Take Your Newsletter From Good To Great With This Checklist

Philip Manzano • Oct 29, 2016

Bored with your usual newsletter template? Plan, create, format and target your newsletter better than ever with this checklist. The post Take Your Newsletter From Good To Great With This Checklist appeared first on Keela.

Whether you are creating your first nonprofit newsletter or are looking to shake things up in your regular mail, this blog post offers a comprehensive checklist of many of the things that we’ve found work best in keeping your community engaged. 

When you think about creating a nonprofit newsletter what is the first thing that comes to mind? Probably the content, right? You can’t have a newsletter if you don’t have anything to write about. The second concern is generally that of an audience. For the purposes of this post, we’ll assume that you have a great list of quality contacts that all want to receive updates from your organization.


The first thing you want to do before you start writing down a word of content is that you must have a plan.  Ideally, you can have an overall newsletter strategy in place which guides how you approach your newsletter in terms of content, tone, voice, readership, frequency, and format. Always know the goal of your newsletter. Is it to communication information? Get new volunteers? Once you have this foundation established, you can begin creating content that helps support whichever goal you’ve picked (and you can have more than one). 

Another thing you want to have in place from the get-go is good data on your previous newsletter performance. You can always be improving the quality of your newsletters by taking note of the things your contacts respond most positively, or negatively, to. A/B test different strategies to see what’s working best. Never stop testing and adjusting and testing again. Use the data you compiled through this effort to direct your newsletter writing, so that you are consistently creating compelling content that people really respond to. The best newsletters out there are driven by data-driven decision-making standards. 

It’s never too late to start collecting data if you haven’t already. Here are some of the things you should be tracking:

  • What time of day or day of the week gets your newsletter the highest open rates ?
  • What length of newsletter gets the most opens/click throughs?
  • What types of content that get the most response/click throughs?


Content. This is a tough one. Not all content you share in your newsletter will be immediately engaging to your readers (e.g. have you elected a new board member lately?). However, by dispersing this information in with personalized content that tells the story of your nonprofit, you can put together something that’s entertaining, informative and engaging. 

The key here is to personalize your approach to the topics you speak about. Bear in mind that there are likely dozens of articles already present online talking about the same thing. Your job is to make what you have to say about it memorable. If you are able to accomplish this then it doesn’t matter if the content isn’t immediately applicable to a reader, they’ll remember the impression your story made and loop back when it does become relevant. 

The content of your newsletter acts as a snapshot of your organization for that particular moment in time. Bring all the things most important to the forefront of this image and focus in on the human stories that make your organization a success.

Organizational Content

Have your clearly explained what your nonprofit has done during an allotted period of time? Events, project activities, advocacy achievements? Did you meet the goals of these activities?

Use numbers to show outcomes and success

What changes have been made since your last update? New projects, new staff, new office?

Have you shared any stories? Here are some personalized content ideasyou could include:

  • Donor highlights – Uncover the story behind a donation, tell a personal story of a donor, capture what it is that motivates your donors to keep giving.
  • Volunteer profiles – Highlight the exceptional work of a volunteer in every newsletter.
  • Stories of Impact – Connect your stakeholders with the impact you are making through success stories. The more recent the better!

Do you have a blog? Have you shared links to a couple new articles?

Do you have images or videos that support the story you are telling?

Remind people who you areand what you do in your footer. It’s possible they forgot!

Before you send a newsletter you should know exactly what you want your contacts and your organization to get out of this communication exchange. Are you looking for volunteers? Donations? Signatures? Event attendees? Too often organizations make the mistake of hiding their Call-to-Action (CTA) deep within the content of their email, shy away from a blatant request, or have too many ‘asks’ at the same time. It’s important to focus on most important and then to put that front and centre so it’s impossible to miss!

Call-to-Action (CTA) CHECKLIST

  • Have you shared RSVP or ticketing information for any upcoming events? Details to include: date, time, location, perks (food, games, prizes, etc).
  • Do you need volunteers? Is there a signup link in your newsletter?
  • Do you have a donate button integrated into your website?
  • Do you signatures? Is there a signature link?

