Nonprofit Policy Newsletters

Nonprofit organizations usually have some sort of newsletter that they produce regularly (quarterly, semi-annually, maybe even monthly), but they seldom think about how to use this tool for advocacy or how they might adapt this format for an exclusively advocacy purpose.

One of the innovations that I introduced fairly early in my advocacy practice was a policy newsletter, and I have since helped a few other nonprofit organizations produce content for a publication to serve a similar purpose. Below is a link to some sample policy newsletters that I created (remember that this was before the real advent of some of today’s technology, much of which could greatly enhance this outreach/information dissemination strategy) as well as 10 potential purposes for a policy newsletter and 10 tips for producing your own. I perenially struggle to be concise, and visual arts are certainly not my thing; if you’re like me, recruit a trusted leader with a more creative eye to do your editing and formatting. I will never claim to be a real expert at this type of publication, but I do know that our policy newsletters worked; I consistently received feedback from coalition allies, elected official targets, funders, leaders, and volunteers, which was precisely what I was hoping to accomplish.

If your organization has a policy newsletter, please send me a copy, or tell me how it is produced and what outcomes you have seen as a result. Do you integrate program content into the publication, or is it a stand-alone policy tool? To whom do you send it? What kind of response do you get? How have you integrated emerging technologies into your newsletter (producing it entirely electronically, tweeting when it’s available, using document-sharing applications to distribute it)?

10 Reasons for a Nonprofit Organization to Produce a Policy Newsletter
1. Share legislative status updates (especially with those who would be burned out with more frequent reports)
2. Applaud the efforts of your leaders–give them credit
3. Ask for money to support your advocacy
4. Request specific actions on priorities
5. Highlight coalition partners
6. Explain some policy issues in greater detail (and also provide references to additional information)
7. Announce upcoming events or campaigns (especially those in the more distant future, as a save-the-date function)
8. Document your advocacy work (keep copies for your archives)
9. Maintain momentum in between actions–there are always slow times in advocacy campaigns, and newsletters that recap some of your greatest recent successes, outline your strategy going forward, and prelude opportunities for future action can keep people engaged until the next big thing
10. Give you an excuse to make contact with elected officials, news media, and potential donors on a regular basis, outside of a specific request

10 Tips for Producing a Policy Newsletter
1. Use as many pictures as possible–people love to see themselves!
2. Set action requests apart so that they stand out
3. Follow a consistent format with each publication–it enhances readability
4. Use quotes from leaders, allies, and even opponents
5. Have leaders ‘guest author’ articles from their perspectives–you want this to be “inside” information that people can’t get elsewhere, written from the unique perspective of your organization or campaign. Ask people to give you ideas for future articles/content, and consider soliciting their help in preparing those items.
6. Consider regular features–“Under the Dome,” “Organizer’s Diary,” or something similar so that readers know what to look for
7. Pay attention to the feedback that you get–track how many people click on the newsletter from your website, how many comments you get on it in blog format, or how many responses you get from an email blast, and note which parts people most respond to
8. Make them very time-specific; ideally, you should not be able to prepare your policy newsletter more than a few days before it is published. If the information is too dated, it will become irrelevant.
9. Remember that you will have little control over the destination of your newsletter once it’s public, so don’t include proprietary information that you wouldn’t want to end up in the hands of your targets
10. Remember that you will have to count as a lobbying expense any portion of the newsletter that includes a call to action (it’s grassroots lobbying, to be precise), so keep track of how much staff time and expense goes into the production, and attribute the percentage that has a call to action to your lobbying accounting

Sample Policy Newsletters:
Policy Newsletter I created for El Centro, Inc. in May 2005
August 2006 Edition
February 2007 Edition

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