Keeping supporters informed and up to date is a vital but often neglected job of a missionary. Here are some top tips on newsletter writing, along with a review of some electronic distribution methods.
Top Ten Tips:
1. Tell people about yourself, not just your ministry.
2. Gospel ministry is not a marketing campaign - so be honest about difficult situations - like David is in the Psalms!
3. It can be an opportunity to encourage from God's word, but don't get on your soap box.
4. Keep it short - if it's too long people won't read it (e.g. one A4 page per month).
5. Choose one or two good images to show about your life and work.
6. Don't write a long monologue, share a story or a few snippets of different things.
7. Have a separate mailing list for newsletters and a more regular one for the prayer warriors who are always asking for more news.
8. Don't put every email address in the "TO" line - use a proper mailing list or "BCC", and remember to resize pictures or compress the document - it doesn't need to be more than 2MB.
9. Make sure you understand the security situation in your country and what you should not write about (usually names and photos of people and organisations should be excluded).
10. Don't forget your Gran! There will always be a few non-computer literate people who want to hear from you - ask a friend or your organisation to forward your news by snail mail.
Intro to Five Different Distribution Methods
There are now a number of different electronic distribution methods which you can choose from to send our your news. Here is a brief run down of the pros and cons of each, with a special focus on information security for those living and working in sensitive places.
Email is simple and easy. Just write, attach a few pictures and go, but it's not very pretty. Although you can find email providers for free, if you want a personalized address (domain name) it will cost around £10 per year. Some email providers allow you to encrypt emails but the effort required will likely be too much for your supporters to open your message, and your reciepient list and subject cannot be encrypted in any case. Google's Gmail service is as secure as any, especially if you use 2 factor sign-in. If you don't have this option, make sure you are using a strong password. Since emails are sent as plain text, it is possible that they could be intercepted and read, whichever provider you send from. However, the biggest weakness is likely to be emails stored on an unencrypted computer, or access to web based mail because of a weak password.
2. PDF document attached to email
Security wise this is the same as email, but if you compose it using a word processor, you have full control over the formatting and placement of images, and can create a great looking newsletter. It also makes it easier to print out hard copies. This does requires your supporters to open an attachment before reading, and that extra set could cause some people not to read your news.
With an online "marketing email" service like Mail Chimp, you can write your news in a web browser that gives you a number of different templates, which you can change the layout, and pictures etc, but this arrives to your supporters as an email; it allows management of supporters, e.g. automatic unsubscribe buttons and tracking of who has read the newsletter. It's free (for up to 2000 people on your mailing list), but sometimes newsletters sent from mailchimp end up in the spam box. This is a great option if you are not sending sensitive information, but for the security conscientious, it is problematic. MailChimp creates a publicly available web version of your email, which as far as we know cannot be completely turned off, so you risk allowing your email content to be found on the publicly available internet.
4. Blog / website
Having your own blog can be a really useful way to share your news with people, and can be helpful as a record and basis for Home Assignment presentations. If you find making newsletters look good hard work, blogs can be a good option as you can choose from many well designed templates, you just need to write the content, and upload photos or link to a video. Blogs are usually publicly available online, however, some blog platforms let you control access for supporters via a password.
5. Video sharing
Videos are probably the most engaging way to communicate with your supporters, and with most smartphones being able to shoot good quality video, it doesn't require any additional equipment. However producing a interesting and fun video can be very time consuming, even if you are familiar with video editing software. Although Youtube is the most well known video sharing site, Vimeo is probably the best option if you want control over who can see and download you videos, as it allows you to set an individual password for each one.
Whatsapp is a free smartphone app that allows you to send text messages, pictures and photos over the internet to individuals and groups. Great for short, instant updates, but it does requires your supporters to install the app and is not suitable for more in depth communication. If you are using the latest version, WhatsApp is fully encrypted, and offers the best security of all these options, and I actually use it to communicate with our team about security sensitive issues too. Before sending sensitive messages it is crucial to verify the identity of the person you are chatting with, by comparing a number or scanning a QR code. If you don't do this it is possible for an intruder to pretend to be that person.