Even with the vast number of ways to communicate online, newsletters still appear to be going strong in kiwi clubs. Here, we take a look at what seems to work for newsletters and their editors. If you’ve got more advice, wisdom to offer or simply have a great newsletter you want to share to inspire others, get in touch.
Becoming the editor
Editing the club newsletter is sometimes a thankless task, but there is lots of personal satisfaction to be gained. Editors seem to really enjoy completing a newsletter, and sharing the clubs stories with everyone. It gives the editor a chance to keep the finger on the pulse of who’s doing what with who, which is idea for people who like to keep an active role in the club’s social circles.
It does take a reasonable amount of effort for each issue. Depending on how you do it, you could expect to take between 4 and 10hrs of work each time, so when considering volunteering for the role, make sure you have the time to do a decent job, which you and your club will be proud of.
Although many editors work alone on their newsletters, sharing the workload with others is also popular; whether dividing the tasks for each newsletter, or taking turns at producing issues of the newsletter.
As you go through your time as the editor, it’s not a bad idea to write down your tips, tricks and contacts, to make the handover for the next editor that much easier. People are often a little apprehensive about taking over additional volunteer responsibilities; having the relevant information recorded for reference can make it that much easier to find your replacement!
What goes in a newsletter?
It varies from club to club, but common content includes;
- Trip reports
- Essays, photos, recipes or rants
- Local, relevant news which might affect club members
- Upcoming club meetings and trips
- Committee contact details
- President or club captain reports
- Links to club websites and social media
- Membership procedures
- Club equipment, hut or vehicle hiring procedures
- Overdue party procedures
- Gear lists for tramps
This is often the opportunity for an editor to put their own influence in the club, through the content and design of the newsletter; if you’ve got ideas to how to make it better, why not give it a go?
Electronic newsletters offer the means to include more media, such as videos, podcasts/recordings and links to relevant information. You can get quite creative with what can be included. Just have a search on other clubs’ websites for inspiration. We’ll be including a few examples of great newsletters soon.
When considering what sort of thing to leave in and what to leave out, it is worth considering that prospective members might read the newsletter, it’s not a bad idea to summarise a few of the benefits and opportunities your club has to offer. (This also reminds your current members!)
Although most clubs will also put much of that type of club information on their website, people aren’t likely to seek it out without a specific reason. Keeping a newsletter going provides a regular reminder of what is available and what is happening, keeping members more engaged with the club.
How often should you send a newsletter?
It depends a lot on the size and activity of your club, and the motivation of the editor(s).
For a larger, active club, monthly newsletters seem to be standard. Bigger clubs do more trips and events, which provides plenty of information to fill the newsletter that regularly. However, putting a newsletter more than monthly is a big commitment for an editor.
Smaller clubs often publish newsletters every two months. Other newsletters happen “when the editor gets around to it” Having a newsletter on an infrequent and irregular basis makes it difficult for readers to keep in touch with the goings on of a club, leading to less engagement. Not having a specific frequency of publication also increases the risk that the newsletter could disappear altogether. Having a regular commitment to at least a bi-monthly newsletter is recommended, even if the newsletter varies considerably in size depending on the amount of time the editor has for each issue.
Getting the content
General reminders to club members to contribute to the newsletter doesn’t seem to work very well. Go for the personal touch instead; pick up the phone and directly ask people for specific contributions. Building a rapport with other members will help them get excited about contributing and help strengthen the social networks in the club. It takes a little more work for the editor, but seems to result in a much higher rate of contributions.
The Christchurch Tramping Club has some web developers who have programmed thier website to automatically populate the ‘trip list’ for each upcoming newsletter from the clubs trip database. (They tell us an experienced PHP developer could do it, using resources they have shared online; https://github.com/ctcit)
Use the club’s trip list to help you find the trip leaders when you are looking for people to supply trip reports. The leader doesn’t have to be the one doing the writing, but they could nominate another person, or at least know other trip members to ask. Some editors have friends who enjoy chatting to folks and asking for reports, so consider that approach to spread the workload.
Some people prefer knowing that they have agreed to write a report before the trip, others are happy to agree to write after the trip or event; it’s often the same handful of people make most of the contributions, so it’s likely you’ll get to know who likes what approach. Often you’ll find you need to remind people several times to send you the content they agreed to write. Don’t be afraid to remind them, but keep in mind the voluntary nature of your request, and the other draws on people’s spare time. Sometimes you may just have to give up on some contributors.
Make it easy for people to contribute by accepting content in all formats; it’s better to have more content which requires a little more work to process, than a very small amount of perfect publication-ready material. That goes for photographs too; you can encourage folks to send you photos which are a good size for email or print, but the conversion process could be one more step for the contributor, which might just make it ‘too hard’. Make sure you learn how to determine the size/resolution of submitted photographs yourself, and how to re-size them appropriately. There’s lots of ‘how to’ articles and plenty of free programs to be downloaded from the internet which can change the size of the image files. For emailing or PDF’s, you want pictures with a long axis of about 1200 pixels which relates to a file of about 500kb. This size is more than sufficient for viewing on a monitor, and makes pretty good quality ¼ page photos when printed on A4.
Remember to thank people for their contributions, even if they aren’t quite what you might have in mind. If they need a little editing to improve the grammar, or to make it fit into the space available, don’t be afraid to do so. However completely re-writing or slashing a contribution to bits is likely to put people off, so it can be a delicate balance sometimes.
