Nonprofit Newsletter

Do you need help starting a newsletter or do you need to get more out of the one you have?

This comprehensive, user-friendly guide and reference to creating, maintaining, and marketing an effective and cost-efficient newsletter is designed to steer any editor, entrepreneur, or volunteer through every phase of the newsletter publishing process, whether a print or an electronic publication. First, the author helps you set up shop, from the creation of a budget to the development of a capable staff and realistic schedules. After guiding you through the writing and design of newsletter articles, including the use of photographs and other graphics, she presents valuable information on page layout, reproduction methods, and distribution options. And if you plan to distribute website, e-mail, or PDF versions, you’ll find everything you need in the comprehensive section on producing electronic newsletters.


First, you (and perhaps your board or a committee) need to make the most basic decision: “Do we need a newsletter?” The answer for virtually all nonprofits is “yes.” The newsletter is your medium for telling your story your way on a continuing, current basis. You control its appearance, content, frequency and distribution. Although the mass media generally are cooperative, you must always remember that you are playing on their turf by their rules. That’s why it’s important for your organization to have its own means of communication.


Now that you’ve decided your organization is going to have a newsletter, you need to decide who will do the work. Since the big majority of nonprofits operate on modest budgets, their newsletters usually are produced by a staff of one. The newsletter author often is the executive director, who thinks having a newsletter is important enough to do it along with all the other important work that has to be done. If your organization has a larger staff, you may be lucky enough to have a newsletter editor on board without even knowing it. Or there may be someone on your staff who is interested and has the basic skills to do a good job with more training. WARNING: Do not force this job on someone who doesn’t want to do it. You won’t get the performance or the product you need. Other options, if you have the money, are freelancers and even advertising and public relations agencies. Whatever course you take, make sure whoever is in charge of your newsletter is positive about your agency, thoroughly understands the mission and programs, has good editorial judgment and is able to keep up with and articulate current agency events.


Your newsletter mailing list is either one of the most valuable or one of the most useless and troublesome pieces of information your agency will have. If the list is properly conceived and kept up-to-date, it can be worth its weight in gold. If it does not include the right people and is not kept current, then your newsletter (and probably other mailings) will not realize their potential and you will waste a lot of time and money.

Who should be on the list? Obviously your board, committee members not on the board, and your membership. How about past board and committee members and past members? Major contributors and past contributors? Use the newsletter to keep people interested and involved. Don’t ever let anyone who has been associated with your agency get away, unless they die or insist on it. Don’t forget the media. The newsletter lets them know about your agency on a continuing basis, so that the important news release you send them later doesn’t come from a complete stranger. Make sure all elected and appointed public officials at all levels of government who have (or may have) anything to do with your agency are on the list. Do not send the newsletter to a department. Send it to the person in charge, by name. Include the top people of all foundations to whom you may submit grant applications. Use the newsletter to share information with organizations like yours. It may encourage them to send you some good ideas.

These are the obvious choices. Depending on the type of organization, there will be many others. The important thing is to give your mailing list careful thought. Solicit ideas from others. Use your newsletter to make your communications network as broad as possible, without resorting to overkill and wasting time and postage.


Some very effective newsletters are done on office copiers on 20# bond paper. You may have heard it said, “Our newsletter doesn’t cost anything because we do it in-house on our copier.” Unfortunately, there is no free lunch when it comes to newsletters. Each piece of paper and each copy costs something. The person doing the copying, folding, label pasting, etc. costs a lot, unless you have found a reliable volunteer. The same is true for preparing and maintaining a mailing list. Also, somebody always has to do the information gathering and writing. And then there’s the postage. So to be accurate, there should be a line item in the budget that takes these things into account, however your newsletter is done.

If you decide to use a printer, ask around about who is reliable and does good quality work. Get prices from at least three printers. Be very specific about the product, as follows (example).

On your letterhead, tell the printer you want prices for 500, 1000, 1500, 2000, etc., newsletters with the following specifications:

Size: 11×17

Folded: Once (Centerfold)

Paper: 70# smooth offset*

Ink: Black, both sides**

Cost for halftones (photographs)

Typesetting (unless camera-ready)

Turnaround time

*20# bond is not recommended for sizes over 8 1/2×14. It is not recommended at all if it is to be printed on both sides, particularly if headlines and photographs will be used. 60# smooth offset can be used if there will be no photographs or large headlines. 70# offset is better and is okay for photos. 60# or 70# matte or enamel finish (more expensive than offset) is recommended if there will be a lot of photos. As you decide on your overall package, remember that the number of pages and kind of paper you use will affect your mailing cost. Matte paper is heavier than bond or offset. Enamel is heavier than matte, for instance.

** Most printers consider black the basic color for pricing purposes, so one color of ink other than black usually costs a little more. Obviously, you can specify more than one color of ink on one or both sides, recognizing that part of the printing cost formula is the more ink colors, the more the cost.

Most newsletters are designed as self-mailers. If you use an envelope, don’t forget to include that cost.

Additional Information:

Basic Graphic Design Tips

Graphic Design Glossary

Protecting Your Organization’s Intellectual Property

Tips on Working with the Media

Developing Your Media List

Pitching Your Story to the Media

Developing an Effective Website

Beginners Guide to Website Analytics

Beginners Guide to Email Marketing

Email Marketing Service Providers for Nonprofits

Managing Cyber Risk Online Communications

Twitter for Nonprofits

Facebook for Nonprofits

YouTube for Nonprofits