How to Write a Newsletter Your Members Will Actually Want to Read

This is a Guest Blog Post by Tobi Johnson, originally posted in Wild Apricot’s Blog

Does your digital member newsletter have low engagement? If so, you’re not alone. Creating a newsletter that people want to read isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. In fact, many organizations I know write newsletters that their members actually look forward to.

In this post, I’m going to cover the root cause of low newsletter engagement and practical tips to create a newsletter your members want to read.

How to Write a Newsletter Your Members Will Actually Want to Read_header_charityhowto

The first thing we need to acknowledge is that simply communicating online through things like digital newsletters tends to cause people to feel disconnected. Researchers call this the Connectivity Paradox — the more connected we become, the more isolated we begin to feel. This distance grows the more we rely on virtual communications — whether we work in co-located or far-flung teams. This applies to volunteers, paid staff, and members alike.

1) The Digital Disconnect

Digital communications present major roadblocks to forming the deep relationships necessary to work together effectively. Unfortunately, the ability to work together effectively is vital to most membership-based organizations. Expert Karen Sobel-Lojeski, has identified this gap as “Virtual Distance” — and when Virtual Distance is highest, online engagement is lowest:

  • Innovative behaviors fall by over 90%
  • Trust declines by over 80%
  • Cooperative and helping behaviors go down by over 80%
  • Role and goal clarity decline by 75%
  • Project success drops by over 50%
  • Organizational commitment and satisfaction decline by more than 50%

Clearly, this can have a major impact on a membership organization’s productivity. The good news is that research offers clues as to how to respond in a strategic way.

2) What the Research Says About Virtual Distance

Scholars have identified the following three subsets of “Virtual Distance”. A closer look at each one reveals which ones have an impact on digital engagement:

  • Physical Distance – Location issues related to space and time (e.g., teams working in different time zones)
  • Operational Distance – Psychological gaps that grow due to issues that arise in the workplace (e.h., unresolved conflict)
  • Affinity Distance – The emotional disconnects between team members due to lack of relationship formation and development (e.g., lack of face-to-face teambuilding); the most important to address

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3) Using Strategic Newsletter Content to Reduce Affinity Distance

One way to reduce Affinity Distance in your newsletters is by strategically aligning the topics you cover. By intentionally including content aimed at reducing Affinity Distance, organizations can boost the perception of closeness, build trust, and help educate volunteers and members about their shared stake.

Below are four subcategories of Affinity Distance, a description of each, and suggestions for topics that help build relationships within each domain.

>>> Cultural Distance

Description: Relates to values and communications styles more than demographics

Strategic Newsletter Topics:

  • What We Believe
  • Our Values in Action
  • Reminders About Group Norms
  • Glossary of Slang Words

>>> Relationship Distance

Description: Lack of shared history, including friends of friends

Strategic Newsletter Topics:

  • Organization’s “Birth” Story
  • Friends in Common
  • Neighborhood News
  • Team Report Outs
  • Team Photos

>>> Social Distance

Description: Recognition based on formal (positional) status versus informal (contributional) status; important for building trust

Strategic Newsletter Topics:

  • Introductions of New Members
  • Kudos for Strong Effort
  • Congratulations for Results
  • Org Chart & Who Does What

>>> Interdependence

Description: Sense of shared future and fate, equal stake in outcomes

Strategic Newsletter Topics:

  • Current Team Action Plans
  • Member Polls & Surveys
  • Org’s Annual Highlights
  • “How We Did It” Stories
  • Customer Testimonials/Stories

4) It’s Your Turn

The next time you plan topics for your member newsletter, think about how you can reduce emotional disconnects and boost relationships with your readers through the content you feature.

You can also expand this approach to other digital communications such as social media posts and website content and see what happens to your team’s overall sense of human connection.


Learn more digital strategies to engage your members and volunteers for your nonprofit here. 


About Wild Apricot

Wild Apricot is web-based software for small associations and non-profits to help manage membership, website, events and other activities.

Topics: nonprofit marketing, nonprofit members, newsletter, Volunteer Recruitment, Nonprofit Tips & Tricks, engage members