E-newsletters are dinosaurs.
There, I’ve said it. There are many reasons I favor blogs over e-newsletters for nonprofits. They simply try to accomplish too much at once. As a result, they tend to accomplish very little.
Blogs are best if:
- You want more control over what your constituents read.
- You want to spend less time creating content.
- You want to increase readership of your content
- You want to increase sharing of your content.
Today I’m going to tell you about just two of the reasons blogs out-perform e-newsletters, but they’re doozies.
And they accomplish all of the points I’ve just bulleted.
Blogs are dynamite for telling your nonprofit’s stories!
By now I hope you know that storytelling is probably the best weapon you have for communicating with donors and potential supporters and actually getting them to pay attention to what you’re saying. People are naturally wired to respond to stories.
When I worked in the trenches, donors would tell me over and over again how much they remembered the stories we told in our newsletter. Board members would tell me at meetings how moved they were. Why? Stories are relevant. They make people care.
On the flip side, readers didn’t remember the facts. They didn’t remember the letter from the executive director. They didn’t remember the name of the newly hired program director. They didn’t remember the name of the funder who’d just awarded us a grant. They didn’t remember, because they didn’t care.
The problem with most e-newsletters is that, while they may have a story or two, they’re generally replete with other self-promotional stuff – announcements, history, facts, stuff to purchase, appeals for money, and so forth. There may be so much stuff your readers have little interest in, that they fail to even notice the stories. And that’s if they open your e-newsletter at all.
E-newsletters are expendable from most folks’ perspective. Information overload is today’s modus operandi, and when people are busy they get into delete mode.
Which brings me to the other benefit of blogs.
Blogs offer information up in digestible portions
This is important since so many people today suffer from attention deficit.
Folks don’t want to read a lot of articles at one sitting. With a blog, you can tell one compelling story, then call it a day. Your reader can read one compelling story, then call it a day. I call that a win/win!
And guess what you can do to make it even likelier your readers will click “open” to read your blog post?
You can combine both of the benefits I’ve just highlighted – (1) storytelling, and (2) digestible portions – into one dynamite blog strategy
Blogs enable you to serialize your stories into small easy-to-digest bites!
I came across a great article by Jeremy Koch of Empower Nonprofits about the five advantages of using serialized stories in your nonprofit emails. A lot of what he had to say applies in spades to nonprofit blogs, so let’s take a look at the advantages he highlights.
Keep history in mind. Once upon a time books were accessed by the public in the form of serials that were published in magazines. Each week or month, depending upon the publication schedule, a new “chapter” would come out. Folks eagerly awaited each installment. Why not borrow this idea for your nonprofit blog? There are five reasons this is an idea well worth your consideration.
5 Benefits of Serializing Stories in Your Nonprofit Blog
1. This combats shrinking attention span syndrome
The average adult attention span today is just 8 seconds! I’ve read a lot of studies, and you’re lucky if anyone will spend more than a minute with your e-newsletter (which is why they’re becoming such dinosaurs).
Telling your story in a sequence of small installments makes it easier for your would-be readers to find time to read your story.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF:
- How much time do your e-newsletter readers spend with your material?
- Are you tracking it in Google Analytics?
- Are people clicking through on your links?
- Which items get the most click-throughs?
- Are there some areas of content that almost no one shows an interest in?
- What does this tell you about the type of content in which your readers have a genuine interest?
2. This builds up interest and suspense, which ultimately makes your story more memorable
The number-one reason people sign up for emails is because they think they’re going to get something good. What’s “good” to most people?
People love stories!
Plus, they love the buildup that makes soap operas and serial dramas so popular. It’s why people binge watch on Netflix and Amazon and HBO.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF:
- What type of stories do we have that could be serialized?
- If we don’t have many, how can we find them?
- What creative ideas could bring our stories to life? [Historical; Current events; Imaginary/visionary, etc.]
3. This does away with clutter that depresses readership and takes up too much of your time
This is really a reason to use a blog vs. a newsletter in general.
When Penelope Burk first did her ground-breaking studies that led to publication of “Donor-Centered Fundraising,” one of the things she found out was that donors didn’t particularly like newsletters. They especially didn’t enjoy those that came on a strict schedule and seemed to be filled with a bunch of irrelevant information. They said, if you must send newsletters, please send a one-pager or just send them when you have something important to say.
Wow! How common sense does that sound?
Yet most nonprofits cling to TMI e-newsletters that a lot of their constituents simply don’t read. Here’s what one respondent to Penelope Burk’s 2016 survey said:
I don’t actually want to know everything that’s going on with my charities of choice.
While it’s tempting to create e-newsletters that have something for everyone (or so you imagine), consider this from your readers’ perspective. Too many articles at once requires readers to work extra hard to find what’s relevant to them.
Here’s another way to think about this. How overwhelming is it when you’re in the cereal aisle at the market, trying to decide which box to pick? It’s the same for your supporters when they try to figure out which article to click on in your e-newsletter!
QUESTION TO ASK YOURSELF:
- Are we spending too much time and money on stuff donors don’t want and hanging onto beliefs about what influences donor loyalty, even when donors say it doesn’t?
- Which story do we most want our readers to read?
Choose the story you most want people to read, and send it — via blog. This gives you control of what your audience learns and feels, making your online mailing more purposeful.
