Congratulations! You’ve been elected to the Board of your community association. You and your fellow members have some exciting ideas about ways to improve your community. And part of that is keeping your residents informed. It should be easy for you to write and distribute a newsletter, right?
Not so fast. Creating an effective, entertaining and informative newsletter will require some advance planning – and a few critical decisions along the way.
“The best newsletters have been thought out carefully before the first issue is produced,” says Lillian Guerrero Feijoo, Vice President of Marketing & Communications for FirstService Residential in Florida. “When you build newsletters correctly, from the ground up, you’ll be able to create a cost-effective and engaging vehicle that delivers timely information on a regular basis to your residents.”
So how do you build the foundation of a great community newsletter? Here are some helpful guidelines.
1. Start with a conversation.
Your residents are your audience, so it’s important to find out the types of news and information they want to know. How? By asking them. “One item I always include is a word search puzzle to reinforce positive things about community living – puzzles are free to create and the owners love them,” says Marguerite Donovan, a Community Manager in New Jersey. You can also solicit the advice of someone who’s done this before – a friend or colleague from a neighboring community association or a good property management company will have great insights to share.
2. Choose the format.
How will your newsletter be distributed – via printed copies or electronically? If you go the print route, you newsletter will be costlier to produce (unless you start with a small run on your office printer, which may be just fine). Electronic methods, like an emailed pdf or online blog, can be less expensive, but there may be technological hurdles to overcome.
3. Determine how often you’ll produce new issues.
Typically, newsletters are distributed monthly, bimonthly or quarterly. Choosing which schedule is right for your community involves more than just determining how much you have to say. Your budget will also be a factor. The trick is balancing the greatest possible frequency with a production number you can comfortably afford – that way your residents will be assured of receiving timely information in a way that doesn’t break the bank. Which leads us to…
4. Build a budget.
Like so many other things, your newsletter decisions will most likely be based on your available funds. It’s critical to consider the costs of printed vs. electronic formats and monthly vs. quarterly distribution in order to decide how and when your newsletter gets to your subscribers. Crunch your numbers diligently. For print newsletters, talk to a professional printer and obtain costs for key factors like different quantities, paper grades, etc. Also, don’t forget about postage and possible fees for outside writing and design services. If hiring a professional graphic designer is too expensive, check out the wide variety of easy-to-use desktop publishing tools and go the do-it-yourself route. Same goes for electronic newsletters – research the costs of implementing a blog or hiring someone to design a pdf that can be emailed. There are also online services that provide design templates and distribution capabilities for free or at reasonable prices. For every option, carefully measure your commitment in terms of money and effort –some options may be more affordable, but may require a greater investment of your time.
5. Sending electronically? Build your list and know the law.
Nobody likes spam. In fact, it’s illegal. So just because you have the email addresses of your residents doesn’t mean you can automatically start flooding their inboxes. If you plan to disseminate your newsletter electronically, you’ll first need to have your intended recipients opt into the service via your community website (and don’t forget to provide a clear method to unsubscribe for those who no longer want it). You should check with the association’s attorney to make sure you’ve covered your bases. Laws regarding spam email are updated continuously. Once you’ve got your list of email addresses, you may want to subscribe to a list management service (you can find one online) to help manage your database. Also, remember that when you send an electronic communication to a subscriber list, the law requires that you also include your company’s actual physical address somewhere on the communication. To be doubly sure you’re doing everything right, speak to an experienced property management company as part of your planning.
6. Create your team.
You’ll find the process to be more rewarding if you assemble a great team. Depending on your format, graphic designers and programmers may be a valuable addition, but you may not have the budget for them. Same goes for hiring a professional writer. If that’s the case, consider enlisting help from community members by forming a Newsletter Committee – who knows, your residents may have impressive design or writing skills, and you may even find someone willing to write a regular column. You can also approach selected residents to write about what they know. And if you know somebody who’s got great punctuation, grammar and editing skills, enlist their help as a proofreader and editor. Typos and grammatical errors are embarrassing and undermine the credibility of your publication.
7. Assess your impact.
Build ways to solicit reader feedback into your newsletter to help you determine the resulting interest and impact. Polls, contests and invitations for reader comment are all great ways to do this. Remember, communication is a two-way street. Your newsletter isn’t a speech; it’s one half of a conversation. “I think newsletters are very important and I know my residents do, too,” adds Donovan, the New Jersey Community Manager. “I missed doing one just one time, and after all the calls I received, I never missed doing another one again!”
There’s no doubt that creating a good community newsletter from the ground up can be challenging and time consuming. But once you build your format and readership, you’ll see how an effective newsletter can become a much-loved feature and key component of a healthy community –and that’s headline-worthy.