Joelle Steele

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Every non-profit association mails out a regular publication to its members. It may be a full-scale magazine, a simple newsletter, or even a tabloid. It may be a paper publication, a downloadable PDF, or both. It might be produced monthly, quarterly, or yearly. But, no matter what the format or frequency is, you can make some changes to your publication that will reduce its costs, make it more profitable, more informative, and a better resource for your members.

I have spent my entire adult life working in the publishing industry. I have published books and periodicals, have helped others publish them, and have worked in editing and production for a wide variety of publications, several of them belonging to non-profit groups. I currently consult to periodicals publishers on ways to improve their publications. Most of the problems that publishers face are actually fairly simple ones to resolve. Making just a few changes can make all the difference in the world. Here are the five main changes that can turn a losing publication into a winner.

Printing and Paper

Paper costs have soared, but printing costs have come way down, even for full-color printing. And that is thanks in large part to digital printing. Your publication can look great if you find the right digital printing service to do the job. For those who have lots of photos and artwork in their publications, digital is your very best choice. Look for a printer who can offer you different options for cover stock and page stock. Usually, the cover is heavier coated stock for that sleek, glossy look. You can get that same look on your pages but with a lighter weight coated stock. That kind of paper combination will give you a more attractive publication, and by using lighter weight stock inside, you can reduce the overall weight, allowing for more pages at the same rate of postage.

Virtual Publications

This is the 21st century! Save a tree and go paperless, or at least offer that option to your members. Printers use PDFs, so you need to create one anyway. With postage sky-high, it pays to offer that PDF as an alternative to having a paper publication mailed. PDFs can be transmitted via E-mail or they can be downloaded in the members section of your website. Either way, it's a simple way to reduce your costs.

Page Design

Back in the 1980s, newsletters were in their infancy, and their appearance was not always very attractive. But the days of two-column newsletters are long gone. Today, the best layouts are three- and four-columns. Not only do reading studies show that they are easier to read, they are also a more flexible format that allows you to float images more effectively and to fit more content onto a page. Use easy-to-read typefaces like Times New Roman or Minion, and set them at about 11 pt. Since most advertisers are picky about what a page looks like, and since their ads are usually set up for a three- or four-column format, these changes can immediately make your publication attractive to them.

Advertising Options

Advertising is a resource for your members and a source of income for your organization that will help with the costs of your publication. You should always offer as many advertising options as possible. Stick to standard ad sizes in vertical and horizontal dimensions: 1/6, 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, and full-page. You should also provide options for super inexpensive classified ads and for "marketplace" ads (small 2" x 2" boxes, all grouped together on the same page with the classifieds). The more options you offer, the more advertising you will be able to attract, because advertisers will already have ads in those formats. When setting your ad rates, remember that when you divide the full page price into smaller ads, add about 10% to each of those smaller ads. For example, if your full page rate is $1,000, a sixth page ad will be calculated: $1,000 ÷ 6 = $166.67 + 10% = $183.34 (round off to $183). This covers handling of smaller ads. And don't forget to offer ad production services at a reasonable rate, as that will also encourage more advertisers. Be very clear in your ad rate schedule about ad sizes, dimensions, resolution, where to submit, prices, discounts, and payment. Be sure to offer the option of paying by credit card so that your advertisers can conduct their business quickly and efficiently online. If you don't take credit cards yet, set up an account with PayPal and make a page on your website to accommodate payments.

Production & Editorial Assistance

Just because you're a non-profit doesn't mean you should have non-professional production and editing for your publication. Get a top-notch editor for your content, someone who knows what your members want and need and can find writers to deliver it. Also, find someone who can do a first-rate job of formatting and typesetting your publication, who knows how to do ads and manage images, and who can create PDFs for your printer. Find people who can either volunteer their assistance or do it for a cost-effective price. You will want to spread these tasks over as many people as possible so that the full burden is not on a single individual. For example, get someone to edit the content, someone to typeset the pages, and someone to do the ad production. Having experts handle your publication can change the entire image of your organization, and that's important for attracting both members and advertisers.

If all of this seems like a daunting proposition to you, remember that you don't have to do it all at once. Start with something simple, like switching your page format to three columns and a different typeface, and hiring a better printer if necessary. Next issue, offer new or more advertising options. Next issue, start taking credit cards for payments for ads (and membership). Next issue, offer a PDF alternative to a mailed newsletter. Take it one step at a time and build the best publication you can to showcase the benefits of your non-profit organization.

This article last updated: 10/23/2015.