Serializing your stories makes them even more impactful because they are now respectful of the amount of time a reader will put into reading one email.
Since the email is much shorter, they actually take the time to read the whole thing…especially if you’re a great storyteller.
Now they are reading a lot more of your content. Your time is no longer being wasted writing stories no one reads.
4. This allows you to send more email without annoying your subscribers
Chances are your nonprofit does not send enough email messages to your subscribers.
The power of email is that it allows you to have a conversation with your readers.
But, if you are only emailing them once a month (or less!) then you are not engaging them in a conversation at all.
You are just dropping e-newsletter bombs on their inbox.
These e-newsletter bombs are too dense and too full of content to ever actually be read.
— Jeremy Koch, Empower Nonprofits
I know many of you will worry about sending too much email and causing folks to unsubscribe. But they’re not likely to unsubscribe from too much content. They’re likely to unsubscribe from boring, irrelevant content!
As long as you tell compelling stories, offered up in digestible bites, folks are likely to be happy to hear from you.
This way, you stay top of mind with your constituents — in a good way. Because you make them feel something. And you show them how they can become the heroes that swoop in and give your stories happy endings.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF:
- Are we sending too many emails, or is the problem that the content is boring?
- How many emails do we send that offer true gifts of content, vs. asks for money?
- Do our emails build an engaging relationship with our constituents by showing them ways to become a part of our unfolding story? Or do we just talk at them?
5. This allows you to create more email messages without having to create tons more content
Imagine you’ve written one dynamite story.
It has all the great storytelling elements. A protagonist your readers can empathize with and come to care about. The predicament they currently face, told in a manner the reader can relate to (I can imagine how that feels). The trials, tribulations and challenges to be overcome. And a hint at what must be done – how the reader can help! – to create a positive outcome.
This story you’ve written is so good, and so compelling, that you really want your supporters to read it.
You know if they do they’ll be moved to donate. But… it’s so long very few will actually read all the way through to the end.
And that would be a shame. It would be a waste of all the effort you put into finding it, researching it, crafting it, editing it and finally publishing it. And then next month you’ll have to find another story and go through the process all over again. And no one will read that story either.
There’s a much better way.
Instead of creating a massive email newsletter that includes your entire story, not to mention tons of other content most folks have no time to read, consider simply serializing your one compelling story into a number of succinct, related blog articles.
Tell your story over the course of 2, 3 or 4 blog posts each.
Load those posts into your email automation software. This will give you a month or so worth of content, but you won’t have to do any extra work once you’ve written the story and set up the posts.
Now you can focus on other aspects of your nonprofit marketing (e.g. social media; e-appeals; surveys) while the email automation software takes care of delivery for the rest of the quarter.
Your one story will last you through a series of mailings.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF:
- How can we divide our compelling story up into segments?
- How can we end each segment so that folks will be left wanting to read the next one?
- What subject lines can we use to remind folks where they left off?
- Do we have the email automation software we need to set up articles for automatic delivery?
Summary Advantages of Serializing Stories in a Blog:
If you’ve got a lot of excuses for not having a blog, now’s the time to consider debunking them. Instead, look at the benefits:
- You’ll get away from the over-done nonprofit email newsletter that takes up too much time – yours and your reader’s.
- You’ll better control your marketing message because your subscribers will actually read your content in the order you choose to send it.
- You can send email more often, staying top of mind with your subscribers without annoying them.
- You can send more email without having to create tons more content.
- You will likely increase your engagement as more people read your content and look forward to receiving your emails.
- Your click-through rates will increase because each email contains only one piece of content and/or call to action.
By the way, if you’re following along with the “Seven is Heaven” curriculum for the year, blogging falls into two of your strategic buckets: (1) online social fundraising and (2) integrated content marketing. So you get a big bang for your buck here!
Want to learn more about nonprofit blogging?
You may be interested in my Nonprofit Blogging Playbook. A great blog is one of the best investments you can make in acquiring and retaining more donors. Learn how with this 4-volume set that will teach you (1) blog fundamentals; (2) content folks will want to read; (3) how to use your content to engage folks, and (4) how to promote your blog so it builds momentum and drives more potential supporters to your website. If you buy all four, I offer a “Bundle Bargain” discount). If you’re a paid Clairification subscriber, you get an additional 50% off! Plus, I stand by all my Clairification products. If you’re not happy, there’s a no questions asked full refund policy. The only way to lose is by doing nothing.
Photo courtesy of Photo by Warpaintcobra, freedigitalphotos.net
This blog was so long it seems to defeat your useful information
Point well taken! I should have serialized this post. 🙂
Excellent article, as always! I would like to print this to show to my ED and have on hand for reference, but the layout and graphics somehow makes this article into 14 pages! (Craziness…) Any suggestions, aside from cutting and pasting??
Thanks for your great info, BTW!
If you cut/paste it’s only 6 pages. 🙂
Thanks for this post. Do you have any good examples of serialized content that you could share? Thanks!
I wish I did have some ready-to-share examples at hand Jenn. But if you do it, and share with me, I’d be happy to share with others!
Love this article. We are a new non profit and starting to create our mktg. & pr strategy so this will help us focus our time and resources on a blog vs. newsletter that is outdated. Thanks!
This is a great expansion of the information in my article. Thanks for adding to the conversation Claire!