A newsletter can be an effective, low-cost way for a council to keep in touch with a specific group of people. This could be:

  • volunteers and community groups working with a council on water quality or pest control projects; or
  • residents living in an area where an Innovative Streets programme is planned or underway; or
  • non-government organisations which receive grants and deliver services that support a council’s social wellbeing goals.

This article is about writing a newsletter for a group like this (as opposed to a high-level council newsletter providing a series of updates for the whole community).

CHALLENGE 1 – Nobody wants more email

Everyone’s busy. This means you have to provide something that is useful and/or entertaining enough to be worth reading. So it can’t just be an update on what your council is doing.

As newsletter expert Michael Katz says in this article, when it comes to creating content the most important question is not, “What do I want to tell them?” Rather, it’s, “What do they want to know?”

In council terms, this translates to what the council staff know about that this particular group of people want or need to know about.

Having a clear sense of who you are writing to will help you to write your newsletter in a way that will appeal to those people. It will also help if your newsletter is written (or at least signed) by someone in your team whom these people have met, such as the person who organises the planting days, speaks at the street meetings or coordinates the funding rounds.

In this form of newsletter, one meaty article (of 500-700 words, and a maximum of 1,000 words) is likely to be more well-read than a long list of short summaries with links to articles on the website. (This approach works better in a whole-of-council newsletter to the general community, where it’s impossible to predict what will be of interest to each reader.)

Write as if you are talking to one person, who you have probably met at meetings or out in the field. Don’t make it too corporate-sounding.

In addition to your main article, you could have a regular sidebar with updates on projects (e.g. this month we’ve been getting rid of Old Man’s Beard in this catchment; or this month we’re opening up another funding round for community organisations; or this month the new culvert is going in under x road).

CHALLENGE 2 – Coming up with new content

If your project has a set start and finish date, you may only need to write a few newsletters to cover a short period of time. However, many council relationships with stakeholders are ongoing, so you will need to keep coming up with new ideas. (Ideally, your newsletter should be sent out at least monthly.)

An ideas file can help. This is an electronic or paper document where you note down ideas as they occur to you, in between newsletters.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself when brainstorming what to include in your newsletter.

  • What are your stakeholders or community group having problems with? Is there a case study of how this problem has been solved by someone within the network, or are you aware of another council doing something that’s relevant? Do you know of any central government or other resources available to address this issue?
  • What’s interesting? Can you write a profile about someone in the network of stakeholders? Or could you invite someone in the network to write about a project they’re working on (and include photos)?
  • What happened last week? What will happen next month?
  • What positive events/changes are coming up that will benefit your readers?

You are welcome to download my Notes on Newsletters which includes more details about setting up and writing a newsletter.