Opinions on newsletters are as varied as the missionaries who’d write them. I know folks who never write one, some who leave that responsibility to their mission agency, and then those who faithfully send a report out on a regular basis. Of those who do write one, it seems this responsibility often falls to the wife.
Obviously, we gals would like this to be streamlined into the easiest process possible, so here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way.
1. Use the right software. Sure, you could just send an email to everyone you know, but if you want something that prints well and catches the eye, use a program that has a newsletter option, and get familiar with how to adjust templates to suit your needs. Any desktop publishing programs like Word, Works, or Publisher should have a few preloaded templates, and the big guys like Microsoft Word generally have many more you can download and use. I save my document as a pdf file when I’m done, to ensure it’s readable by all and arrives just like I formatted it.
2. Try not to go over 2 pages. One page is fine, but if thinking of those who’ll print your updates, you might as well take advantage of that piece of paper and fill up the back as well.
3. Keep the design simple and clean, conscious of those who will print or copy it. Don’t get bogged down in background graphics or too many swirly designs or scribbly florals. You want the content to be the main focus. A header with the date and a catchy title or your family’s name can suffice, and then you can get creative with what you add from there.
4. Don’t get too wordy. A paragraph about each topic you’ll cover is fine, and if you’d like, you can include a link to your blog, where perhaps you’ve covered it in more detail.
5. Mix it up a bit. Ministry stories are very important, but try to also include short personal stories, small details that give an idea of the culture you’re in, and quick updates about your family. Photos with a caption of a sentence or two are great ways to include this information without having to write much. And EVERYONE loves pictures. Make a nice blend between words and photos, taking care not to arrange things on the page with some white space still visible.
6. Include a preview of things to come so that your readers can take an active role in what’s happening, through prayer or financial support. Consider a box off to the side with a simple list of upcoming events or prayer requests. If a previous newsletter mentioned an event, a prayer request that was answered, or a project, give a brief update.
7. Contact information fits nicely either in the header of the first page (if you don’t include much), or, assuming you have a front-and-back style newsletter, at the bottom of the back side. Depending on your situation, things you might include are your email address, blog link, Skype number, mailing address, your mission organization, and information about how and where you receive financial donations. I like to box all that up and put it at the very end.
8. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get to this as often as you’d like, but do try to be consistent. Some have enough information (and time) to send out something every month, but every other month or even every quarter may work better for you. If you get behind, just pick up where you left off and keep rolling. J
9. Keep it positive. This isn’t the time to lament the woes of mission life, but time to thank your supporters for their involvement in your ministry, time to make your world come alive to them, time to put God in the spotlight. Sure, be truthful, but remain inspiring rather than depressing. If you need to share the down side and seek specific prayer for serious matters, you might consider making a separate, much smaller mailing list and use it on an as-needed basis.
10. I send our newsletter out from our basic email box, although you could use one of the mass mailing companies set up for just this sort of thing. MailChimp seems to be a popular one with both paid and free options. Include a simple note of greeting and attach the newsletter file to that. Your note should thank the folks back home for sharing the newsletter with those they think might be interested. I like to include a request to pastors to print and post the newsletter on their bulletin boards or share with members who aren’t likely to follow our blog online. You might also include something like “In this issue, …” with a few highlights of what’s inside, as incentive to actually open the file and read it. If it's appropriate, publish it online at a site like Scribd, and include a link to that on your blog.
Do you send out regular newsletters? Why or why not? Who writes them? Do you have some tips for their creation or distribution?