Time to Start a State Newsletter?
By Marci Stokke, Washington State Resource Team, Washington Tracks Newsletter Editor
An RMEF state newsletter can be a fun and informative way to share your state’s accomplishments with members and volunteers. It can also be a powerful tool for volunteers to secure donations or introduce new members to RMEF.
If your State Leadership Team (SLT) is considering starting a state newsletter, study these guidelines beforehand to ensure the process is less stressful and more successful:
Choose Your Audience and Frequency
The target audience dictates the size of the newsletter, the topics to include, the frequency of publication and the resource requirements of the editor. Newsletters can be targeted for a state’s volunteers or its membership. Many times newsletters start out for volunteers, then expand after a few years to include the statewide membership.
Articles will change as the audience changes. For a volunteer newsletter, most of the articles celebrate volunteer projects and hunts, or feature banquet tips and advice—such as how to put on a successful banquet, expand games and raffles or develop a second event. As the newsletter moves to a statewide audience, articles should focus more on mission accomplishment.
How often to publish a newsletter (annually, biannually, quarterly, etc.) depends on the goals of the SLT, but should be consistent so volunteers/members can rely on receiving and using the information.
Decide on the Method of Distribution
Newsletters either can be printed and mailed at a cost, or emailed as a PDF file for free.
If you want to print hard copies, it’s a good idea to contact a professional printer for preliminary cost estimates. Several printing options exist, from regular copier-style to professional web-press production. If color is your preference, the heat-press style on coated paper produces an attractive document. As a guideline, a professional printer will typically charge between $.45 and $.80 per copy (including postage) to produce a 24-page document. The cost varies according to the number printed (ie. more quantity, less cost).
You can pay for newsletters through advertising, using state grant funding, or by getting it underwritten by a donor. It’s best to work with your regional director and/or SLT to determine the funding source before embarking on a newsletter.
Create a Distribution List
This needs to be done each time you publish a newsletter, as members and volunteers come and go, addresses change, etc.
For a printed newsletter, use the available RMEF mailing lists for volunteers or general state membership. To access the addresses through the Event Inventory System(EIS), treat the newsletter like an event. Set the event date around your production date so the lists are available for some time. The regional director will have names uploaded, similar to the procedure used for a banquet. If mailing is part of your professional printing package, the list can then be uploaded to the printer, who often times has software to update and correct addresses before they are even mailed.
You can keep postage prices down by getting a non-profit mailing permit each time you do a mailing, if volumes warrant it. Contact a post office near the printing company for more information, or check with the printer itself as they may have a mailing expert on staff to help with questions and procedures.
If you choose to email your newsletter, keep in mind that email addresses can be difficult to obtain, depending upon your audience. For volunteer-only newsletters, email addresses are generally available from your state’s chapter committee lists. But gathering email addresses for a general statewide distribution is another story. A good way to get a list started is by printing and mailing out your first few issues, letting people know that you will be switching to a digital format and requesting they sign up by sending a message to a specific email address. For more guidelines in compiling a statewide emaillist, see “Email: The Cheapest Form of Communication” in the August 2012 Wapiti Wire.
You can also post your newsletter on your state’s website, but remember that unless people visit the site frequently, the target audience may never know the newsletter exists. However, you can use the newsletter to draw people to your website. Rather than emailing the newsletter as a PDF attachment, send an email message to your audience letting them know they can view the publication by clicking on a link that takes them to the website. Just make sure the newsletter is easy to find on the site.
Recruit an Editor
Most successful newsletters are produced by someone who is passionate about RMEF. SLTs generally have a publicist, secretary or behind-the-scenes person who has worked in an office or other environment where writing and computer skills are commonplace. Sometimes there is a committee volunteer who has these skills. By no means is this a requirement for a successful newsletter; it only reduces the learning curve.
Design and editing skills can be honed by reading Bugle and other magazines, reading other RMEF state or volunteer newsletters, or reading newsletters or articles on the internet. Look at organization, picture placement and how a theme is maintained.
Pick Your Software
Several popular software programs are available that make an editor’s life easy: Adobe’s In-Design software is one of the most popular and easiest to use in setting up a template-style document in PDF format. The accompanying Adobe Photoshop software helps edit photos, but is not required. Microsoft Publisher also works well, but is not accepted by all printers, so that will need to be confirmed ahead of time. Most software packages include template/master pages to help create your original document. Put some thought into this in the beginning so you end up with an effective, attractive template that you can use for every issue.
Publication software such as Microsoft Word is also valuable for editing and standardizing text before you plug it into the template.
Set a Schedule
Creating an editorial schedule at the onset is key. It will take a minimum of three months from article solicitation to mailing. Set deadlines for planning, article submissions, editing, review, printing and mailing.
Find and Solicit Content
This can seem the ultimate hurdle, but it ends up being the most satisfying. A good place to start is the rmef.org website. It is filled with information and resources—including press releases, a news feed, and options to sign up for newsletters—about the organization that either can be used directly or to spark ideas.
For a volunteer-only newsletter, the SLT and state chair often provide articles or ideas, or will request them from their chapter chairs. Many people may hesitate to write an article because they feel their writing skills aren’t up to par. Let them know that the editor can help if they provide the facts and photos.
For a membership audience, add the RMEF lands program manager to your list. Also, some of the most interesting articles come from PAC (project advisory committee) partners.Your regional director and/or state chair can supply a list of completed projects with contact info. A phone call or an email soliciting an article is generally well received. Many agency personnel are proud of their projects and want to share their successes. You can also farm project articles from “Tracking” in Bugle or from the RMEF’s blog, “Elk Tracks.”
An important thing to remember is to avoid controversial articles or topics. The state newsletter should leave a strong positive impact.
Include Photos and Graphics
Photos help tell the story, so request them when you assign articles. Filler photos—wildlife, landscapes, etc.—are easy to come by from just about anyone, if you ask. Be sure to acknowledge the photographer under all circumstances.
The RMEF logo is available on the corporate website under the “News and Media” tab and “Press Room” button. Use it.
Edit and Organize the Articles
Edit the articles for structure, clarity, grammar and spelling. If you have a question about the text, don’t be afraid to go back to the author. Write catchy titles to draw the reader’s interest, and always include a byline.
Articles may be submitted in a variety of formats, fonts, point sizes and styles. Choose one font and point size for titles and another for the article text, and stick with them throughout the document for consistency.
Having a strategy for organizing the articles is important for readability. Grouping articles according to mission goals is a good place to start.
Proof the Final Draft
Every newsletter should be reviewed by at least the state chair and/or the regional director. These folks help verify the facts and serve as an extra pair of eyes to ensure proper grammar and spelling—as well as political sensitivities.
Publish and Distribute your Newsletter
Once the newsletter is in final form, follow the guidelines for publishing and distributing your newsletter as described above.
A Few Closing Thoughts
You are now ready to get started! Get the word out to fellow RMEF volunteers that your SLT is creating a state newsletter, and that you welcome input and ideas.Chat with an editor from a state that already has a volunteer or member newsletter. RMEF volunteers are passionate about what they do and always willing to help. Encourage your SLT to take ownership, too. Make the newsletter an agenda item not only in the beginning, but every time they meet. Solicit their input and suggestions for how to make the publication the best it can be for spreading the good word about RMEF to its dedicated members and volunteers.
For more information, contact Marci Stokke at email@example.com.