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Every publication serves two masters: the organization that pays the publishing bills and the people who read it. This chapter will help you create a publication that meets both of their needs.
First, it reviews the most common reasons nonprofit organizations launch newsletters, magazines, and online publications. Next, it discusses your publication's purpose, focusing entirely on how it will meet your organization's needs. It then explains how to meet your readers' needs through establishing the publication's editorial mission. It offers practical
advice about how to balance the interests of your nonprofit and the publication's readers -- and ends with some tips for troubleshooting common problems.
While it may seem easy to define a publication's purpose and mission, expect some disagreement -- especially if the publishing venture is new or represents a change from the way things have been done in the past. Publications often generate new and unexpected confusion within a nonprofit or churn up longstanding controversies within it.
Often, no one on staff has any editing or publishing experience, but everybody has ideas about what should be published in the new newsletter, magazine, or website. Some ideas will be wonderful. And some will be completely inappropriate -- such as the one from the board member who wants to put his grandson's video project on your alumni association website. Or the major donor who wants to advertise her Hummer dealership in your ecology club newsletter.
Money can be another source of confusion and dissension. Program managers may resent the money earmarked for a flashy website ratherthan for their programs, and board members may have unreasonable hopes about generating donations or ad revenues with a new magazine.
And, not knowing any better, everyone may expect to create a first-class product on a third-class budget, with no extra staff and no extra time allowed for planning sensibly.
You will never completely avoid conflict, but you can reduce much of it by taking the time to thoroughly discuss and define both a purpose and an editorial mission for every new magazine, newsletter, or online publication. (See "Crafting Your Mission Statement," below, for details about communicating ideas within the organization.) This step will help
manage everyone's expectations, and also help fend off inappropriate suggestions down the road, by developing and communicating your plans before the publishing begins. And if you are reevaluating an established publication -- looking for a new direction or greater impact -- then writing the purpose and mission statements anew can lead to fresh ideas and help resolve dissension. (See "Troubleshooting Editorial Mission Problems," below, for more about revamping a conflicted publishing project.)
The first essential task is to decide what purpose a publication will serve for its organizational master, your nonprofit, and how it will contribute to those goals. Think in terms of outcomes that you hope will result after making the effort to publish: more donations, happier volunteers, greater success in your efforts to educate or empower people. The road to successful publishing starts with a clear sense of where you want to go and why.
Often, the purpose of a nonprofit's publication is obvious and unequivocal: The board of directors wants to attract younger members by sending out an email newsletter, for example, or the organization's new director who has venture capital roots hopes to attract big donors through a slick magazine. But sometimes the purpose is less clear -- and in those situations, it is wise to gather input from a group of those involved to get a consensus before going forward. (See "Crafting Your Mission Statement," below, for details.)
There are a number of reasons nonprofit organizations typically decide to publish a magazine, newsletter, or website -- ranging from getting new members to targeting underserved ones. Often, a publication serves a number of purposes.Recruiting and Retaining Members
Publications can be extremely effective in recruiting and retaining members for consumer associations, arts organizations, and hobby or professional groups. Skimming through nonprofit member publications, you will usually find membership issues highlighted through photographs of
organization activities, articles promoting the benefits of belonging, and information about how to participate. In addition, by providing useful information about the nonprofit's cherished causes, such publications can become prized benefits on their own. In fact, organizations commonly list their print publications, electronic newsletters, and members-only Web features as primary membership benefits.
While the technique is not generally available for newsletters or not relevant for online publications, some nonprofits use their magazines to recruit members by distributing them widely on newsstands and in bookstores.Example: The National Audubon Society produces a lavish, award-winning magazine, Audubon, to inspire new readers to join one of the 500 local chapters of the Society and help protect wildlife. Published bimonthly, the magazine is a public expression of the group's mission and activities. Every issue is filled with inspiring nature photographs, articles about how to participate in the Society's work around the world, and thoughtful
Not every member publication needs to be lavishly produced to attract the attention of potential members. It is most important for the publication to reflect the mission and voice of your organization.Example: The magazine Coop America Quarterly has a humble, down-to-business appearance befitting the organization's mission, which is harnessing economic power to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society. The publication's editors convey the value of belonging to the organization by packing each 40 practical advice on sustainable living and responsible investing. People looking for an alternative to the high-consumption values they find in other magazines are attracted to the low-impact values expressed in the Quarterly, and the magazine draws in lots of new members at "green living" conventions and other venues where it is displayed.
