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“E” can stand for easy in e-Newsletters

SUMMARY: An e-newsletter worth doing needs to be easy to do, easy to distribute and easy to understand. Creating a plan of attack allows you to create an easy path for a successful communication tool that costs next to nothing.

Electronic newsletters are growing in popularity. After all they're virtually free. No postage or printing costs incurred. Don't be intimidated by the process. If you can use e-mail and a word-processing program, you can edit and distribute an e-newsletter.

Simple as Word.
Easy is the best approach for most e-newsletters because staff or volunteers need to be able to create and send without it taking hours. In addition, readers have a multitude of viewing options, including plain text, which can be hampered by complex e-mails that use many features.

Create a template.
You can use Microsoft Word and even insert a logo or photo at the top if you'd like. Then establish a header (organization and/or newsletter name) at the top and start typing. Mail Chimp, an e-newsletter service, offers free, tested templates at: www.mailchimp.com.

Tabling the contents.
The e-newsletter most likely cannot be viewed without scrolling down. Let readers know what story topics are available at the very beginning. Type a table of contents in numerical order. Readers then can scroll to find the number of the article they are interested in viewing.

If your newsletter covers several departments, committees, etc., consider placing those items in topical order as well. So if someone just wants the update on fundraising activities, for example, he doesn't have to wade through all the articles.

Singing subject lines.
Headlines matter in the newspaper-that's what prompts most people to decide what article they will read. E-mail subject lines matter in e-newsletters. Create a subject line that first IDs your organization or newsletter then lists the theme of the newsletter or the lead article in the newsletter. For an example, just check out the subject line of this e-mail.

Writing short.
Articles in the newsletter should not be lengthy. Viewers are not likely to spend a long time reading online. If you want to include more information or expand on the idea, use your Web site and include a link in the newsletter "for more information."

If you want to link to full articles or other Web site pages with lengthy addresses, consider using www.tinyurl.com. You copy and paste the lengthy Web address and TinyURL will shorten it. Recently, the site added a feature so you can name the new address. So instead of www.tinyurl.com/SX8jkli, create a personalized address such as www.tinyurl.com/UMCDonationArticle.

Don't be a distribution chump.
Sending out the e-newsletter doesn't need to cost a dime. But if you have just $10 a month to spend, you can save time.

If you're opting for free, create an e-mail account unique to the newsletter (such as UMCnewsletter@yahoo.com) through the many free e-mail services. A separate account means "returned" e-mails won't bog down your own inbox. Use this e-mail as a point of contact for people who want to register for the e-newsletter. Using the free method, you will need to devote some time to updating the e-mail database so it is current.

If you want to spend as little as $10 a month, a service, such as Mail Chimp (www.mailchimp.com), will host your e-mail database, your templates and update your database automatically. If someone "opts out," Mail Chimp simply updates the database and sends an e-mail notifying you of the change.

Search on Google for "e-newsletter providers" to find a lengthy list of options. Constant Contact, iContact and Vertical Response are some of the national providers. You also can ask your Web hosting company to see what type of e-mail database services it offers.

End with boilerplate.
Readers are used to finding the standard information at the end of the e-newsletter. Include a sentence or two describing the purpose of the e-newsletter-including ways for people to opt-in and opt-out.