02 Sep Resist Replacing Paper Newsletters with ENews
I spoke with a land trust client last week that had made the switch several years ago. They no longer were producing costly print newsletters. They were completely paperless now with eNewsletters being distributed six times a year.
“How’s your renewal rate?” I asked, anticipating the answer. He didn’t know. It turns out the renewal rate had declined and was continuing to decline. Cause and effect? I think so.
Organizations get into eNewsletters for lots of compelling reasons:
- It’s cheaper,
- You can monitor the open rate,
- We can afford to send them more often resulting in increased communications with our members and donors,
And my personal favorite,
- As an environmental organization, going paperless is much more consistent with our mission!
You are shooting yourself in your organizational foot.
Before writing me off as a first-class nut, read Tom Ahern’s book, Making Money with Donor Newsletters: The How-To Guide to Extraordinary Results.
Ahern makes a compelling case that when done well, printed newsletters retain donors and build loyalty. I’ll go even farther. If you switch off your printed newsletters in favor of electronic substitutes, you will lose members and donors.
Furthermore, printed newsletters often have legs. They get toted onto buses and trains. They get left in waiting rooms. They last on coffee tables for months. They are frequently read by more people than just those to whom they were sent. And when they include an envelope, they make money. Read here about a Michigan land trust who recruits 200 new members each year from their newsletter.
I think this substitution is happening for two reasons: First, print media is increasingly seen as expensive and wasteful. This is a “gross” argument. If you include “net” information – how much money comes in directly from the newsletter, and how many members feel that much more connected and are that much more likely to renew when the time comes – print media actually performs much better than electronic. And if the medium carries a direct ask (direct mail solicitation), it’s not even close.
Second, champions of electronic media are overwhelmingly young. They prefer electronic media for all the “right” reasons (itemized above) AND because it’s the communications style they themselves prefer. My daughter came home from college for the holidays several years ago, boyfriend in tow. Between the two of them, they read some five or six newspapers plus the Economist magazine each day – all on-line.
The problem is that our donors – overwhelmingly – are NOT young. They get their news from newspapers they hold in their hands. They carry print media around with them to finish as they get to it. And they subscribe to the time-honored practice of reading while sitting on the throne. When we stop producing print newsletters, many of these donors stop hearing from us altogether.
None of this makes eNews bad, of course. ENews has its place in your overall communications planning. But it’s not an acceptable substitute for print. It’s a completely different medium. Treat it that way.
If you can handle it, do both, and do both well. If you just don’t have that kind of time, keep the print and can the electronic. If nothing else, you’ll keep more members and build loyalty.
By the way, there’s another reason to read Ahern’s book: it’s a great resource for people wishing to write and produce more effective donor newsletters.
Photo credit: Guckenberg-Sturm Marsh, Courtesy of Northeast Wisconsin Land Trust.