Creating Your Own Newsletter
An effective tool for both internal and external communications
As an in-house organ, a newsletter can facilitate communication within your group, especially if members are spread over a wide geographical area. But regardless if your organization is local, regional, or national, leaders can use an internal newsletter to define and explain an organizations philosophy, goals, and policies. Such a publication also can motivate and build morale by recognizing the contributions and accomplishments of individual members.
Topics for internal newsletters can include profiles of new or long-serving people, the opening of new facilities, the introduction of new services, the achievement of milestones or observance of anniversaries, changes in organizational policy, or any other information that will help members of your group perform more effectively and efficiently. For internal newsletters, it is important to highlight and acknowledge the contributions of as many people as possible in your organization, especially volunteers and donors for whom recognition is often the only reward for their efforts.
External newsletters can be effective vehicles for publicizing your group and promoting its causes. The key is to educate and inform decision-makersand ultimately, the general public. The key in producing an external publication is to remember that your audience may not be familiar with or sympathetic to your cause unless and until you carefully explain, in laymans terms, why it is important, not only to you, but to the general public or the community at large.
Newsletter Content or What is News?
Newsletters should contain mostly shorter news stories, although longer "feature stories" and regular "columns" are part of the mix of any good newsletter.
One dictionary defines news as "information about recent events or happenings, or new information of any kind." To judge whether an item is truly newsworthy, ask yourself, "Is this information that we didnt know or couldnt have known yesterday?
News stories can include articles on your organizations annual meetings, award ceremonies, special events, anniversaries or milestones. Stories on the opening of new facilities and launching of new initiatives also can document how your organization is moving forward. New developments regarding issues within your field of interest also should be covered to keep your readers abreast of current events.
Besides covering news of interest to your constituency, an external newsletter can include "feature stories," such as profiles of people or issues that are outside your organization, but are important to your cause. Also, regular "columns," such as "Message from the Executive Director," "Letters to the Editor" or Washington Watch" can build interest and give a sense of consistency to both the content and design of the publication.
Its difficult to teach news writing, but here are a few helpful hints:
Format and Design
First and foremost, the layout of your newsletter should resemble that of a newspaper. If the content of the newsletter is news, then the layout should be crisp, clean and businesslike. Most newsletters are printed on standard-size paper that measures 8½ by 11 inches, so the layout should have at least two and preferably three or four columns. Once a design is established, it should remain consistent, yet have enough flexibility that you can deal with both long and short stories and include photography or art work if desired.
The main or body text should be a serif typeface (one that has a fine line finishing off the main strokes of a letter, as at the top and bottom of the letter N. Headlines should be in a larger, bolder sans serif (without a serif) typeface to enhance readability. Popular serif typefaces include Times Roman and Century Schoolbook. Commonly used sans serif type faces are Helvetica Bold or Franklin Gothic. A common error among new or amateur publishers is to use too many typefaces. Try to limit the number of typefaces you use to two, or at most, three per publication.
One variation, however, you can use to attract and hold readers interest is to utilize a different design for the "columns" or sidebars within the newsletter. By drawing a box around a special section, using a lightly tinted background or using a different typeface or a variation of your main typeface (italic or bold), you can draw attention to these sections.
Photography and Art Work
Because a picture is worth a thousand words, photographs drawing and other artwork can help draw the reader in and enhance the overall appearance of your newsletter. Your budget and the capabilities of the printer you use to publish your newsletter will dictate how fancy you can get. Computerized clip art is an inexpensive way to illustrate general concepts. Most printers can handle black and white photos and line drawings relatively easily. Consult with your printing vendor about the use of color images.
If you want to publish photographs of individuals who are not part of your organization, you may need to obtain permission for using their image through a "photo release." Consult reference books (see below) on this and other legal aspects of publishing, such as rules regarding copyrights and libel.
Within the last 15 years, the emergence of inexpensive and powerful software and hardware for publishing have made it easy for virtually anyone to produce a newsletter. However, having access to sophisticated word-processing (WordPerfect or Microsoft Word) and page-layout software (QuarkXpress or Pagemaker) and scanning and output devices that can easily reproduce both text and high-quality graphics does not make you a designer or editor. Therefore, is important to consult with publishing professionalseditors and graphic artistswhen creating a newsletter. Even if you cannot afford to pay such people to help you produce your newsletter on a regular basis, invest the money to have them critique your prototype design and layout.
Seeking expert advice is just as important if you are going to post your newsletter on the Internet. Web publishing is a rapidly expanding and evolving field, but the same basic rules of design and content still apply, so enlist the support of experts who can help you design an appealing, informative and useful Web publication.
Frequency of Publication
How often to publish is a question that people who are starting a newsletter must address. Most start-up publications establish a modest goal of quarterly publication and then progressively increase the frequency to monthly, bi-monthly or weekly if demand warrants. Ultimately, the frequency of your newsletter is determined by how often you can fill it with meaningful news.
For more information, consult the following books:
Promoting Issues & Ideas, a Guide to Public Relations for Nonprofit Organizations (second edition), by M. Booth & Associates, Inc., The Foundation Center, 1995. ISBN 0-87954-594-1.
The Practice of Public Relations (fifth edition), by Fraser P. Seitel, Macmillan Publishing, 1992. ISBN 0-02-408830-7.
The Associated Press Guide To News Writing (second edition), by Rene J. Cappon, Macmillan Publishing, 1991. ISBN 0-13-053679-2.
The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual (sixth trade edition), Norm Goldstein, Editor, Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1996. ISBN 0-201-40717-5
The Elements of Style, Strunk & White
Or visit the following Web sites:
Coming Soon: Tips on distributing newsletters, maintaining mailing lists, and associated subjects. Also: Administration Support Services that can take the load off you.