bloomerang webinar, How to Write a Nonprofit Email Newsletter That Doesn’t Suck. We don’t want your email newsletters to suck. So we’re going to help you with that. Thanks for being here.

We’re glad you are joining us on this St. Patrick’s Day. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to the Irish men and women out there. Thanks for choosing us instead of college basketball. We always appreciate that. So glad of you to be here, my name is Steven Shattuck and I’m the VP of Marketing here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always.

And just a couple of housekeeping items for everyone. I just want to let everyone know that we are recording this presentation and I will be sending out the recording as well as the slides later on this afternoon. So just look for an email from me later on today, if you have to leave early perhaps or if you want to review the content, you will be able to do that. Just wait for that recording a little later on this afternoon.

And as you’re listening today, please feel free to use that chat function right there on to your webinar screen. I’ll see those questions. I’ll be moderating those questions to Kivi as we go along. Do not be shy. Ask us any questions, any comments you might have and we’ll have some formal Q&A at the end as well. So don’t be shy about that at all.

Follow along on Twitter. We love to have your tweets. You can follow along with #Bloomerang or send a tweet to @BloomerangTech and Kivi’s handle is @Kivilm and we’ll display that either in a second but don’t feel shy about tweeting us as well. And if you’re listening today via your computer, that’s great. It still works through the computer just fine but if you do have any problems, sometimes your Internet connection can cause that to have a little less quality. So call in by phone if you can. There is a phone number from the email from ReadyTalk in your inbox on new today.

And just in case this is your first webinar with us, welcome if it’s the first one. Welcome back if it’s not the first one. We do do these webinars just about every Thursday but if you’re new to Bloomerang in general, Bloomerang is a donor management software application and if you’re interested in learning more about us, we’d love to tell you more. You can check out our website. You can visit our demo page. You can download a video demo and learn more about us. You don’t have to talk to the salesperson if you don’t want to.

So check it out if you’re interested. We’d love to talk to you more later on. And I want to go ahead and introduce today’s guest. She’s just one of my most favorite people ever. I’m really excited to have her here, Kivi Leroux Miller. Kivi, how is it going? Thanks for being here.

Kivi: Good. I’m so glad to be here. Let me know if I start talking to softly.

Steven: Okay, I will let you know but you sound pretty good to me. Just in case you guys don’t know Kivi, she is someone you need to know. If you’re not following her blog, her website, the Nonprofit Marketing Guide, that’s an easy bookmark for me. That’s almost a home page for me. Definitely check out that website every day, lots of great content. Kivi is a frequent webinar presenter. She is a frequent speaker. If you see her on an event/agenda, choose her session please. You will not regret it.

She is the author of two award-winning books, one on nonprofit content marketing, really excellent book. If you’re interested in blogging and newsletters and all that good content stuff, please pick up that book. Kivi helps us out at Bloomerang. She helps us specifically with our email tool. She is more of our product advisors. So she is a very close friend of Bloomerang, one of my go-to people for this kind of content and I’m just so excited to have her. I’m going to pipe down because she’s got so much good information for you. So Kivi, take it away my friend.

Kivi: All right, thank you, Steven. It’s very sweet of you, all those very kind things. So today we’re going to talk about how to write a newsletter that does not suck because you’re going to spend a lot of time on this. Our surveys show that nonprofits spend a lot of time creating email newsletters and you want those people, you want your people to read those things. So we need to make sure that they don’t suck.

So that’s what we’re going to focus on but I want you to send in the chat right now, your number one question about email newsletters. I’m going to stop at a couple of different points in the conversation. Steven is going to take a couple of your questions at a time and we’ll answer them as we go. So go ahead and chat those in now so Steven can start sorting through your questions, so when I get to the questions break, he is ready to fire those in my direction.

Okay, so I’m assuming that a lot of you sort of get this look on your face when you realize on your calendar that it’s time to do your newsletter again. It can be a very painful process for a lot of you, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If it is a painful process for you right now, it’s probably because you’re not really planning it out. You don’t really know what people want in it. It’s too complicated. It’s too long to produce.

So we’re going to tell you all kinds of great stuff today that is going to help you simplify that process and actually make the newsletter something you look forward to creating. You’ll want to do your newsletter when you’re doing it the right way.

Before we really get into the details about email newsletters, I want to emphasize that this is not a debate about print versus email. You probably need to be doing both. The reality is that a lot of you have donors that are much more print-oriented, and people are sending you paper checks or sending you paper with their credit card numbers written on it, odds are you need to be doing a print newsletter.

However, you probably also want to be emailing those people and if you are gifts online, you certainly want to be emailing these people. So this is not really an either/or discussion. I’m happy to answer questions for those of you who feel like you do need to make a transition from print to email but I generally recommend that you sort of do both.

So but we’re just going to talk about the email today, okay. So one of the big problems with nonprofit communications overall and with email in general, is that we’re doing it wrong in this sector a lot. A lot of the communications that we are putting out are really trying to interrupt people in their day. Say, “Hey, hey, hey look at me. Let me talk. Give me your attention,” and that’s really the wrong way to go about it.

What we want to be doing is attracting people. You want to be writing content in your newsletters that it’s so good that people cannot wait to get your newsletter, okay. That’s what we’re really shooting for today and that’s really as Steven said, what content marketing is all about.

Content marketing is very specific kind of communication where you’re really creating that content that attracts people and I wrote a whole book about it. So if this is an intriguing concept for you, you can check out that book. But simply put, content marketing is creating content that attracts people to you rather than you feeling like you’re constantly having to throw your stuff in front of people. It interrupts them and beg them to read it, okay.

