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April 24, 2014 | 24th Nisan 5774

Creating Effective E-Newsletters

You know how to write a good letter….you’ve mastered the art of writing concise memos…your newsletters are appealing and inviting….and you’ve learned the dos and don’ts of netiquette. But do you know how to write an effective e-newsletter?

Each form of writing has unique and distinct conventions that make them useful and appealing. Just as footnotes are necessary in a scholarly article but are definitely not needed in letters to your friends and family, so too the writing of e-newsletters is different from other kinds of writing. Here to help are 10 steps to help make your e-newsletter a success.

1. Keep it short and sweet!

Write your newsletter, and then cut the text in half! Whether reading email or surfing the web, studies show that very few people actually read anything on their computers. Instead, they scan emails and pages quickly, looking for something of interest to click on.

When writing your newsletter, keep your text as short and simple as possible. Weigh every word carefully, and cut out anything that is extraneous. Use bullets to make your points, and use the active, not passive voice.

Remember: you only have a few seconds of your reader’s attention, and make it easy for them to quickly find what they’re looking for.

A general rule of thumb would be 500 – 750 words, at most.

2. Use great subject lines and headlines.

Your subject line should grab their attention, but be careful of using words that might be seen as spam. Make sure it’s easy to distinguish one month’s email from another.

Use headlines in the body of the email to give your readers visual clues as to items that might be of interest. Headlines should be short, to the point, and specific, not general. Some examples:

· And on the sixth night...

· Replace your lightbulbs, save the world

· Goodbye summer, hello High Holy Days

3. Make it predictable.

Just as when you pick up a newspaper, you know you’ll find opinion pieces near the editorials, and all the sports news in one section, so too you want your readers to become familiar with your e-newsletter.

How do you achieve this? By having regular features. For example, your weekly email might have these sections:

  • Quick links: Places within your website that are "top hits", such as the worship schedule, school closings, "contact us", or a progress report on a building project. These webpages may be highlighted within in the body of the email, or they might be listed as additional items of interest.
  • Something timely:  A brief note about what’s most important this week. If you're having a scholar-in-residence, for example, it might be a brief note about when he or she is speaking, with a photo. If the Purim carnival is the coming Sunday, you could use a photo of last year's as a way to encourage attendence.
  • School news: Keep these items together so parents can quickly scan for what's happening.
  • Worship schedule: Even if your services are always held at the same time, it's good to put this into the newsletter, noting, as appropriate, if there's a bar/bat mitzvah, a special speaker, or different worship leader.
  • Shine the light on others: Spotlight the work of a volunteer or staff member. It could be the person who led last week's coat drive, organized a lunch for seniors, or whatever.
  • Family news: Share the news of births, anniversaries, deaths, engagements, etc. (Note: many congregations send an email when a member of the congregation dies so that members can be at the funeral but save notification of the death of a member's extended family for the weekly email).
  • What's new? Use your email to feature what's new on your congregation's website each week.

4. Lead your readers to your website.

One of your main objectives should be to encourage your members to go to your website for more information. So, rather than include all the information in your newsletter, include a brief note (See #1 above) and end with a link to the website for more information.

5. Make it professional.

Your members get e-newsletters from many organizations, and they expect the congregation's to be just as professional and attractive as those they get from other non-profits. You'll want an attractive header on each edition (a great idea would be to use a version of your website header). There are inexpensive services such as Constant Contact that enable you to easily create an HTML newsletter and manage the email list for you. Many of these services will also allow you to track statistics: how many people opened the email, what links they clicked on most, and how many times they forwarded the email.

6. Use an email distribution system.

Never ever just paste all your emails into the "bcc" of an email or, even worse! the "cc" or "To" field. Not only does this violate good web practices, but if will also result in many of your emails being tagged as spam by your members' email service. Instead, use a service such as Shamash, which will set up a list for just $50 a year, or Constant Contact.

7. Seek feedback 

How can you find out what your readers want? ASK! In each issue ask the readers to send you their ideas and suggestions.

8. Check, check, and check again!

Keeping your copy clean and concise is the key to success. But if your newsletter has bad punctuation, grammar or confusing sentences, it makes not just you but the entire congregation look bad.

9. Don’t be an amateur: avoid “Click Here”

In the interest of keeping a professional tone, keeping your wording concise, and inspiring your readers to click, make your linked text specific to the action.

Instead of:
We are excited to announce this workshop. Click here to get the application.

Try this:
We are excited to announce this workshop. Download the application now!

Also, avoid using underlines on links; most people understand that words in blue are hotlinks.

10. Avoid typing out URLs.

Long URLs are unnecessary information.

Wrong way:
For more information, go to http://ourcongregation/worship/shabbat/havdalah 

Right way:
For more information, visit our website.

 

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