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From his column Church Techchurch-tech-03-15-1

Every day my email inbox fills with missives and invitations, requests for donations, "handy" coupons, links to sneezing panda bears or flying monkeys, and newsletters. I receive newsletters from schools, band teachers, restaurants, tech websites, charities, and at least a couple from our church. Some I read occasionally, some I delete without opening, and some I examine religiously. I am also involved in the sending side of a few newsletters, as well. Based on these experiences, I would like to take a look at what makes a good email newsletter, and what tools are available to create and send them.

Keeping it Simple

More and more of us are reading email on our phones rather than desktops. Because of this, newsletters need to work well on the large or small screen. Those that arrive with content in large PDF attachments or have complex layout structures with lots of colors and large animated images, may be ignored or result in your followers clicking the “unsubscribe” button. The type of newsletter I find most helpful is one that is easy to skim and quick to absorb. A good newsletter has a few relevant pieces of information which are easily browsed. If the information is brief—say, a paragraph or less—then the information should comprise the body of the email itself. If there are multiple paragraphs on a topic, then the email should contain an interesting headline, a couple of summary sentences, and a link to the full article on the organization’s website. This allows readers to quickly determine interest (or lack thereof) in the article. If it sparks interest, they can click the link and browse to their heart's content on your website.

For example, my son is a high school freshman. The e-newsletter I receive from his school should be designed so I can breeze past the section for students to find the information pertinent to my wife and me as parents. A newsletter that forces me to look for the stuff I want/need to read may just get deleted.

Respect your readers by providing an easy one-click “unsubscribe” in the footer, along with the physical address of your organization. Also, avoid including the email addresses of all subscribers in the “To” or “CC” portions of the email. This will keep an aggressive salesman from abusing your readers with spam.

Don’t wear out your readers by sending communications too frequently. You may be excited about the daily progress of the new mural in the classroom, but your readers may find weekly or monthly updates are sufficient.

Once your content is ready to go, choose an inviting subject line. For many, this makes the difference between clicking “delete” or “open.” For example, if I were creating a newsletter for your church, which of the following subject lines do you think would be more likely to be opened?

 

This Week’s Sermon from the Book of Matthew

or

“Why We Miss Our Blessings”—Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount

________

 

Canned and Dry Goods Needed for Food Pantry

or

Food Pantry Feeds 500 Each Month—You Can Help!

________

 

Children’s Gathering Wednesday Evening

or

Kingdom Kids—Stories, Games, and Music for Ages 6 to 12—Wednesday Evening

 

Useful Tools

You can manage an email newsletter from your normal email program, but there are specialized systems which provide helpful benefits for keeping your group informed. One of these—MailChimp—is a popular web-based tool that provides many professionally designed templates that can be customized. It creates a footer in compliance with anti-spam laws, and allows users to easily gauge response to newsletters, so you can see which stories, subject lines, and so forth, generate the strongest interest. It is free if you’re only doing a small number of mailings, and inexpensive beyond that.

Finally

Email newsletters provide a good way to keep your community, church, or friends (and they’re more meaningful than flying monkeys). Take these ideas and see what you can do to keep others engaged, informed, and looking forward to seeing your name in their inbox.

Mark Evilsizor has worked in Information Technology for more than 20 years. He currently serves as head of IT for the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Mo. Views and opinions expressed are strictly his own.

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