So we’re going to create content that people want and that they’re going to look forward to. That is really your goal, okay. So we are going to start with a five-step process on how you do that, how you shift from writing an interruption type newsletter to one that genuinely attracts people, and there are five simple steps. Some of them are more simple than others but they’re pretty easy and if you work through these steps, I guarantee that you will end up with a much better newsletter and one that really is fun for you to write and fun for your readers to get to.

All right, so we’re going to start with step number one, which is, setting the right goal for your newsletter, and we are going to do a quick poll here. So the question to you is what is the single most important goal for your email newsletter? I only want you to pick one of the things that are on your screen.

So you should have this screen poll now where you can actually click on the screen and just click on the little bullet next to the one that best represents your top goal, single most important goal for your email newsletter. Are you trying to keep people informed about your work? Show how people can participate in your work. Give readers resources that they can use in their own lives. Remind people that you are there doing good work or sharing results and gratitude.

Which of those five would you say is your primary goal? Maybe just another 15 seconds to vote. Let’s see, it’s not showing me a percentage so I’m trying to do math in my head really quickly. I think we’re probably like 80-90% of people participating. So I’m going to go ahead and skip to their results. You may be seeing a nice bar graph there and so what this is telling us is that most of you are saying that the single most important goal for your newsletter is to keep people informed about your work, followed by number two is sharing results and gratitude. Number three, sharing how people can participate and then reminding people we’re here, giving people resources, okay.

So this is what I would consider some mixed results in terms of what I think the goal should be. Let me just pull up a different pie chart. This is from a couple of years ago when we surveyed over 600 nonprofits with the exact same question, and as you can see at that time, the majority, over half, if you look at the big orange slice and the big blue slice, were keeping people informed about our work, and reminding people that we are here and doing good work.

And those are both pretty big goals and hard to measure again, and not really focused on attracting people to you, okay. Some of these other goals are actually better goals for a newsletter and we’re going to talk about that in just a second.

One of the things you want to keep in mind when you’re setting a goal for your newsletter is that this is not general public communication. Lots of times I will hear people said, “Well, we just need to update people on what we’re up to and talk about who we are and what we do.”

If someone is on your email newsletter list, they should have some kind of relationship with you already. They should have opted into your list in some way. So you are not emailing the general public and if you are, you shouldn’t be. So these are people that already know you at some level. They may not know you very well or they may just know one particular program but they have some kind of relationship with you and you need to understand what that relationship is.

If you have no idea how those 10,000 people on your email list got there, that’s a problem. You need to go figure that out. Are those people donors? Are they coming to your events? Are they participating in your programs in some other way? Where did that list come from? You really need to understand that.

You also need to keep in mind that the newsletter format that we’re talking about today is not the best way to raise money or to get people to take an action of some sort. This really is more about the thinking and reporting part of the ask-think report cycle. So if you’re using email to try to motivate action, it needs to be about one thing, it also needs to be in a letter format. There need to be big buttons that say ‘Donate now’ or ‘Register now’ or ‘Call your senator’ or whatever that is, it needs to be all contained in that one email. They shouldn’t have to click off to get more information. That’s very different from a newsletter which is what we’re really talking about today.

So you’ve got to keep those things in mind. You’re communicating to a specific group of people who have some kind of relationship with you and this is really about doing some other things besides getting them to donate. What you want them to do maybe to feel good about their donations.

So here are some goals that I think are better for newsletters, which are really about solidifying that relationship that you have with the people on your list, and continuing to build that trust with them. So if it is primarily donors, what you want to do is use your newsletter to make donors feel really good about their contributions. That’s not unlike your mission with a print newsletter, for example.

So lots of gratitude, lots of progress reporting successes, stories, again making them feel really good so you retain them as a donor. Your email newsletter can be a really important part of your donor retention strategy. But some of you may have other uses for email newsletters too. So maybe you want to help people do more in their personal lives or do better in their personal lives or learn more about your subject area.

So for example, if you run a community garden you might want to have a newsletter that helps people become better gardeners in their own life. That’s something that those people are going to be interested in. If you have parents of young children on your list for some reason, then if they’re a big part of your supporter base, you might want to offer some parenting advice, okay.

So it’s really about helping people see you as an expert source and rely on you and trust you, and to build that kind of relationship through your newsletter. You may also want to use your newsletter to improve your organizational reputation within your field or with other influencers within your field. So we call that a thought leadership strategy in the marketing lingo and it’s really about your colleague organizations, national media, elected officials, other people who have a lot of influence over your work and who you want to be an influencer among, your email newsletter can also be really useful for that, okay.

So instead of just updating people, I want you to really think about a goal that’s more along the lines of what you have on the screen here, something that’s a little more specific. And that doesn’t mean that you can’t include calls-to-action in your newsletter. You certainly can but they’re generally not going to be the really driving hard calls-to-action like donate. It may be more like “click here to learn more” or the “learn how” or to download this thing.

You may have things like “Register” or “Volunteer” but again, if you’re really trying to do sort of the more aggressive marketing to get people to donate or to call a senator or to really show up in an event, you generally don’t want to do that with a newsletter format. You want to do that with a single topic email, usually a series of emails but they’re just about that one thing and encouraging that one action.

So any question so far about goal? How we are doing on the questions Steven, is there anything related to goals?

Steven: So many, yeah. So many good ones that it was hard for me to choose. Lots of people are asking how long should they be? How many should we send out? Are newsletters as effective as paper ones? Yes, absolutely.

