5 Tips for Newsletter Writing

Last night at dinner my friend asked me if I had always loved writing.

Ha! I was a math person. Math came easily to me. My lowest scores on standardized tests were always in English. For the life of me my brain cannot crack the code of

If milk is a liquid, then a car is a ___________ (solid, vehicle, drink, or a chance to bash your head against the wall because you have no idea.)

So, no, I did not “always know I would love writing.” I paused before answering, “I don’t really love writing, I love story telling.”

The main form of writing I did for years was newsletters and to this day I love writing my monthly updates. But I found out I was an anomaly, many people dread writing newsletters and there is much shame and uncomfortableness around newsletters overall; instead of adding to the shame with more “you shoulds,” my hope is that we can all feel empowered and (dare I say it) a bit excited about writing newsletters when you finish reading this post.

Here are my five tips for you today:

One: Make it easy for supporters—This first one is born out of my own personal experience this year as a supporter. I started supporting Leslie (not her real name) and she moved to the field a few months ago  . . .  at least I think she did since I have not heard from her.

Recently I was meeting with a young man who is in the process of raising support himself and I told him this very tip: make it easy for supporters. “Take our mutual friend, I haven’t heard from her.” He looked at me confused, “But she blogs.”

Clearly I am a fan of blogging, as you are reading this ON A BLOG. A blog can be one tool in communicating with supporters, but here is why I believe it cannot be the primary tool: you are putting the responsibility for communication on your supporters. Now that I know the gal I support has a blog, guess who is a tad annoyed that I have to track down the info to hear about her? Yup, the person she wants not to be annoyed over something trivial, like tracking down a url.

If you use blog posts as your primary way of communicating, may I offer two additional tips? First, still have an email list and quarterly send out an email with links to the blogs. Deliver the news to them; put the onus for communication on you, not them. Second, blogs (unless password protected) are public, very public. This is a neutral fact. You can share more when you know the whole world is not going to be reading it.

Two: Show, don’t tell—Telling informs the brain, showing involves the heart, moving you in some way. Too often we communicate as if we are writing a grocery list.

I went to Bigiwawa. I gave seven presentations. I renewed my visa (PTL!!).

My brain is tracking with what you wrote, but my heart? She does not care and is now thinking about dinner or a sporting event or the kids homework or about anything but you and your ministry. She is not moved to pray for you.

Having taken a seven hour bus ride (complete with a crate of chickens who didn’t know they were supposed to stay in the crate!), Jason and I  . . . now, as a supporter, I am more engaged and therefore, more likely to pray for you. I can also picture you amongst the free-range-bus-chickens.

Three: Use strong verbs—Let’s be honest, weak verbs are easier to write. They just are. So, instead of stressing over your verbs and getting all in your head, write your newsletter and then go back. Go back and look for two weak verbs and make them stronger. Don’t strengthen every verb. How to kill the joy. Right? But over time, slowly, your verbs will get stronger.

What am I talking about? Look for this phrase: There was. Or some form of it (there is, there were) is a weak verb alert.

There was a man on the bus who was getting in my personal space.

Instead of “was” (a weaker verb), how about: On the bus a man encroached my personal space. It took every fiber in my being not to back away; I kept uttering the pre-field training mantra for personal space in this country: “my space is your space.”

In the battle between Was vs Encroached, it is not even close.

Four: Consistency is more important than content—Let’s be honest again, given how much time we can spend on newsletter writing, don’t you kind of hope your supporters basically memorize them? Or at least do more than scan? When I met with the young man raising support last week, I stressed, “If you ask people a year later what you said in July, they probably will not remember. But if you asked them if they hear from you, that question they can answer.”

Do not overthink what you are going to write. Just write something and ship it. Get it in their hands. Trust that the Holy Spirit will give you an idea for your next communication if you think this letter wasn’t great. Move on. Live, minister, write, rinse, repeat.

Five: Update your mailing listI have been sending out newsletters for almost a quarter of a century and know that every now and then it is “newsletter best practice” to do a bit of maintenance. See what information is out of date, see who still wants to receive the newsletters, see who is actually on my list.

But guess where my best intentions of “updating my list” got me?

No where.

For three years I have been meaning to get around to it. But life just never made space (and “life” is always more interesing to me then “admin” work).

So, I created a seven-day newsletter challenge that I needed. If you join in the challenge, seven days in a row you will be emailed a specific task that takes between 15 minutes and an hour a day. With the generic “update list” broken into specific tasks, all you need to do is one thing on that day.

As one person who finished the Newsletter List Challenge said in the middle of it, “It feels so good to have looked over my list, and to see who wasn’t opening e-mails and which contacts had bounced and needed to be updated!”

I will admit, maintaining a clean and useable list is NOT what I love about newsletters; but it enables me to share the stories of what God is doing.

Now that I love!

If you sign up for the challenge in the next three days (by October 23), you’ll be entered to win a copy of Enjoying Newsletters.

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Amy Young

Life enthusiast. Author. Sports lover. Jesus follower. Equipper of cross-cultural worker. Amy is the founder of Global Trellis, co-founder of Velvet Ashes, hosts reading challenges at The Messy Middle, and is the author of five books (Looming TransitionsLove, AmyEnjoying NewslettersGetting Started, and Connected.)

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