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  Enewsletters - Christopher Heath Potpourri

Canadian FundRaiserENEWSLETTERS – Christopher Heald

Readers must want to look at it as well as read it

Even if you are not a graphic designer, you can create a design for your eNewsletter that is attractive and readable. The time you invest in design will really pay off later on in reduced workload: once you have developed a design, you can save it as a template on which to base your future eNewsletters. With a template, you won’t have to reinvent the wheel for each new issue.

A simple design can be created using your eMail program with no further knowledge of HTML, and some word processors can do a reasonable job as well. If you want a more complex design, you should have some basic understanding of HTML, which is the language of the web.

The first goal of your design is to capture the attention of your readers and motivate them to read your newsletter. Anything that stands in the way of that, even if it’s pretty, will ultimately detract from your product. Clean and simple layouts are usually the most effective.

Avoid dark background colours and a “busy”, cluttered design: they can make your text harder to read. Small fonts can end up looking extremely small in some eMail programs. Large graphics increase the size of your message, which can slow down sending and receiving times.

Also keep in mind that it is much easier for your readers to scroll down to read text than it is to scroll left and right. Design vertically, not horizontally. Use columns or tables to limit the width of your text rather than having your text run the full width of the screen.

Plain text vs HTML

There are two main formats for eMail: plain text and HTML (hyper text markup language).

Plain text is just that – unformatted text. The limitations and benefits of plain text are:

You can’t reliably space or align things horizontally. In design terms, this means that there is no way to do absolute positioning. If you want to present text in two columns in a text eMail, it’s more than likely that your readers will see anything BUT two columns. This is because various eMail programs use different fonts to display plain text.

And many fonts are proportionally spaced, meaning that each character can take up a varying amount of horizontal space. Thus, with a proportional font, five spaces will not take up as much horizontal space as five other characters, even within the same document. Even with non-proportional fonts, character widths vary from font to font.

EMail programs differ

Also, keep in mind that even if you get things looking right in your eMail program, it may not look as good in another.

The text format also removes the ability to choose font size and colour, designate bold face or italics, or to include images.

Even using tabs is fraught with peril – again, what may look right for you may not for others. Some eMail programs translate the tab character into spaces, with the consequent problems.

The main strengths of text eMails are their size and portability. They are transmitted quickly and they don’t require fancy eMail programs to be viewed. You should generally offer a text version of your eNewsletter to your readers, even if you create an HTML version.

Some readers prefer text over HTML for its simplicity. And if your content is good and compelling enough, the format won’t be critical to getting your message read. In fact, many successful eNewsletters are text-only, relying solely on the quality of their content.

HTML = more control

With HTML formatting, you have much more control over positioning, colour, size, and graphics. The advantages and disadvantages of using HTML are:

HTML gives you the ability to add graphic design to your eNewsletter.

Using HTML for your eNewsletter will give you almost all the design elements that can be used in a web page, including absolute positioning, columns, tables, and colour.

The main drawback to this format is its complexity, particularly if you’re not comfortable with HTML. Making changes to an HTML eNewsletter is more complex, the message size will increase, and HTML-format eMail can alienate some readers (again, offering a text version alleviates this).

Better have an editor

While you can create HTML documents using a text editor or word processor, it’s a good idea to get some kind of HTML editor, like Macromedia’s Dreamweaver or Microsoft’s FrontPage, which are commercial products, or Mozilla Composer, which is free and open source (www.mozilla.org).

Some eNewsletter distribution services and programs also include HTML editors in their products, but they are often limited in their capacity. hey are most useful once your design has been completed, and you are simply modifying the content.

Until fairly recently, there was widespread resentment of HTML eNewsletters. Now that broadband Internet access and HTML-enabled eMail clients are so widespread, many of the original reasons for this resentment are not as relevant. However, at the risk of being repetitive, consider making a plain-text version of your eNewsletter available to your readers if they want one.

Designing the template

Most of this section assumes that you will be creating an HTML eNewsletter. The biggest element of design work is the initial layout of the eNewsletter. Some people find it easier to mock up a design with markers and paper, and then build out the design on the computer.

To get an idea of what can be done and what works, and to narrow down your own eNewsletter’s style, research other eNewsletters and develop a collection of those you like. Look at what makes them work, and what you think could be done differently to improve things.

Beware of complex designs: multiple columns with many stories and pictures can look great, but remember that if you commit to using such a design, you will have to come up with the text, images, and the layout for each new issue of your eNewsletter.

If you have a good idea for a design, but don’t know how or feel comfortable enough to make it happen, consider getting some outside help at the design stage. Even if you are an HTML expert, a designer can give you a head start, and leave you with an attractive design that you can then use for your subsequent eNewsletters.

Common eNewsletter formats include a logo or graphic masthead at the top, and articles below. Variations include a table-style layout with tables of contents or bullets down the side of the main body of text.

Seek out feedback

Once you have a draft design, ask five people to look it over and give you feedback. It takes only five reviewers to identify accurately the majority of usability and readability issues. And, as with your writing, you can (and should) fine-tune your work over time, based on reader responses and comments.

Images and graphics can be included using two different methods: they can be embedded (or attached) in the eMail message, or they can reside on the web, and you can link to them. As always, there are pros and cons to both methods.

Embedded images ensure that all the elements of your eNewsletter arrive at the same time, at the expense of a larger download for your readers, but this method doesn’t always play well with all eMail clients. Some eMail clients show the text, and show that there are attachments, but the images may not be displayed. Remember: test, test, test.

Linked images simplify the design and shorten the download times, and allow your readers to choose to download the images at their convenience. However, this method forces your readers to reconnect to the Internet to download the images when they read the eNewsletter. And readers who choose not to download the images will see your eNewsletter without the graphics and pictures. Finally, this method is a little more complicated, as you need to post your images to a location on the Internet, so that your message can link to it.

Define the sections

When you reach the point at which you are satisfied with your design, you may want to use HTML comments (“text surrounded by” is an HTML comment, which will only show up in the source code, and is not displayed in the message), or some other similar method, to mark out the various areas of your eNewsletter.

This way, when you create future issues of your eNewsletter, you can quickly replace the old text with the new, and leave the layout intact. This, in effect, is the act of turning your design into a template. If you are working with a designer, this may already be done for you.

To create a text version of your newsletter from the HTML version, there are several options, ranging from copying and pasting the text into a text editor, to running the HTML through a word processor or text converter.

For further information: Christopher Heald, Technology Manager, IMPACS, chrish@impacs.org.

 
Canadian FundRaiser
Canadian FundRaiserSince 1991, the Canadian FundRaiser™ newsletter has been updating nonprofit managers twice-monthly on news, trends, tips and analysis of developments in the fields of fundraising and nonprofit management.

Our service, originally simply a twice-monthly newsletter, has expanded over the years to include workshops, books, back-issue search and Special Advisories for our member/subscribers. And the complete package is now the Canadian FundRaiser™ Nonprofit Sector Management Information Service.

Current Members can search back issues here, renew their Membership, or correct their address information in our secure files.

Through the generous support of a number of Supporting Sponsors, at the head of them our Lead Sponsor, UNxVision Internet Fundraising Solutions, we have avoided price increases for many years, and been able to provide some services at no cost.

Please take a look at the current issue of Canadian FundRaiser™ eNews, and if you haven’t done so already, sign up ­ at no cost ­ to receive future issues. Visit our Key-To-The-Sector Workshop Centre. Ask about Advertising & Sponsorship opportunities. Or send us an article suggestion. We’re waiting to hear from you.

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