Kivi: Okay, I’ll keep going then. So just feel free to interrupt me at any time if you feel like there’s a good question that relates to something, okay. So how do we measure success?

There’s some basic metrics with email that you all probably know, or if you don’t know, you probably should be knowing these numbers. So you want to look at your open rates and your click-through rates, and the open rates for newsletters are again not the same as in open rate for a fundraising email. So you want to separate those out when you’re looking at your different metrics.

So open rates, depending on which of the national nonprofit surveys are looking at, for email newsletters from nonprofit are typically in the range of 13% to 18%. So if you’re doing better than that, that’s wonderful. A lot of you that have relatively small mailing lists, so I’d say under 10,000 names that you’re emailing to, should probably be significantly higher than that actually. The smaller your list where it’s more organic and sort of closely related, as you’re growing as an organization you’re typically going to have open rates that are much higher than that.

But I wouldn’t panic if yours is in the 13%-18% range. The click-through rates again, there’s a number of different cities out there but generally speaking for e-newsletters we’re looking at between 1.5% and 2% for a click-through rate. You’re not really trying to drive clicks in a very aggressive way with newsletters typically. So I think that’s fine.

Another metric that a lot of people look at is actually the click-through rate divided by that open rate. So the click to open ratio, what that does is it gives you a better sense for the quality of your content because it’s really just looking at the clicks related to how many people actually opened it, as opposed to the entire list that got it.

You may also however be interested in other things besides your open rate and your click-through rate. So you might want to look at the amount of traffic to your website that your emails generate, or you may want to look at response rates. So someone opens your newsletter. They’re counted there. They click on a link to go download a how-to guide. They’re counted there as a click. That is driving traffic to your website. So you’re counting it there.

And then if they actually fill out a little form or do whatever you need them to do to get the PDF from you, that would be part of the response rate, okay. So those are how that trail sort of fits together and you just need to decide what’s most important to you.

You also want to keep an eye on unsubscribes. Don’t freak out. However, if a few people unsubscribe from your newsletter each time, it’s not that big a deal. People’s interests change. You should prefer them to unsubscribe than to be hitting the spam button for example, or just ignoring you because they’re messing with your stuff that way. If people really don’t want your stuff, you want them to unsubscribe.

So don’t worry about it too much. Now if you see some big spikes, you certainly want to take a closer look and try to figure out what’s going on there. Ultimately, what you want your metrics to be telling you is that people were basically saying “thank you” for sending them the newsletter. They really want to get it from you and they want to hear what you have to say. And so if you get people replying to your newsletter with things like, “Thank you. This was great,” you know you’re doing the right thing.

Now that means that you are actually looking at the emails when people reply. So please don’t use one of those no-reply email addresses to send your newsletter. People should be able to reply to your newsletter and have a real human being get that reply. Now maybe it’s something you only look at a couple of times a week, that’s fine. But it should not be one of those black holes or god forbid, or something that produces an error message for people, okay.

So that’s our very first step is to really rethink why we’re doing this in the first place, and come up with a goal that really makes sense as part of your larger strategy and that is appropriate for emails, all right. Now once you’ve done that, you want to move on to step two which is really getting more specific about the people you’re trying to reach in order to implement that goal you just set.

And in some cases, you may need to do what we call “segmenting your email list.” So that’s breaking down your list into different smaller lists. But let’s just talk about the idea of who you’re writing for. Again, it’s really about the reader. It’s always about the reader in any content that you write but this is especially true with emails. Email is still a one-to-one communication. It feels like you’re blasting it out, I hate that terminology, but you’re blasting out your email to your entire list, but it’s still arriving in each person’s individual inbox. It’s coming to their phone. It’s still a very personal delivery and so people really feel about email as if it should be personal communication.

So this is where you have to stop thinking about it as blasting it out to a list and really get back to thinking about it as one-on-one communication, and really thinking about the people who are on the other end of that send. And when you’re doing that you really want to write directly to them.

So we talk about this all the time at Nonprofit Marketing Guide, how the overwhelming majority of your communications should be written in first and second person. It should really be “I am writing to you” or “We are doing this together.” Okay. You don’t really want to talk about yourself and the third person. You don’t want to talk about the recipients of the email in the third person.

There’s sometimes you can get around that but for the most part you really want to write it as if you’re speaking to those people, and again you need to know who those people are, and segmenting the list can be a really helpful way to get the right content to the right people. So the most common segment issue that we see with nonprofits is donors versus program participants.

So let’s say you work in education. You may need to talk to teachers or school administrators but you also want to talk to donors who are often more likely to be parents. Let’s just say that’s your situation. Well if you’re trying to do one single newsletter, odds are it’s not going to work because you probably have a lot of language and technical stuff that you need to talk to your professional community about that the parents may care about but they’re not going to understand it in the same lingo. They’re going to have a different perspective on those issues.

And then they want to hear different stories as donors. They want to know about the impact, not the minutia day-to-day insider stuff so much. So in that case it probably makes sense to have two newsletters. So you would be segmenting your list, and this example would fall under the second bullet here. Are people on your list for personal reasons or professional reasons?

You may need to segment by geography. You may need to segment by city or by state that you work in. You may run a lot of different programs and while you may be interested in moving your donors from supporting one program to another, the reality is that most of your donors probably support your organization for just one or two of your programs and knowing who supports what and why, is incredibly helpful.

So you may want to segment your newsletters that way. You may segment based on frequency. So a common example of different frequency for different parts of your list is for those of you that do a lot of advocacy work. So you probably have people on your list that are really into it, really care a lot. The kind of people that show up, that write, that call to respond on the issues, and when your issue is hot, when it’s being heard in front of your legislature, you’re going to want to email those people a lot more often and they’re going to want to hear from you a lot more often because they care about it.

