The End of the Email Newsletter?

Late last month, Thomas Gensemer created a minor firestorm when he suggested that organizations should abandon email newsletters in favour of short, focused updates with clear calls to action.

Email newsletters to supporters are a waste of time and effort and should be ditched by charities and NGOs, according to Barack Obama's digital strategist. Thomas Gensemer, managing partner of Blue State Digital, the company behind President Obama's online election campaign, urged organisations to instead send short, personalised emails to supporters giving clear instructions for participation.

Extreme statements can often be dismissed, but not when they’re made be the digital strategist who put together Barack Obama’s $500 million dollar online campaign. Throughout the presidential election, the Obama campaign expertly used concise and timely campaign updates to develop a dynamic supporter base and ultimately win the election. But what about the rest of us? Does a big money federal election compare with the needs of most organizations?

Vinay Bhagat at Connection Café offered a more balanced perspective. Citing recent donor research on long-term giving patterns, he says that the email newsletter is still a critical part of the overall communications mix. More importantly he stresses the need for newsletters to be inspiring and donor focused.

…high quality emails present donors with vivid accounts of their work, share successes, and place a significant emphasis on thanking donors. They invest in writing high quality content that is always donor centered. They will from time to time ask donors to take action – in their case, make a gift, but those requests are far outnumbered by high quality stewardship and compelling informational updates.

Donor focus can go one step further. This debate revolves around the merits of the newsletter, but more important is the message itself and whether or not it is being heard. Too often, organizations get the equation backwards, believing that they “need a newsletter” to “get their message out”. The real question to ask is, “how can we deliver value to our supporters/followers?” Once organization’s are delivering value, it will translate to donation dollars and more customers. More importantly, as long as value remains the focus—in content, participation, and two way communication—you have a built in reality check that can help everyone be more critical and thoughtful about what is communicated and why.

Like the newspaper industry is painfully learning, there’s no inherent value in any medium. End users and readers will ultimately decide the fate of the e-newsletter and any other form of communications. It’s best to take their needs and thoughts into account up front when deciding if its the best choice for your, and avoid more painful lessons in the process.