A Guide to Nonprofit Newsletters

Does your nonprofit have a regular newsletter? Monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly email newsletters are a great way to communicate with your supporters—and we almost always recommend them to our clients. Our guide to nonprofit newsletters includes best practices, data-backed tips, ideas to test, and a treasure trove of resources to inform your newsletter strategy.

Nonprofit Newsletters we love…

  • Have a distinct voice. You feel like you are connected to an author, even when they’re just sending you a list of bullet points or recommended links. 
  • Are simple and skimmable. There is something to a super unformatted email – or at least a minimally formatted email. And know that people are cruising – can they get what they need from just the headlines? 
  • Almost always have at least one thing we want to click. Know your audience – and know what they might enjoy! 
  • Are personalized. It sounds like it’s from a real person being written to a real person. 
  • Make it clear what they want us to do. They have one prominent CTA, even if they have a bunch of links throughout. 
  • Are designed with lots of white space (our favorite in all emails!). 
  • Keep a really healthy list. Be ruthless on list health (even if that means cutting people off). 
  • Are a conversation. Instead of blasting the reader with information, they speak to their existing concerns and welcome feedback and ideas. 
  • Aggregate content from other sources, saving me time and the need to follow every quality source out there.

Data shows…

  • Keep subject lines short and clear. Aim for eight words or less (per recent suggestions based on iPhone preview text) and say what is actually in the newsletter/why it’s of value for the reader. 
  • Your email MUST be mobile-optimized. (Mobile first in everything these days, really.) 
  • Streamlining matters. Make it SUPER clear (and explicit) what your newsletter is about. Ie: Here are eight stories about your impact this month that you don’t want to miss. 

Consider testing…

  • A survey for newsletter subscribers. What do they WANT to read/see/receive? 
  • Removing the marketing template entirely. (Check out this study.)
  • Choosing a person in the organization who is the “newsletter” person. It always comes from them. People can reply to them. It’s written in a super human voice. And it makes the newsletter stand out from other communications from their DPs. 
  • An all text newsletter that feels like a real person wrote it
  • Creative subject lines. Have some fun and get people to OPEN! Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, you want to catch people’s attention.
  • Z-pattern design instead of straight columns. 
  • Segmenting newsletter topics or the order of topics based on interests or other factors

Learn more about nonprofit newsletters…

Every nonprofit needs a book club

Every nonprofit needs a book club

Books are an incredible tool for connection, so it’s no surprise that book clubs are incredibly popular — with an estimated 5 million Americans belonging to a group. And many of us have had the experience of reading something that lights up our brain to the point that we need to talk about it with someone right now. So why not leverage this enthusiasm to benefit your organization?

Your nonprofit should take advantage of the connection that books provide to build community and engage with your donors.

Most of us (81%, according to a new study by Scribd) don’t read as much as we’d like to. A monthly book club provides structure and encouragement for readers — and a book club hosted by your organization gives you the chance to drive the conversation, choosing topics that make donors feel even more connected to and invested in your mission.

Through online discussions, written reflections, or even a monthly meeting (hosted in a Zoom room, a Facebook group, or via Instagram Live), you’ll create a consistent, engaging touchpoint with your donors. And this regular contact will help foster long-term community, education, and retention.

Hosting a book club will help your organization…

Build community.

In a survey of over 5,000 book club members, BookSense found that readers think of their book clubs as vital parts of their social and intellectual lives. The lively conversations you cultivate in your meetings will help deepen relationships, your donors will have an open space to express themselves, and you will have the opportunity to connect personally with new friends.

A book club can help your donors build relationships with each other, bonding over their shared interest in supporting your mission (and the amazing books they’re reading because of you). In a world where online interactions feel increasingly empty, a book club can be a welcome respite from the noise.

Educate donors.

Your choice of books says a lot about who you are as an organization. What are your priorities? Who are you serving? Use nonfiction to help donors engage more deeply with problems you address. Or read fiction to bring specific experiences to life, encouraging donors to identify with the communities you serve. Books of all different genres can do valuable work to communicate your mission to your stakeholders.

Research shows that adults feel smarter after reading and find it to be a good use of their time. In addition, 81% of adults say they read to learn about other cultures. You can give your donors access to a fulfilling, educational experience — and encourage them to learn something new by reading books outside of their traditional preferences.

Encourage empathy and action.

Books are not only great educational tools, they are powerful drivers for change. Reading regularly inspires action — and it also helps you feel more empathetic, according to 71% of adults.

A book club is also a source of growth, for both you and your members. In BookSense’s survey, they found that readers look to their book clubs as places to be challenged through dynamic (and respectful!) discussions. They value learning from books and each other, and that cooperative learning brings people closer together. Best of all, if your book club is inclusive, your donors will recommend it to their friends!

Book sales increased 8.2% in 2020 (all that time at home really upped our reading game!), so now is the perfect time to start your book club! Here’s how:

The Swell+Good Guide to Starting a Book Club for Nonprofits

  1. Define the purpose of your book club. Make sure you’re clear on how your book choices will advance your mission and foster engagement with your donors.
  2. Decide where and how your book club will meet. Will you host an online meeting, post regular prompts in your Facebook group, or livestream a conversation about the book? Think about where your community lives and plan accordingly.
  3. Plan your choices in advance. Keep your goals in mind as you choose your books. What do you want your readers to learn, understand, or do after reading your picks? What kind of books do you think your donors will respond well to? How easy will it be for them to access each book?
  4. Put out the call! Let everyone know about your book club and what they should expect. Get them excited about reading together.
  5. Set group guidelines for discussion. Make sure your book club is a safe and inclusive space, especially if you’ll be discussing difficult or sensitive topics.

Once you have the infrastructure in place, use your book club to nurture donor relationships and spark action. Invest in your book club up front and reap the rewards of engagement in the long term.

And, of course, let us know what books you pick! We would love to read, learn, and grow with you!