But the person who just writes you a check in December, who is not one of your uber advocates, doesn’t want to hear from you every other day about what’s happening in some committee and in the legislature. So that’s another example where you want to really segment your list and know who is who so that you can really figure out who to talk to about what and when.

Behavior is another one and we often see this come into play with donor behavior. So the people who give to you via a monthly giving program, you probably want to talk to differently than the people that just gives you in December or that just come to your events or that are lapsed donors.

So you want to keep all of these things in mind when you’re speaking about your content creation schedule and the choices you’re making about what you’re going to include in your newsletter and who is going to get that newsletter, okay.

So I want to do a really quick little exercise here with you and this is something we do on a lot of our trainings so you may have done this with me before, but I want you to think of your newsletter as a gift, and so we know that in our life there are people who are good gift givers and bad gift givers. So I want you to think about the good gift giver in your life. Who is the person in your personal life who always gets you the best thing, whether it’s at the holidays, your birthday, whatever it is, think about that best gift giver in your life and I want you to chat in right now, why that person is the best gift giver? What is it about them that is so good?

So I’m going to take a sip of tea and then, Steven, if you can read off some of what you’re seeing about what makes people good gift givers.

Steven: Yeah, people are already chatting in. People are saying they know me well. They listen. They understand what I like. They give without expectation of it coming in return. They’re creative. They’re just flowing in right now. I can barely even keep up. They know it’s meaningful to me. They care about me. It’s personalized, the word “personalization” keeps popping up a lot. They know what they want, not just what you want. It’s relevant and creative.

Kivi: Okay, so the key things that you all are typing about the gift givers in your life are the same things you want the people on your e-newsletter list to say about you, that you personalize the content for them. You listen to them. You understand them. You know what they want, okay. It’s the same thing.

Now, let’s talk about the bad gift giver. Who is the person in your life when they give you a present you know you’re going to get your best acting award of the year because you’re going to have to fake your way through this thing and pretend like it’s awesome when it really sucks. Okay, so who are those people and why are they such bad gift givers? Go ahead and share some of that with us now. What makes them bad?

Steven: Oh a good one, Deanna said they bought in bulk. That’s a good one. It’s a used item. They’re not personalized. They’re random. They come late. They’re generic. I think people are going with this, Kivi. This is a good exercise. They’re cheap, useless, bad timing.

Kivi: Okay, let’s just take a few of those words, random, late, generic, okay. Unfortunately, those words can describe a lot of email newsletters from nonprofits and they suck. They’re bad, okay. So that’s what we’re trying to get you away from. We really want you to position yourself as a good gift giver, which is the exact same thing as a good email newsletter editor for the people on your list, okay.

So you have to know who those people are and you have to know why they’re on your list and why they care, and you have to know what your goal is for communicating with them and building that relationship with them, okay. So these are two pretty big strategic tasks I’m giving you here. Setting the goal and figuring out who you’re really talking to.

If you don’t really know those answers, this is the kind of thing you need to have a discussion within your organization. You might need to do some surveying of your current list to figure out who the heck these people are if you don’t know. We’re going to move into things that are a little more tactical now. But let’s just sort of close this part with a summary on some of the bad gift giving and how that translates into bad newsletters.

It’s basically a narrative of your to-do list. We see this a lot. You just talk about we did last week or we did last month. Nobody really cares. Just no one wants to know what your to-do list was. You’re trying to cover too much stuff, too many topics, too many different angles. It’s too complicated for email.

Email people are rushing through their inbox. They don’t want to focus, have to focus, they don’t want to have to focus. If you’re making it too complicated, people can’t follow it. It just takes too long. They just leave it. Big process stop or 13 different events you’re trying to get people to put on their calendar, it’s just too much. Emphasize the organizations instead of people, those are things that make your newsletter suck.

All right, so let’s talk about the good things, the good gifts. Like I said the word “you” because that really forces you as the writer, to write about them, the reader, okay. So you’re using the second person a lot. It’s very timely information. Email is a very timely platform. So this is the difference between your print newsletter and your email newsletter. If you’re sending a quarterly print newsletter, I’m sure that stuff has a lot of evergreen content. It’s not the kind of thing where you need it to land in somebody’s inbox on the exact day.

Email on the other hand, is perfect for that. So we expect our email to have timely information and specific information. You want to give people results that they help produce, especially if you were doing this for donors. You want to give people really good people stories, dramatic stories about individuals, and for those of you that are really trying to help other people do better in their own lives, you might want to do some how-to articles.

For those of you that are trying to do more about thought leadership kind of positioning, you probably want to include some provocative opinion pieces that really do kind of grab people’s attention and get them reading, right. So those are examples of what good gifts look like in newsletters.

Let’s go ahead and talk a little bit more now about the content and the timing because these two things are really interrelated. What you’re trying to do here is you kind of want to be Santa Claus. You want to build that anticipation, the new letter is coming. I mean wouldn’t that be amazing if everyone on your newsletter list was just waiting for it? That’s a pretty high bar to set but that’s where you want to shoot for. You want people to notice when your newsletter doesn’t come, all right.

Now, how you make that work between the quality of your content and the frequency is something you need to work on, and well my cat has decided to join the webinar here. So look at this chart a little bit, okay. So you have the frequency of your content. So how often you’re sending it out. You’ve got a low frequency versus high frequency. Let me see, do I have like a little marker? I think I do.

