Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Member Question

I'm going to occasionally use this forum to respond to member comments and questions, because I think it's a better place than the newsletter or the website.  It's a good way to share information on a more immediate basis that's not critical enough to send out in an email spam.  In fact, I'd love to have this be an interactive forum, so let me know if you have other things you'd like to know about.

Anyway, here's a question I got this week from a long-time member (used with her permission):

I have one comment about the newsletter. The columns go from one page to the next instead of continuing on the same page. It is very difficult to read & not miss anything. It should read like newspaper columns. Can this be changed? I hope so.

And here's the answer I sent to her: 

At this point, the newsletter  is a "work-in-progress." There are several things going on:

(1) Our VP for Communications and newsletter editor is Jane Higdon, She's doing a fabulous job and has become a very valued member of the executive team. We're very lucky to have someone so enthusiastic to handle what is essentially a difficult job for the following reasons:

(2) We previously did the newsletter in Publisher and published it as a PDF, which we were emailing as an attachment. Most people do not have the Publisher software and are not familiar with it.

(3) At the same time, we've experienced major problems with emailing the newsletter as an attachment--even a PDF--because of email limitations. Some people's spam filters pitch the emails back, our email programs won't send out more than 5-10 at a batch, we're seen as a "spammer" by email programs like Bellsouth and Verizon because we're mass-mailing with attachments, etc., etc.

(4) So we've ended up using a program called Constant Contact which can email a newsletter in large batches. (We email to about 350 members and affiliate organizations.) This part of the system has worked very well and we get few complaints about WHETHER it's been received. Constant Contact is a relatively inexpensive and relatively uncomplicated program to use and that seems to fit our all-volunteer, ever-changing workforce. It is also being used by a number of our affiliates and other organizations, so people are familiar with it.

(5) Where we do get complaints is in the format of the newsletter, which I'll be the first to admit is not ideal. It's a template that Constant Contact can handle and that's the best I can say for it. Some members say it's difficult to read because of the pagination, as opposed, for instance, to WORD and Publisher where you can use columns within a page and then move on to the next page and start over. There are also issues with which articles are forced to the top--not always the ones that you would print "above the fold" in a traditional format.

(6) I would love to see more people read it online at the website but many of our members don't use computers and/or email for various reasons. We still print a few "hard copies" and mail them and that's an expense and a hassle too.

(7) Actually I think it's easier to read online but many of our members want to print it out at home and that's where it gets a little hairy.

(8) Basically what I see is that we are living in a world that communicates online and we're still very much paper-oriented. Our members who want a paper newsletter mailed to them want just that and don't want to hear about email or online. Our members who live online are impatient with paper and don't want to deal with it. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. Postage and printing costs keep going up as we keep trying to walk the tightwire between all our members. In the meantime, we have a whole generation coming along that won't have any idea what it means to "dial" a phone or to "hang up" either, but that's another whole issue.

Bottom line: we're working on it. Our focus this year is going to be improving communication (meaning getting timely and complete information to our members in several ways) and getting members involved and engaged.

Okay, who's next with a question? Send it to me at and I'll answer it one way or another--either personally or here.

Diana Baber

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