Political campaigns are collecting volunteers by the thousands through e-mail outreach. Nonprofits are building powerful coalitions to engage in virtual grassroots lobbying.
Most of these groups find e-newsletters more valuable than even Web sites for building and maintaining relationships with supporters. Ironically, the one group that has not taken advantage of this powerful tool is Members.
According to research conducted last year by the Congressional Management Foundation’s Congress Online Project, only 38 percent of House Members and 32 percent of Senators send some kind of e-mail update.
The House recently modified franking rules for e-newsletters, and both chambers have set up Listservs to make it easier to manage e-newsletters. It is quite possible that, within a few years, e-newsletters will replace their printed cousins as the primary means for Members to communicate directly with constituents.
We researched the best practices in the private and public sectors and developed the following 10 tips:
1. Keep it short and scannable. Don’t just cut and paste the same content you would provide in a printed newsletter. E-newsletters should be the sound bites of the Internet, allowing people to be “information snackers.”
2. Be substance-oriented. Constituents want substance, not press releases and promotional material. If the e-newsletter looks like a campaign commercial, they’ll hit delete. What are Members doing in the state/district where they might be able to interact?
3. Link to your Web site. These can provide more detailed information and draw people’s attention to other items of interest.
4. Grab readers’ attention with great subject lines and good-looking content. If subscribers don’t open your e-newsletter as soon as they see it in their inbox, chances are they’ll forget it. Consider sending it in HTML format, which can be formatted with colors and graphics. Do not send attachments, especially bulky files like video and audio.
5. Be timely and relevant. To capture readers’ interest, e-newsletters must provide fresh information about topics on people’s minds.
6. Send the e-newsletter only when you have something to say. The trick is to send it often enough that people don’t forget they’re subscribed to your list, but not so often that they get tired of hearing from you.
7. Give readers an opportunity to do something. Direct marketers and grassroots organizations have mastered the art of “the ask” in their e-mails, and they’ve received a great response. Members can ask them to attend town hall meetings, provide feedback on current issues, or forward the e-mail to friends.
8. Make it easy to subscribe and unsubscribe. Every e-newsletter should include information about how to be added to or removed from the distribution list.
9. Provide an e-newsletter archive on your Web site. This enables constituents to refer back to something they read before and provide prospective subscribers with information to convince them to be on your list.
Brad Fitch is deputy director of the Congressional Management Foundation. Kathy Goldschmidt is director of technology services for CMF.