Okay, we have low versus high. And then on the quality of the content, this is like how good your stuff is. So again, we’ve got low over here to high over here. Now if you’re sending out low quality content frequently, you are spamming people and they are going to unsubscribe.

If you’re sending low quality content infrequently, people are probably just going to ignore you. You’re not doing it enough to make them crazy, so they think you’re spam and they unsubscribe. They’ll probably just ignore you.

Now if you’re sending really good stuff but you’re not sending it often enough, you’re probably not getting very good results. So it’s good but enough people aren’t seeing it or you aren’t giving them enough opportunity to see it and follow through. If you’re sending high-quality content at a higher frequency, that’s where you’re typically going to get your best results because you’re giving people enough opportunity to act and even people who think they might be seeing it too much, don’t really mind because you’re sending such a good stuff, all right.

So you’re really trying to get somewhere over here. Odds are, you probably need to be emailing a little more than you are but let’s go ahead and talk about that. So our next poll is about how often you send your primary newsletter? So an e-newsletter, okay. We’re talking email here and we’re talking the main one. For those of you that have more than one email newsletter, how often do you send out your main email newsletter?

You’ve got a bunch of choices on your screen here. Weekly, twice a month, monthly, every other month, quarterly, it varies too much to say or we don’t do a newsletter. Click on the little bullet that best represents how often you send out your primary email newsletter.

About 75% of you have voted so far. I’ll give you just a couple more seconds. Right, let’s go ahead and skip to the results here. So looks like a little over 40% of you are doing it monthly, 20% doing it quarterly, 16% not doing it, and then the rest are sort of a mish mash of timing.

But I want you to notice the 10%, 11%, 12% here, they’re doing it weekly or more than once a month, okay, because this is generally what I’m going to recommend you do. In our Nonprofit Communications Trends Report that we do at Nonprofit Marketing Guide, which if you don’t have, you can get at We ask a lot of questions, including questions about both direct mail and email frequency, and so you can see the trend is pretty steady here. Overwhelmingly the biggest cohort of nonprofit sends out the newsletter monthly, okay.

I actually think you need to be sending it a little more often than that if you can. I would prefer to see most people doing it twice a month. Now again, that goes back to the chart we just looked at. If you don’t have good enough quality to send that often, don’t send it that often. You only want to send out at the level where you can really keep that quality high.

For those of you that are not sending an email newsletter, you are really in the minority and so you need to understand that that the expectation is that you really are going to do an email newsletter. And we talked about the good gifts, right, what good gifts look like? Where are you putting those gifts? They need to be shining through in what we call the micro content.

So yes, you’re going to write articles but the article text is actually the least important part of your newsletter. The most important parts are the small bits of texts that people actually look at. So your frontline, your subject line, your headings and your subheadings are super important because most people are only going to read those. And then anything you’ve bolded are your calls-to-action.

Okay, so how are we doing it? I can take a couple of questions. We’re actually going to get into what these things should look like next, but I’ll see if we have a couple of questions before we do that, Steven.

Steven: There’s a couple of good ones, Kivi, I thought I’d pull out. David here saying that he has three newsletters, so there’s three different specific newsletters that he sends out, in addition to his general weekly newsletter. How often would you suggest sending out when you have multiple newsletters? I know you’ve said that you like kind of the weekly or a twice monthly but what if you have multiple newsletters? Should they all go out at that same frequency each or should he maybe dial it back since there’s multiple newsletters?

Kivi: So it totally depends on who is getting what, okay. So this is where the segment strategy is really important. So if everybody on the list is getting all three newsletters, then I would question why there has to be two newsletters? There’s probably some segmenting going on.

So what I think you want to do is try to analyze that overlap a little bit. What percentage of people are getting more than one newsletter and how does that look, and then try to make sure the schedule is spread out a little bit so that you’re not sending everybody a ton of emails in the first week of a month and then they don’t hear from you for three weeks.

So to the extent that people are getting multiple newsletters from you and you can kind of figure out who’s who, try to stagger that a little bit. I think that makes sense. If there’s no overlap between the segments where you have three very distinct lists, three very distinct newsletters, then it doesn’t matters so much. It’s really more of a workload and workflow decision on your part because although people are only going to see the one newsletter that’s really for them. So I think you have to dive into the list a little bit to decide.

Steven: Makes sense. One more if you don’t mind there since you brought up segmenting, I thought I would ask Heidi’s question. She says that her boss doesn’t believe in segmenting. So she is getting a little bit of resistance there. The boss prefers reputation building types of messages and the boss wants those emails to go to everyone. And Heidi’s just for tips for how to get buy-in on segmenting, how you convince a boss or a supervisor that this is the way to go, and maybe just the general question about buy-in for everyone listening. Do you have some resistance to some of these ideas?

Kivi: So it totally depends on what the person, how they respond to any kind of change in the workplace. So one way that some people respond to the fact that oh, it’s best practice. So if you can go find somebody that they trust, who says to do it, oftentimes people will say that’s what they use me for but if your boss doesn’t know me or doesn’t care about who I am, then that doesn’t work for you. You have to move on to something else.

So the next thing would be in an organization that he looks up to, is doing it, and lots of people are sharing information about their communication strategy in our sector. We’re very lucky about that. You can find tons of examples of nonprofit talking about how they do this and that, or you can just call them yourself and talk to their communications director and figure out how they’re doing it.

