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TechSoup Article
Using E-Mail to Stay in Touch With Members
E-newsletters keep your memebers informed


By: Kate Golden

Source: Internet-Fundraising.com

Clearly, e-mail newsletters are becoming vital to non-profit organizations, particularly membership groups. We spoke with Stephen Murphy, manager of chapter development and member services for the American Society for Health Care Risk Management, about how he uses e-newsletters to stay in touch.

By way of background, Stephen's responsibilities and interest areas have covered a broad range of activities, including product development, audio-conference program development, chapter relations and member services. He is a native of Ireland and earned a BA from University College Dublin (UCD). In 1995, UCD awarded Stephen the Distinguished Student Prize for Economics, and he graduated with first class honors in economics in 1996. He has written for "Forum," published by the Association Forum of Chicago and is currently a member of the Forum editorial board.

Golden: What are the advantages of an e-mail newsletter over a print newsletter?

Murphy: Most importantly timeliness. While traditional print newsletters involve a production cycle of up to two months, incorporating layout and design, printing and mailing, an e-mail newsletter can communicate this week's news, this week. The lower production cost is another great advantage. The increased frequency that an e-mail newsletter allows is also a bonus, enabling an organization to stay on top of current issues.

Golden: How can you differentiate your organization's e-mail newsletter from the others?

Murphy: Your communication must be tailored to your audience. An e-mail newsletter should serve as a resource, even if there are other benefits of the newsletter to the organization, such as the marketing impact. A newsletter should offer what the audience wants to read, rather than what you or your marketing person wants to highlight. Try to offer value wherever possible. The inclusion of news, tips, educational opportunities or events calendars will enhance the value of your newsletter. There are a multitude of e-mail newsletters. You should ascertain what it is your readership wants to know and deliver it. A good e-mail newsletter should offer value, timeliness and reliability. Interaction will enhance your newsletter. Asking a "question of the week" will generate discussion and allow readers to hear from their peers. It is also a good idea to offer an "out" by letting the reader know how they can unsubscribe to your newsletter.

Golden: Tell us about your own success with e-mail newsletters and development.

Murphy: In the spring of 2000, the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management (ASHRM) of the American Hospital Association (AHA) identified a need to offer timely risk management and society news to its members. The membership indicated that it a) wished to receive news electronically and b) had the capability to do so. ASHRM's first e-mail newsletter, eNews, was sent to every member for whom we had an e-mail address with the inclusion of a "how to unsubscribe" tag line. Since then the distribution has increased to over 3,600 readers and is constantly growing. ASHRM offers eNews to both members and prospective members. Both are encouraged to pass the newsletter on to a friend. As well as providing healthcare and society news, the newsletter serves as a preview to the society and offers an insight into the many benefits of membership.

Golden: How can you increase the readership of an e-mail newsletter?

Murphy: Ironically, the first point to make here is the inclusion of an "opt out" button, as described above. Everyone likes to be in control of his or her own in-box and potential readers are more likely to give your newsletter a try if they can do so without pressure, or fear of spam. Blasting your newsletter off to anyone with an e-mail address can do more harm than good. Restrict your distribution list to those who opt in. If you work for a membership organization, consider offering your newsletter to non-members as well as members. By offering your newsletter to all you can enhance your "prospects" list. Some newsletters include a "forward to a friend" button, which allows readers to easily share your resource. Above all, be timely and reliable.

Golden: What trends do you see developing in the future of e-mail newsletters? Will we see new technology or just better content and writing -- and which is more important?

Murphy: While some newsletters are sticking to simple-text layouts, others are switching to colorful HTML formatted offerings. Play to your audience. Before starting out on an e-mail newsletter project, you should ascertain that your audience would like to receive news by e-mail and your audience has the capability to do so. If your elaborate HTML email newsletter is disorganized or illegible by the time it arrives in your readers' inbox, then perhaps a more traditional layout is called for. Content is paramount. You must offer your reader what they want to read. The technology will get it to them.

August 14, 2002