Layout & Language
I’ve observed that most missionaries struggle with one of two things when writing their prayer and update newsletters. Either they struggle to design a newsletter layout that is both attractive to the eye and easy to read, or they struggle to use language that speaks to the heart and inspires the reader. Here are 4 quick tips on the layout of your newsletter and 4 quick tips on the language in your newsletter.
4 Tips on Layout
- Use your organization’s logo and branding
You don’t want to know how many missionary newsletters I receive where it’s unclear if the missionary is representing the mission and vision of their sending organization, or if this newsletter is from their personal blog, outfitted with a fancy font and an eccentric color scheme. Putting your sending organization’s logo at the very top of your newsletter is a very simple but very effective way of “legitimizing” your communication. Another easy way is to match the color scheme of your newsletter with the color scheme of your sending organization. These are small changes that make a big difference.
- Optimize for mobile devices
In the most recent research conducted, 75% of Americans said their smartphone was the primary place they checked their email. Did you catch that? 75% of the people you’re sending your newsletter to will open and read it on their phone! In similar research, Americans stated that if an email was not properly formatted to be read on a mobile device, they would delete the email within three seconds! Most email services will let you send test newsletters to yourself first. Make sure your newsletter looks good when opened on a smartphone.
- Use media
When appropriate and accessible, use pictures and videos to illustrate the impact your supporters are having through their partnership with your ministry. It is very true that a picture is worth a thousand words.
- Give me the bottom line with section headings and bold text.
There is a principle in communication theory called “Don’t make me think.” If the person you are communicating with has to do too much mental work to understand what you are trying to communicate, you have not communicated effectively. Use section headings and bold text to enhance your newsletters. Section headers give the bottom-line idea of what is contained in the following paragraph. Next, find the one sentence in each paragraph that communicates the most essential idea in that section and make that sentence stand out with bold text. With each newsletter, ask yourself if your newsletter passes the “skim test” – if you quickly skim and only read the section headers and bold font, can you effectively grasp the big ideas and bottom line of that newsletter? You should be able to.
4 Tips on Language
- Write about what God is doing, not what you are doing
If there is one tip that has the greatest potential to transform your newsletters and the engagement and excitement of the people reading them, it’s this one. If you can make this mental paradigm shift in how you communicate, then your newsletters will rock!
If we’re honest, it’s too easy for our newsletters to simply become a report of the last few weeks of our ministry calendar, listing all the programs, events, and activities we’ve been involved in. This may be blunt, but people are not partnering with you and sacrificing their hard-earned money so that you can put on programs and events. And if you’re honest, that’s not what you signed up for either! Both you and your ministry partners are committed to seeing the gospel transform the spiritual destiny and physical lives of people all over the world. So when writing your newsletter, don’t just communicate your activity, but also communicate what your activity is leading to and resulting in. In other words, don’t just write about the activity; instead, write about the impact! It will take some time to retrain your brain, but always put your newsletters to the “God test” – “Am I writing mostly about what I’ve been doing, or am I writing about what God is doing?”
- Tell one story of a transformed life
There’s another principle in communication theory called “Less is more.” You could probably share ten stories of what God is doing, but ask yourself this question: Why tell ten stories when one story will do? Your ministry partners are busy. You want to maintain their trust that when they open your newsletter, they will only need to invest thirty seconds in order to read it and be inspired by one well-written and powerful story of what God is doing. You don’t want them seeing your name in their email and thinking, “Oh no, I need to set aside ten minutes to read their update.” Tell one story, tell it well, and leave them wanting more and excited for your next newsletter.
- Personalize, personalize, personalize
We’ve all heard it said that the sweetest sound someone can hear is their own name. I recently received a newsletter with the subject line, “A special message for you, Phil.” Do you think I opened that? You bet I did! In contrast, we’ve all received the newsletter that begins “Dear friends and supporters…” Did you read that newsletter all the way through? Not as likely. With all the customization features contained in modern tools like Mailchimp, Constant Contact, and others, we simply do not have an excuse to not be personalizing our newsletter updates with the first name of each person. It should feel like an email written personally to them. A simple search on the internet can easily get you up to speed, as well as a quick coaching session with your sending agency’s communication, marketing, or fundraising department.
- Use a descriptive and engaging subject line
We’ve all received the newsletter with the subject line with some version of “Missionary Family Update.” Though this makes it very clear who is sending the newsletter and what it is, it does not leave much to the imagination about what’s inside, nor does it inspire anyone to open the email. Instead, we should think of the subject line more as the “Why You Should Open This Email” line. Write something that gives a taste of what they will receive if they open your email. Use action verbs and descriptive language. Some recent examples I’ve seen just in the last month are: “While dying, he found life in Christ,” “This never gets old,” and “2000 Sausages and 40 Loaves of Bread.” Be creative and experimental!
This article is submitted by Jessica Wood of Support Raising Solutions. Support Raising Solutions is a Missio Nexus member. Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.