The CTA that is most important to your organization in this time period should be most prominently visible. A strong CTA is:

  • Highly visible
  • Bold
  • Colourful
  • Stands out

Here’s a list of 31 CTAs you can’t help but click on to get you started.

Bonus Contentfor when you are ready to try something new :

  • Try to connect with your readers through art (e.g. poem, drawing, painting).
  • Include a keepsake that can be printed/downloaded (e.g. quote).
  • Tips or advice.
  • Try creating a video newsletter!

When finalizing your content a good rule of thumb to follow is to five or less pieces of information (this includes stories, news updates and CTAs) for your readers to digest. Any more may start to feel overwhelming. Have a lot of good content you want to share? If it really is all good, why not try sending your newsletter more frequently ! Instead of quarterly you can send it every month. Instead of monthly you could send it bi-weekly. Weigh the pros and cons of spending more time compiling and formatting newsletters before making any decisions. Increasing the frequency of your newsletter can actually be better for overall engagement.

External Content

Now if you have the opposite problem and feel you don’t quite have enough meaningful content to share, you may want to try bringing in some external content into your newsletters. Break away from having a me-centered newsletter. Add in little pieces of information that you and your contacts will find interesting. This is a great way to support and promote other great initiatives while putting more focus on a cause you care about.

  • Are there any articles or news updates from around the web that you think could be valuable to your readers?
  • Are there any community events you think your contacts would be interested in attending?

When in doubt, if you are not sure what your contacts want to hear about, just ask them !


Want a REALLY GREAT newsletter? We recommend segmenting newsletter content by audience. That means you might have one version of your newsletter specifically for donors which focuses on how your money was spent, another version for volunteers which talks about events and upcoming opportunities. If you don’t want to create different versions of your newsletter you could always have a “Volunteer Corner”, in other words, section off parts of your newsletter for specific groups of people. Let everyone easily access the information that is most important to them.


Style Checklist

  • Is this newsletter consistent with previous newsletters?
  • Is your design mobile-friendly? This is extremely important!
  • Have you integrated your social networking icons?
  • Use real text in your newsletter to ensure it is readable. While using a large image as your newsletter can look great, some people turn off images in their inboxes and won’t be able to see anything.
  • Have you included a footer with your organization’s complete contact information?
  • Have you included an unsubscribe button? These last two are so important in making sure your emails do not get flagged as spam.


  • Read through the entire newsletter to check spelling and grammatical errors.
  • Is there any unnecessary information that you can delete?
  • Are the human interest stories relatable? Do you connect with them?
  • Make sure you don’t fall into these nonprofit newsletter pitfalls :
  1. Too boring
  2. Too long
  3. Too unattractive

Try some of our email best practicestips to help avoid some inbox faux pas.

Testing Your Newsletter

If you’re a perfectionist like I am, you may send yourself a copy of your newsletter several times before it ever reaches the public. If you’re not quite sure where to start in testing your newsletter, here are some tips.

Before You Send

  • Send a test email to yourself .
  • Open every link to make sure they are working.
  • Make sure the email shortcuts (if you used any) are working properly.
  • Open the email on your computer and your mobile to check formatting.
  • Open the email using different mail servers – e.g. Gmail, Apple Mail.
  • Forward your test email to a co-worker to proofread and get their feedback as well.

Most importantly, HAVE FUN! This newsletter is a glimpse into the personality of your organization. Make sure your personality is brightly shining through, allowing your readers to connect with your cause on a deeper level. 

If you’re still not sure where to start, check out some of these great examples:

  • 5 Nonprofit Newsletters to Learn from – The Storytelling Nonprofit
  • Top 5 Nonprofit Email Newsletter Mistakes – John Haydon

What tips or tricks do you use when creating your nonprofit newsletter? Leave your tips in the comments below.

Guest Blogging with Keela!

Interested in contributing to our blog? We love including voices from the sector. Feel free to get in touch with us at  blog@networksforchange.org  with your topic.

The post Take Your Newsletter From Good To Great With This Checklist appeared first on Keela.