Some people are compelled to join a particular nonprofit organization because they crave a connection to people with whom they work or live. This is true for some unions and rural cooperatives that exist because of a shared type of work or location.
In addition to making new people feel welcome, these organizations can use their publications to remind existing members how they benefit from belonging to the organization and encourage them to remain involved.Example: Kentucky Living is a monthly magazine that reaches 500,000 members of the state's rural electric cooperatives. It is distributed exclusively to people who already belong to a cooperative, and there is no attempt to use the magazine to recruit outside readers or new members. Instead, the magazine's sole purpose is to "create a community of people who take pride in thinking of themselves as Kentuckians and as knowledgeable electric coop members to improve their quality of life." The design is humble to deliberately send members a message that their money is not being used for lavish publication expenses -- and the content is helpful rather than confrontational. The editors steer clear of divisive politics, for example, and focus instead on profiles of local people and articles about energy efficiency. Ads are welcomed, particularly from local companies and coop members.
Many nonprofit publications are designed to "change the world" by arming individuals with information that empowers them to make thoughtful choices. The newsstands are filled with examples in the fields of environmental protection, health care, public affairs, culture, and social justice.
The goal of these publications is to reach as many like-minded people as possible and provide readers with unique and compelling information about the nonprofit's cause. To reach the widest possible audience, organizations with a cause to promote often decide to publish in several formats at once: websites, blogs, podcasts, electronic newsletters, and print publications. And every publishing effort is designed to reflect the mission and the expectations of the audience -- using environmentally friendly soy inks for an ecology magazine, for example, or online audio clips and blogs for one about political issues.Example: Mother Jones magazine publishes revelatory journalism that
But a big-scale approach to news may not be reasonable for every cause-related publication. Many smaller nonprofits choose to focus on communicating in depth with a smaller number of people -- a strategy that does not require many resources. Nonprofits can have tremendous impact by concentrating on a small, tightly defined audience and then providing wonderful journalism packaged in much humbler clothing.Example: The Ecology Center of Berkeley, California, publishes Terrain magazine four times per year. Its mission is to educate and inform a dedicated community of environmental activists living in the San Francisco area -- people who have been working on environmental issues for many years. To save costs, each issue is limited to 40 pages produced on the least expensive paper, with minimal use of color and other expensive design elements. Instead of spending money on fancy packaging or technology, the Terrain editors focus the nonprofit's small budget on acquiring great reporting from a large stable of talented local writers.
Having assembled an audience of like-minded people, many organizations use a publication to call them into action on specific issues. Through a newsletter, a magazine, a website, or emails, readers can be recruited to write letters, sign petitions, donate money, vote, volunteer, or attend conferences. The editorial style of these communications is focused and specific -- telling targeted individuals what they're being asked to do and why and providing an easy way to respond.Example: By covering political and education issues in its main newsletter,
Lobbying restrictions. Some 501(c) nonprofits either cannot take any stances on political initiatives or offices or must severely limit their spending on political activities. Unions and some other organizations are given special leeway, but many nonprofits are legally restricted in lobbying. Be sure you know the rules for your organization before you start publishing. (See Chapter 5, "Lobbying Restrictions May Limit Your Content," for more details.)Boosting Contributions
Often, the best future contributors to an organization are the people who have made a donation in the past. Recognizing this, many nonprofits publish newsletters or magazines just for their donors and volunteers, or have sections or entire websites that only people fitting
these categories can access.
These publications focus on communicating the work the organization is doing for an important cause and highlight why that work is important. Sometimes citing academic experts, independent journalists, or government officials, these publications often take pains to educate readers about the overall state of the problem and the remedies their nonprofit is developing. Such publications are often filled with appeals for additional support and photographs of the people who benefit from it. It's also a common practice to profile and praise volunteers so that other people are inspired to do the same.Example: World Ark magazine is a donor publication published by the Heifer Project, a group that strives to end world hunger through sustainable agriculture programs. Anyone who gives $25 to Heifer automatically receives a year's subscription to World Ark. Each issue profiles successful Heifer projects and explains the organization's different programs around the world. Photographs show the faces of people Heifer is helping and the Heifer volunteers who are helping them. The magazine puts Heifer's work in