So you can say, “Hey, the organization down the street is doing this. Maybe we should try it.” Some people are more responsive to that. If you can convince him to let you do an experiment of your very own, I think that’s actually the best and sometimes you can talk them into, okay, let’s just try this one time or two times and see what happens. Odds are in your favor that if you do segmenting, you are going to have better opening click-through rates. That means that you’re saying the right content to the right people.

So try something and see what works and show him the data and make decisions based on that. Do we go . . .

Steven: I love the idea of . . . yeah, go for it. Go ahead.

Kivi: What were you going to say, Steven?

Steven: Oh I did love your idea of maybe pointing to another organization that maybe they know about that’s doing that and saying, “Hey, they do it so maybe we should try and do it,” type of the idea.

Kivi: Yeah, it just depends . . . you know your boss. If you’ve worked with him long enough you sort of know how they make decisions and what their respond to and what they don’t. Some people are very dare driven. Some people are not. Some people are very driven by what everybody else is doing. So you just have to sort of figure out what your best appeal is going to be.

Okay, so let’s go ahead and talk about tip number four here which is to really simplify, shorten and streamline, and this should actually be a huge relief to a lot of you because it means you have to do less work. So it looks like what I’m actually talking about. I want you to think about sending fewer words more often. So this is where I’m saying if you can do it every other week, I like that better than monthly. I certainly like that a lot more than quarterly.

Those of you who are emailing quarterly, I’d want to know what else you’re sending out besides your newsletter, but if you’re not sending much others on the newsletter quarterly, you’re just not emailing enough. You’re just not going to be present enough for people to really recognize who you are in those situations.

So I want you to think about sending fewer words more often. Maybe you are sending a monthly newsletter that’s on the long side. Well why don’t you just break that thing in half and send it every other week and it will be more focused and short and skimmable for your readers.

Now I’m sure there are couple of you that are saying, “Oh my god, we’re doing the opposite thing. We’ve just been talking about making it longer and doing it less often.” Okay, this is usually a result of you just feeling overworked and slumped in trying to consolidate things on your to-do list but it’s the wrong direction. Don’t want to do it less often. You generally want to do it more often, as often as you can do it with really good, high-quality content.

You have to get in front of people multiple times, especially online and especially with email in order for them to do anything usually. So communicating less, if you’re emailing someone every day then yeah, we might need to talk about how you communicate less, or if you’re sending the exact same thing out every week, we might need to talk about that, but the majority of you listening on the line today are probably not emailing enough, all right.

So I want you to think about your email communications as small plates, as tapas, that add up to a satisfying meal, not as dumping all of your stuff on everybody all at once, okay. You’ve got to make it bite-sized. People are not going to deal with a 2000-word newsletter in their inbox anymore. It’s just not how people do email, all right.

Let’s look now at three different nonprofit e-newsletters that I’ve subscribed to for a lot of years now. So I’ve been watching how they have evolved and we’re not going to be able to read them. We’re just mostly going to focus on what they look like and how skimmable they are and also how mobile-friendly they are because you know about half of email is looked at on a mobile device now, right. So that’s a really important consideration.

So let’s start with Grist. Grist is an environmental news network. They are a nonprofit that is really trying to advocate for action on planet change and so they do a lot of different reporting around that issue and they try to make environmental issue interesting and compelling and engaging instead of like doomsday scenario. So they have a very specific kind of point of view and this was their email newsletter in 2012.

So I just want you to sort of look at the screen, see the different pieces here. I’m going to pull up how the thing has evolved over time and I want you to chat in the changes that you’re seeing, okay. Steven, I’m going to need you be on the ball here reporting these changes that people see.

Okay, so this is 2012. This is what it looked like in 2013. The stuff on the right belongs under the stuff on the left, okay. So it’s a one column newsletter but it’s a long newsletter and I just screen captured it this way so you can see all of it. The stuff on the right actually belongs under the stuff on the left.

So what’s the first couple of changes that you’re seeing between 2012 and 2013? And this is 2013, this is 2012, what changes are we seeing?

Steven: Longer, more content, bigger pictures, couple of those said those excerpts are a little a bit shorter, maybe they did that so it could fit more on to the page but mostly more content is what we’re seeing I think.

Kivi: Okay. Part of that is just the screen capturing. There were actually more articles under this one but I just didn’t have on the screen here. The big change is actually the second column that had been removed. So this is now gone. And then this is also sort of cleaned up a little bit, the header, if you look at . . . come on, bring it up. Okay, so you can see this is very simplified at the top and it’s one column now. There is a lot of content here. You’re right about that. There are eight stories here or something like that, which is usually I would say, too many. But they are a news network and so this is really the delivery of their service. So they’re going to include more news than a typical nonprofit would, okay.

But let’s focus on how this sort of content is presented here. What you have in 2013, now we’re going to look at 2014 and I want you to see if you can see the differences, right. So it’s 2014, I’ll just click back to 2013 for a second. What are some of the differences between 2013 and 2014?

Notice anything different?

Steven: People are saying the heading’s got a little bit bigger. People like the social media buttons on the bottom. The “read more” button has gone, a couple of people said.

Kivi: Yeah, exactly. So again, I haven’t totally screen captured everything perfectly. Here there were probably social buttons on the bottom of this one but you’ll see on each of these where it says, it’s got “read more” “read more” “read more”, they are really simplifying and just totally stripping this down to the barebones of what needs to be there.

So in 2014 those were gone now. The way that you would read an article is to either click on the graphic or click on the headline. So both the headlines and the graphics are hyperlinks. Okay, let’s look again between 2014 and 2015, okay. So you’ve got that one from 2014. What do you see in 2015? Anyone notice any change there? 2014 and 15.

