Effectively using your e-newsletter during a pandemic

Communication with our congregations has become important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. While some congregations have returned to in-person worshiping, many others are still worshiping remotely. It is important to maintain that sense of family within our congregations. One tool you have to help maintain that sense of closeness is your e-newsletter.

But do you spend days stressing over putting together your monthly e-newsletter? Do you wonder what’s most important to your congregation and what they really need to hear from you? And, do you stop and ask yourself who’s really reading this information anyway? E-newsletters provide a narrow window of opportunity for you to communicate important information, attract your readers’ attention and generate action even during a pandemic. You need to make your e-newsletters matter. After all, we only get one opportunity to grab the readers’ attention. Read more.

As with all content, email newsletters are not self-indulgent exercises. We should aim to impart relevant, useful and timely information. We should also be mindful of people’s time and present that information in a quick and easy to read format.

In this edition of Presbyterian Communicators Network news, I provide tips for creating your best e-newsletter.

10 tips for creating your best e-newsletter

  1. Evaluate: Does your congregation really need an email newsletter?

While we may think an e-newsletter is a panacea for all of our communications issues, it may not be the best vehicle for your congregation. Why not ask the congregation how they prefer to receive information? If you have limited resources, make sure the time and energy you’re investing in creating that monthly e-newsletter provides a positive return on your investment. As communicators, we have to ask what we want to accomplish with the e-newsletter and what our readers want to hear from us.

  1. Determine the goals of your e-newsletter.

Begin the planning process for your e-newsletter by determining your goals and your readers’ needs. What do you want your newsletter to accomplish? Do you want to:

  • Encourage and perhaps increase online viewers?
  • Inspire donations or other kinds of participation?
  • Increase awareness of the ministries in your church or certain deadlines and requirements?
  • Push readership to news stories or announcements?

No matter what, all content within your newsletter should drive back to one or more of your goals.

  1. Keep design and copy simple.

Avoid making your newsletter feel cluttered and unfocused. Two key factors to accomplishing this goal are succinct copy and enough white space in the design. Yes, white space is our friend, and too much copy may be a turn-off for your readers. Succinct copy that drives readers to other locations on your church’s website is a way to get readers to read the entire story and for them to visit additional pages on your site. White space is key in email newsletters because it helps visually alleviate the cluttered feel, and on mobile devices, makes it much easier for people to click the right link.

  1. Balance your newsletter content.

Your newsletter should include educational, relevant and timely information. Maintain a balance of 90% educational copy and 10% promotional copy.

5.    Use best practices for images.

Compelling photos and graphics can quickly grab a reader’s attention. We’ve all heard the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but sending an e-newsletter with images only is a bad idea. Photos and graphics should be used to complement your written copy. Likewise, an e-newsletter with only copy does not draw the reader’s attention, and important information may be overlooked.

  1. Include a call to action.

While developing your content, you should also pinpoint your key calls to action (typically three to five). Make sure your calls to action are clear and concise so that your readers easily understand them. Are you asking readers to join an online Bible study or to be a part of a digital volunteer effort? Rather than including the full text about each call to action, use links with plain, actionable language to get the readers to respond to your calls to action.

  • Learn more about our Vacation Bible School
  • Register for the presbytery meeting
  • Volunteer for the children’s ministry

7.  Develop and maintain a content calendar.

Developing and maintaining a content calendar is essential for a successful newsletter. A content calendar can be a tremendous time-saver and stress-reliever. It helps keep you on track for upcoming editions and it helps you know what’s planned in advance. Additionally, you won’t need to stress each month for themes or content. Be consistent from newsletter to newsletter in terms of how much content you include and how you format and present your e-newsletter. A content calendar will help hold you accountable to your plan for your newsletter.

       8.   Develop creative subject lines.

Your subject line is what your reader is going to see when they open your email notification in their inbox. The subject line informs your reader about what to expect from the content of your e-newsletter. It is important that the subject line grabs the reader’s attention and encourages them to open your message and actually read the newsletter. Remember to keep subject lines short. Subject lines should be kept to around 50 characters and should include keywords.

9.  Determine a consistent schedule.

Build a sense of anticipation among your readers by being consistent with the frequency and the send date/time for your newsletter. To ensure you meet your scheduled delivery date, develop deadlines for:

  • Content development
  • Content review and approval by all members of the team
  • Production
  • Proofreading/testing
  • Send date
  1. Pay attention to measurement.

Once we’ve determined our goals, how will we know whether our newsletter is helping us achieve them? How will we use that information to adjust content going forward?

If you’re using a service like MailChimp or Constant Contact to send your email newsletter, you’re going to get some valuable statistics. Just like with web analytics, it’s important to evaluate these on an ongoing basis to ensure that your newsletter efforts are successful and not wasted time.

If you make substantial changes to your newsletter — like a new format for your subject line or highlighting new types of content — be sure to keep those changes in mind when looking at your numbers over time, so you can correlate specific modifications to changes in your statistics.

Some statistics worth paying attention to include:

  • Open rate (how many read the email; aim for 20% to 40%)
  • Click rates (how many click on a link; aim for 2% to 15%)
  • Forwards (how many shared with friends; an increase in this number indicates a heightened value to your content)
  • Unsubscribes (the fewer the better, of course; a spike indicates a problem with your content, so compare to previous newsletters, determine what to change and course-correct)
  • Conversion rates (how many people took desired actions; you want to see this rate increase, as it should indicate how successful your newsletter is at attaining your goals)
  • Bouncebacks (the fewer the better; make sure your list is up to date)
  • New signups since your last email was sent (a good indicator that readers are sharing your content and increasing awareness of your organization or initiative)


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