Laying out the newsletter
There are a number of programs which editors use for laying out the newsletter. Use what you’re familiar with, but don’t be afraid to take suggestions and help from other members or past editors. Some clubs have members with design backgrounds, making for some very fancy finished products, but getting it out there with good info, on a regular basis is more important that spending too much time trying to make it look amazing.
Some newsletters that were previously printed as hard copies can benefit from having their formats updated for reading on-screen. Double columns work well for printed text, but single columns per page work best on-screen. Electronic versions lend themselves to including lots more photos, content, links and so on.
Just make sure that when you include photographs, that they are of a reasonable size for publication. Not so small that the quality is poor, but not so large that the finished file size is excessive. As mentioned before, about 1200 pixels for the long edge, or around 500kb works well.
Most programs allow you to export a copy of the newsletter into a PDF file, which is probably the most convenient way of distributing the newsletter.
Online based email marketing tools, such as MailChimp, have editing and layout functions built in. These are usually a ‘drag and drop’ style interface, which can be very suitable for quickly laying out a good looking newsletter. Most of these tools have paid and free options. Usually the free option will have enough functionality for most club newsletters.
After spending a fair bit of time on a written work, the writer tends to oversee even basic spelling, grammar and layout mistakes.
A good tactic is to ask a well read club member or friend to proofread the letter for you before it is completed. Choose someone with an eye for detail, not a person who will just skim read it and look at the pictures! This does add an extra person and extra time to the task, which is something to consider, but is likely to result in a higher quality newsletter.
Even with several proof reads, and many tweaks of a layout, you will almost certainly find mistakes, or see things you could have done better once you’ve hit ‘print’ or ‘send’. Although it’s important to have a newsletter that isn’t full of mistakes, be wary of the amount of time spent trying to get a ‘perfect’ issue. It’s usually better to get a good issue out on time, than a perfect one out two months late.
Getting the newsletter to your members
Some clubs still offer printed and posted newsletters. The recipients appreciate something tangible to read, but it does take a lot of extra work and involve extra cost which must be taken into account by the editor and the club committee. Setting up a computer document specifically for printing does take a little extra effort. The editor must consider how the newsletter will be folded/stapled, whether it is printed double or single sided etc.
Perhaps you could save on postage and admin time by making hardcopies only available at meetings. Some clubs even devote 10 mins during the meeting for folding newsletters and putting them in envelopes whilst having a cuppa. (This is also a great time to hand out the FMC Backcountry magazine) Although it might give some folks that extra motivation to come to meetings, others might be disappointed in not receiving it in their letterbox.
To reduce the costs and effort of producing a newsletter, consider offering a membership discount to those people who opt for electronic versions of the newsletter instead of hard copies. In the end your club needs to choose what works best for the club and the members, so talk to people and hear what they have to say.
PDF newsletters can be distributed by emailing the newsletter out to members as an attachment, or within the body of the email. However it is usually easier for the newsletter editor to upload a copy of the newsletter to the clubs website, and email a link to the members instead. The link can then be easily shared on any club social media, covering all your bases for the ways that members can receive the club newsletter.
Storing all the newsletters on a website has the added bonus of making past newsletters easily accessible for members and the public alike, as a great resource and club history.
Some clubs send their newsletters to all members present and past. The idea is that it doesn’t cost anything to keep ex members on the mailing list. This may indeed encourage past members to rejoin the club, but remember that anyone who asks to be removed from the mailing list should be removed promptly.
Other clubs make the newsletter only available online to current members, who need to log into the club website. This affords extra privacy to club members, and means that prospective members do need to come along to club nights to sign up. There’s pros and cons; you need to decide as a club what the best option is for you.
Getting feedback about your newsletter
Many publishers receive very little feedback about newsletters and often editors are left wondering if they are doing ok or not. Even when editors ask for feedback in the newsletter, it’s rare for feedback to be given.
Programs like Mailchimp do have a function that gives statistics on how many recipients of the newsletter actually opened and read it, which can give some indication of how well the newsletter is being received.
If you’re reading this as a newsletter recipient, take a moment to write a little bit of encouragement or constructive feedback to your newsletter editor. I’m sure they’ll appreciate knowing that people actually read the thing they’ve put so much effort into creating!
How do newsletters sit with the other forms of club communication?
Many clubs have Facebook groups or pages, forums or electronic message boards. These provide a fast and responsive way to communicate with other members and the share information which might have traditionally been content for a newsletter.
Although its an easy method to create and share information, social media can be a little haphazard, and sometimes it’s tricky to find the information you wanted. Newsletters on the other hand, are curated by an editor which gives a degree of consistency and completeness. This makes newsletters a very practical way to record the club’s collective memory, with the bonus that they are easier to store and search than a Facebook page’s news feed. (which is still possible to download and store by the way…)
Some members may not be on Facebook, so it’s a good idea for editors can keep an eye on social media, looking for newsletter worthy information or reports. Social media can also provide the basis for a newsletter editor to create a brief summary of club goings on. For the sake of all the members who are on social media, It’s good practice not to simply reproduce what has already been posted; get in touch with the source and look for a more detailed story, perhaps more or different photos to let the newsletter stand out as a good, interesting and original read for members.
Thanks to the newsletter editors who we interviewed for the information on this page.
- Jean Garman: Manawatu Tramping and Skiing Club newsletter ‘Beechleaves’
- Adele Reweti: West Coast Alpine Club newsletter ‘Boots’
As always, if you’ve got wisdom to share on this topic, then please get in touch.