Atlanta-based international humanitarian organization CARE was recognized as a “Superstar” by peers at GetTogether 2006, GetActive Software’s third annual user conference, in Baltimore in mid-September, for having the “best recurring e-newsletter.” Tobias Smith, Internet strategist for the organization, took some time to speak with me about what it is that makes the 4-year-old monthly e-newsletter, CARE Connections, successful.
Smith describes CARE Connections as the anchor of CARE’s large, complex e-cultivation effort at raising funds and encouraging advocacy. The goal of the e-newsletter is to bring people back to the Web to view the content that’s there. The e-newsletter includes feature stories, educational content, quizzes and other involvement pieces, as well as advocacy actions. Smith says that it’s a way to keep constituents informed and involved, but also a way to thank them.
“It’s what all the other cultivation pieces are not. All the rest of them have specific goals, like an appeal, which is designed to raise a certain amount of money. The newsletter’s that place that we’re not really knocking you up for money, but really having more of an expanded dialogue with you,” he says.
One of the key features of the e-newsletter is a section in which two women are pictured side by side, one from the developing world and the other from the United States. The copy compares and contrasts their lives, talking not just about how they are different but also how they are the same in an effort to draw connections and engage constituents.
Smith says that when developing an e-newsletter, organizations should remember two things:
1. Make sure the layout and overall look of the e-newsletter reflects your brand. Smith points to CARE’s development and enforcement of a strong, recognizable brand — and branding requirements within the organization — as one of the keys to CARE Connections’ success.
2. Think about your audience and make sure your e-newsletter is relevant to the user. To increase its relevance, CARE saw the need to shift the e-newsletter content from an organization focus to a user focus. “If you’re just thinking of it from your own point of view and spout out what you want to say to [constituents], well, it’s you and everybody else in a cluttered inbox,” Smith says. The newsletter now focuses on connections between people, specifically women in the United States and in the developing world.
Smith says CARE goes through a good deal of effort to make the content of the stories in the developing world relevant to people in the United States. Producing a quality e-newsletter with original content every month is a lot of work. You can’t just fill your e-newsletter with “whatever’s leftover” and think that’s going to engage constituents. The content you use has to be compelling — a real story or something interesting to your readers. Smith suggests thinking as an outsider when devising content. “Everything about our business is fascinating to us, and that’s just not the case outside [the organization],” he says.
In the end, he says e-cultivation is a wild frontier that all organizations are exploring at the same time. There’s a lot to be learned by constituent behavior and from other organizations. “We’re all sort of on the edge of the same balloon being expanded out into the wilderness, if you will,” Smith says. “Everyone’s working on the state of the art, and everyone can learn something from everyone else.”
Tobias Smith can be reached via www.careusa.org