Long Live Print: How Nonprofits Are Harnessing the Power of Publications
Long Live Print: How Nonprofits Are Harnessing the Power of Publicationsback

By Howard Adam Levy

Whoever said that print is dead, didn’t get the memo — it’s alive and thriving and is helping nonprofit organizations to reach their audiences in an effective way. 

While many organizations have transitioned their print publications to electronic formats, some are bucking the trends and reaping the rewards. Consider these examples:

Magazine Promotes Social Service Agency
A social service agency recently launched a magazine to meet three strategic goals: improve awareness of the organization’s services to those might need help, to increase volunteering efforts, and to increase donations to the agency. The magazine was organized around their nine divisions — each had a section in the magazine — to build named sponsorship support for each of the divisions. The publication plays a key role in the organization’s overall marketing outreach strategy to increase the viability of the organization, and has become a vehicle to build corporate support for the organization.

Special Needs School Attracts Referrals Through Its Newsletter
A special needs school that serves students with emotional and behavioral disabilities gets its students from school districts that can’t meet those students’ needs. In order to encourage the school districts to refer students to the school, a newsletter was launched to help the districts to understand what types of students they can help, and to encourage them make a referral at any time during the school year. The newsletter comes out three time a year and has been effective at increasing student enrollment.

Camp Launches Alumni Association with a Magazine
A camp feels that it can tap into its alumni for financial support and launches an alumni association with a 12-page magazine. The magazine plays a key role in the marketing by describing the alumni association and its dues structure, and featuring articles on its alumni and events. The printed magazine is supplemented by an email newsletter, with content also being used on the alumni section on the camp’s website. The magazine is successful in bringing in money, and attracting members at all levels, including the highest level— lifetime members — as well as boosting the credibility of the camp for potential new campers.

Private School Uses Newsletter as a Recruitment Tool
A private school produces a newsletter for parents of seventh graders are deciding where to send their kids to high school. Developed as a specific recruitment piece for increasing 8th grade enrollment, the newsletter bridges information about the school useful in recruiting and more topical news about school happenings over the past semester. To help parents understand the school’s strengths the newsletter is organized around thematic areas such as Science and Technology, Career Prep, and Enrichment, to showcase the vibrancy of the institution’s offerings in various areas.

As these examples show, organizations with a range of marketing objectives can benefit from print publications that build visibility and support on many fronts. So is a print publication right for your organization? Here are some factors to take into account:

Make Sure You Have A Clear Purpose
Do you know what you want the publication to accomplish? Each of the organizations above had very specific goals they were looking to achieve, and created publications to meet those goals. Before starting your publication, you need to know that your goals can be best accomplished through a printed publication rather than through some other media or method. For example, in recruiting volunteers, if you are looking to reach kids in college to help you at your events, then social media might be a better way to go. But if you are looking to reach retired executives to provide counseling for your clients, they might appreciate a print publication that describes how their values and expertise can benefit others.

Make Sure the Investment is Worth It
Determine how much it is worth investing in the publication in order to reach your objective. How much value it can bring, whether in real dollars, of improved perception about your organization should be the basis for deciding how much to spend on your publication. For example, increasing the amount of money raised is an easy goal to quantify. For other goals, such as recruiting more volunteers, you can look at the total amount of time they will be volunteering. For less-tangible objectives, such as building your organization’s credibility as experts in a particular area, you can look at new partnerships, policy changes, or other benefits that may result from the publication.

Make Sure That You Have the Necessary Commitment
Starting a publication on a regular basis requires that you have the organizational commitment to doing so. To be effective, issuing your publication one time, won’t cut it — you need to be committed to an ongoing schedule. Once you start publishing, your audience will expect it. So determine whether your organization has the wherewithal to produce the publication on a regular basis. Make it an organizational priority, assign someone with authority to the task, and create systems of making it easy to gather content and produce the publication, whether done in-house or outside.

Make Sure That You Have the Enough News
Does your organization have enough news to support a publication with the frequency that you want (for example, a 12-page quarterly newsletter)? It’s likely it does if you look hard enough at all the activities that your organization does. But if you will be struggling for content, them pare back the frequency or number of pages so that you can produce your publication easily without trying to search for content. Also, look for ways to gather content or have staff and board suggest content an ongoing basis so you will have a large pool to draw from.

Make Sure That Your Audience Is Interested
Are your constituents likely to read something that your organization produces? One way to find out is to ask them. Conduct a survey about the best way that your clients, donors, members, or other constituents want to hear from you, or incorporate it into your registration, online donation, or membership forms. There is no sense in producing a publication that no one is interested in reading.

If you have determined that it is worth investing in a print publication, check out our next article, on Creating an Effective Print Publication.

Howard Adam Levy is Principal of Red Rooster Group, a marketing design firm that helps businesses and nonprofits build effective brands and marketing.