Steven: It looks like that top sort of lead story kind of diminished in 2015. There isn’t that like lead story is bigger.

Kivi: Right, so they used to really highlight this photo bigger than the rest of them. So now, it’s very streamlined, very smooth. Everything is the same size and if it’s at the top, that’s good enough. It doesn’t need to be bigger. The fact that it’s first is the message.

They’ve also removed the word “by” in front of the name. Again, they are trying to strip down every little bit that’s not needed. So you can see this “by” here but in this year that’s gone. They just have the name, okay. So again, we’re just trying to put in front of people the things we want them to see and we’re stripping away all the extraneous stuff. So everything that’s presented to them needs to be there.

All right, now this is 2016. So what’s the final sort of subtle changes you see? Like then I’ll show you 2015, 2016.

Steven: Looks like it’s just headlines. The first part of the text is gone, right? Now it’s just the titles.

Kivi: Yeah it’s just the headlines. They’ve gone to just the headline and they’ve inserted a few other things. So they’re running ads now. This is just part of their fundraising strategy, and they have the “support our nonprofit mission” button here. For a long time they didn’t have any of that kind of stuff in their newsletter and I think they’re just trying to see if they can use the newsletter.

They still send out specific fundraising emails as well. They’re not relying entirely on the buttons in the newsletter but they’ve thrown those in as well. But yeah, that text is gone. So now you just click on the picture or you click on the headline. Honestly, that’s all you really need, especially with a daily newsletter you just want to sort of see what the headlines are. They write really good headlines. They’re very focused on their micro content and that’s all you need, okay.

Let’s take a look at a different kind of newsletter. This is a more traditional donor newsletter. So this is St. Jude’s and this is their 2012 newsletter, okay. So everybody kind of seeing what’s where on that one, and then this was what they started releasing in 2014. So what differences do you see between 2014 and 2012?

Well 2014. What differences do you see here? Help Steven out. Chat in with your . . .

Steven: Some people are saying there’s less clutter, just the stories, fewer articles. Looks like they kind of hone in on what they would want people to look like. The arrangement. Yeah.

Kivi: Yeah, so I think it’s definitely simplified. They’ve gotten rid of this like additional table of contents to additional stories and have really tried to just focus in. They simplified the header a little bit so it’s just a little cleaner. I’m not a fan of this, like putting this here on the side and then right justifying on the other. I would flip flop those but I’m not the newsletter editor.

Okay, so this is what they then changed it to in 2015 to 2016. So what do we see here? Again, this is their current layout versus the 2014 layout.

Steven: Oh that big single image at top that kind of draws your eyes in right away and they’ve got trails down below.

Kivi: And again, it’s really moving to single column. So before we had this sort of, I mean this is technically single column but the way it’s laid out, it sort of looks like dual columns. Here we’ve got the picture that goes across and the text is going all the way across. They still have this sort of weird thing going on down here which I don’t totally understand, but they’re simplifying it, okay. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Let me show you sort of the ultimate in simplification. This was the 2014 newsletter from the National Parks Conservation Association. This was in the email, okay. Now again, this whole thing on the right here was under the stuff on the left. But this is definitely a holdover from a long time ago when people thought they needed to make their email to look like their website, okay, and it took the NPCA a little while to understand that that was wrong. But this is what they used to send out, okay.

What are some of the things that are wrong with it? I mean they have changed it and I’m going to show you their current layout which is vastly improved, but what are some of the things that are wrong with this newsletter?

Steven: People are saying too many columns. It’s kind of busy, it’s hard to show the reader what you want them to focus on basically.

Kivi: Exactly, exactly. So I’m in my inbox. I got 300 emails coming in here. I’m trying to go through this and I’m supposed to, “What do you want me to do here?” I don’t know because I’ve got like 15,000 links I can click on and my eye is jumping everywhere, okay. So this is not good.

What they do now makes a lot more sense. Again, the stuff on the right would be under the stuff on the left. Single column and they’ve got a nice feature story at the top, followed by a very clean, skimmable layout that again looks a lot more like that Grist layout. They’re still doing the teaser text which is fine. I’m not against teaser text but you can see the pictures are all the same size. They’re aligned. We’ve got the same sort of pattern here.

Now what a lot of people will say is, “Oh, it’s so boring. It’s so boring.” You want the layout to be boring because boring is easy. Boring is fast. Boring is skimmable and that’s why you need your email to be, if you’re sending me this, “I don’t have time for this. I don’t know what you want me to look at. I don’t know. Ah. Get me out of here immediately


If you’re sending me this, “Oh, least visited parks. Battlefields, Everglades, best of America, I’ve got it. Bam, I’m out.” I see what you’re sending me. I like it. I’m going to stay on your list and maybe I actually am thinking I go to the Everglades. So I’m going to click on this, okay.

That’s what you want people to do with your newsletters, and I stay on this list because I like the national parks and because every now and then I read an article. I don’t read it every time. I don’t even open it every time but the majority of the content is in the ball park for me and so I stay on the list, all right.

A lot of what you’re hearing today is about mobile and is about making it mobile-friendly, and actually if we go back a little bit to that last Grist example is right. That one. This one. It’s kind of hard to tell on the screen capture but this column is actually a little more narrow than it even used to be.

So again, that’s a response to mobile. It’s about making sure that it looks good on a phone. So single column, links need to tappable, so you’re talking pretty large buttons or large text, again your big headlines, the big very clear graphics where I can hit it with my big fat finger and it’s going to be fine. I’m not going to potentially click on five different links because it’s in a paragraph somewhere. Lots of white space. Everything is very clearly divided, clearly organized.

