The reasons that nonprofits should publish a newsletter, magazine, or website are many. Whether small or large, it is important that your nonprofit communicate effectively with members, foundations, donors, legislators, media, and the general public. The most fitting publication -- whether it be a print or email newsletter, website, or magazine -- often depends on your nonprofit's money, staff, and the type and mission of your organization.
Start by determining the primary purpose you'd like the publication to serve, and go from there. Some of the ways that publications can help nonprofits are described below.
Recruiting and Retaining Members
For nonprofit consumer associations, arts organizations, and hobby or professional groups, publications can be extremely effective in recruiting and retaining members. In such publications, you'll usually find membership issues highlighted through photographs of organization activities, articles promoting the benefits of belonging, and information about how to participate. In addition, by providing useful information about the nonprofit's cherished causes, such publications can become prized benefits in their own right. In fact, organizations commonly list their print publications, electronic newsletters, and members-only Web features as primary membership benefits.
Often, the best future contributors to an organization are the people who have made a donation in the past. Recognizing this, many nonprofits publish newsletters or magazines just for their donors and volunteers, or have entire websites or web pages that only people fitting these categories can access.
These publications focus on communicating the work the organization is doing for an important cause and highlight why that work is important. Sometimes citing academic experts, independent journalists, or government officials, these publications often take pains to educate readers about the overall state of the problem and the remedies their nonprofit is developing. Such publications are often filled with appeals for additional support and photographs of the people who benefit from it. It's also a common practice to profile and praise volunteers so that other people are inspired to sign up for some volunteer time.
Creating a Sense of Community
Some people are compelled to join a particular nonprofit organization because they crave a connection to people with whom they work or live. This is true for some unions and rural cooperatives that exist because of a shared type of work or location.
In addition to making new people feel welcome, these organizations can use their publications to remind existing members how they benefit from belonging to the organization and encourage them to remain involved.
Educating About Issues
Many nonprofit publications are designed to "change the world" by arming individuals with information that empowers them to make thoughtful choices. The newsstands are filled with examples in the fields of environmental protection, health care, public affairs, culture, and social justice.
The goal of these publications is to reach as many like-minded people as possible and provide readers with unique and compelling information about the nonprofit's cause. To reach the widest possible audience, organizations with a cause to promote often publish in several formats at once: websites, blogs, podcasts, electronic newsletters, and print publications. And every publishing effort is designed to reflect the mission and the expectations of the audience -- using environmentally friendly soy inks for an ecology magazine.
But a big-scale approach to news may not be reasonable for every cause-related publication. Many smaller nonprofits choose to focus on communicating in depth with a smaller number of people -- a strategy that does not require many resources. Nonprofits can have tremendous impact by concentrating on a small, tightly defined audience and then providing wonderful journalism packaged in much humbler clothing.
Targeting Underserved Readers
Many nonprofits serve communities of people who have been overlooked by other information providers, even though their need for information may be very great. Parents of disabled children, for example, may find that consumer-focused publishers essentially ignore them. In these cases, publishing could become the main activity of a nonprofit organization that's looking to fill those information gaps.
These nonprofit publications typically draw on community experts who can provide practical information -- for example, a magazine for recent immigrants could feature advice from immigration lawyers. Often these publications also combine expert advice with first-hand stories contributed by people within the community. Funding is generally covered by grants and donations rather than advertising or paid subscriptions. And such nonprofits sometimes have to find creative ways to distribute their publications to the right people, because the commercial distribution channels, such as newsstands, won't work.
Having assembled an audience of like-minded people, many organizations use a publication to call them into action on specific issues. Through a newsletter, a magazine, a website, or emails, readers can be recruited to write letters, sign petitions, donate money, vote, volunteer, or attend conferences. The editorial style of these communications is focused and specific -- telling targeted individuals what they're being asked to do and why and providing an easy way to respond.
For More Information
For more information on creating content, designing print publications and websites, distributing emails, and more, see Every Nonprofit's Guide to Publishing: Creating Newsletters, Magazines & Websites People Will Read, by Cheryl Woodard and Lucia Hwang (Nolo).