Okay, so tip number five here. You need to plan it out. You’ve got to plan it and you need to integrate it with your other content, particularly your social media. So less making it up as you go, more planning. The first thing you want to do is figure out how many content buckets you have to sell.

So if we go back on this newsletter for example, I think there might have been another article or two but let’s just say this is it. I have a feature article that I know is one bucket, and then let’s just say I know I always have four top stories. So I have five buckets I need to fill in each of my newsletters and if I’m doing that monthly, that is 60 buckets that I have to fill in my newsletter, and you really need to think about it that way because those are each precious opportunities for you to be communicating with your segment or your list, and to really meet that goal.

So you need to plan that out and use those spaces wisely. So you want to be using an editorial calendar. You want to be thinking ahead and you also want to think about how you’re going to integrate that with your social media, okay. There needs to be a lot of back and forth with your content between your social media channels and your e-newsletter.

And if you play your cards right, your social media can be a huge benefit to you as an email newsletter writer because it can really function as a pressure release valve. If you’re going to limit the amount of stuff you’re putting in your newsletter, it means you’re not going to be able to include everything that everybody in the office wants you to dump in there. And so you can say things like, “I’ll tweet it for you. I’ll put on the Facebook page.”

Now you still have to manage all of that too and make sure that you’re not spamming people via social media but you’re going to have more buckets in social media than you’re going to have an email. You can put things three, five times a day on your Facebook page and more than that on Twitter. So you have more opportunity to communicate but opportunities within your email are a bit more precious and so they should be a little more sacred in terms of the content that you put into them.

You can also use social media as the place to do your test runs. So you can try out content. You can experiment with things online on social media and see if that works before you give up one of those precious positions in your newsletter.

And at Nonprofit Marketing Guide we are actually doing a training in May and June. It’s a six-week accelerator course on integrating email newsletters and social media. It’s something we just opened registration for yesterday and we’re going to walk you through that whole process of how you make your e-newsletters and social media really integrated and optimized. So if that is something you’re interested in, you can check that out at Nonprofit Marketing Guide.

Okay, as we approach the top of the hour, I want to make sure we have time for some final questions. So let’s do another quick poll. Given what I’ve talked about today, what do you feel like you might work on first? Setting the right goal for your newsletter, so not just updating people generically. Being more reader-focused, maybe segmenting your list or just getting really intentional about being that really good gift giver. Promising and delivering great content on a good schedule so that people can really look forward to it. Simplifying and shortening the newsletter, really thinking about some of the things you saw on the evolutions I showed you. You are overwhelmed and not sure where to start, or you really think you’ve got this and you’re in pretty good shape actually.

Like about half of you have picked an answer. Okay, a few more people responding. Show the results now. So simplifying and shorting is the winner so far, yay, and then promising and delivering great content, setting the right goal, being more reader focused. Wonderful.

I’m sorry that I overwhelmed the 4.4% of you. Just take it bit-by-bit. Just pick one thing that we talked about today and work on that. Any of these one things you can do individually and that will make progress, okay. It’s not like you have to do all of it at once.

Okay, so get a new mindset about your newsletter. Start over from scratch if you have to. Sometimes it’s better to just wipe the slate clean than to try to keep tinkering with something that doesn’t work, particularly if you’re still on a three-column newsletter. Just start over, and I am happy to take any final questions that you have for me.

Here’s how to stay in touch with me, and I’m going to throw it back to Steven. So Steven, I’m happy to answer questions and however long you want to stay on is fine with me.

Steven: Yeah, that’s great Kivi. There were so many questions, I feel like I couldn’t even flag them as fast as they were coming in. Would you be willing to take questions via Twitter and email? Is that cool with you?

Kivi: Yeah, let’s actually do it on social media. It’s a little bit better so everyone can see them. So I don’t know, do you want to do it with your Facebook page and Twitter or how do you want to handle it?

Steven: Yeah, we’ll get some tweeting going for sure. Tweet @Kivi and tweet @Bloomerang. I’ll see those for sure. We’d love to keep the conversation going. I want to be careful of people’s time in case they have not eaten lunch. We’re just about 2 o’clock and I know we didn’t get all the questions but Kivi, there’s these rave reviews coming in that they loved the webinar. That was awesome. We had a little bit of an audience here at Bloomerang listening in too. I know they enjoyed it as well.

Please reach out to Kivi. Please follow her online. Check out both of her great books. Check out her blog You will not be disappointed in the content you see there and I appreciate everyone taking an hour or so out of your day to join us. It was a lot of fun. We do do these webinars just about every Thursday. There’s lots of good resources on our website. You can check out our resources page.

We’re off next week but we’re back two weeks from today. On the 31st we’ve got Ligia Pena as our guest and she is here to talk about planned giving. So if you’re new to planned giving, if you’re a small shop specifically and you don’t have a planned giving program yet, we will help you get one going.

So check out that webinar. We’ve got a couple other webinars scheduled out in advance that you can register for well but we would love to see you again.

So Kivi, final thank you to you. Thanks so much. This was really great having you.

Kivi: Well thanks for having me and I’m sorry we ran out of time. If you just want to post the questions to social media everyone, I’ll try to look that over in the next 24 hours. I’ll watch my pages as well as Bloomerang’s and we’ll try to get your questions answered.

Steven: Yeah, don’t be shy. Tweet us, send us a message. We love to keep the conversation going. But Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Have a great rest of your Thursday and a great weekend and hopefully we will see you back here in just a couple of weeks. So take care.


Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.