When you think ‘magazine,’ you might first picture of one the countless newsstand titles making use of provocative headlines and tantalizing photography to compete for reader attention on newsstands all across the globe. Or perhaps you might think of one of the myriad niche publications targeted toward consumers interested in a given subject matter. What might not immediately come to mind, however, is a magazine conceived to support the aims and objectives of a nonprofit organization.
Much like mass-market and niche consumer-oriented publishers, nonprofits have relevant messages to communicate and an audience that is actively interested in what that organization has to say — an audience that is, in effect, just another niche market, and one that must be engaged continually. Just as a newsstand magazine has to continually create compelling content to keep its readers coming back, issue after issue — for the publication’s very survival, in fact — nonprofit groups also rely on sustained engagement (as well as donations) from their supporters to thrive over the long term. Such support is, of course, commonly sought through periodic fundraising efforts via direct mail marketing pieces, with response rates often in the single digits.
While such donation solicitations may form the backbone of many nonprofits’ fundraising efforts, are they enough to meet your organization’s financial needs, and could there be a better vehicle for moving your supporters to give? Many nonprofits are now turning to publishing a regular magazine — thoughtfully written and professionally designed — to help them connect and stay engaged with stakeholders.
Why a Magazine Over a More Traditional Direct Mail Piece?
The advantages of publishing a nonprofit magazine, perhaps monthly, bimonthly or quarterly, are many — be sure to read through a great article written by Lindsay Oberst of Socialbrite that covers this very topic, but here’s a quick summary of her take on the benefits:
1. To attract new members/donors and keep current ones.
2. To boost donations.
3. To build a community around your organization’s objectives.
4. To educate and inform your audience on the projects your group is undertaking.
5. To communicate with stakeholders who may not be online.
6. To encourage your readers to take action to support your cause.
All of these benefits essentially have to do with a common theme: establishing, fostering and strengthening connections with your supporters. Such connections are vital to ensuring that your audience stays interested and invested — both in terms of moral and financial support — and a magazine format can prove far more effective than other types of marketing efforts in terms of reader engagement.
To be sure, direct mail appeals are an important mainstay of nonprofit marketing campaigns, and producing a magazine should ideally add to your overall campaign, rather than replace your existing one. So what’s so special about publishing a magazine? In addition to the benefits listed above, I would append the following:
1. Magazines give you an opportunity to get much more in depth with the messages you convey to readers. A direct mail piece can go into some detail, but not many recipients will likely want to read a multi-page letter/brochure that is strictly an appeal for support. With well-planned and well-written magazine editorial content, you can use feature stories and department articles to go beyond mere appeal-oriented marketing messages and instead focus on the stories behind the people your organization serves, as well as how donations from supporters impact beneficiaries in the real world. This “show, don’t tell” approach can have a much more emotional and meaningful impact with potential donors than can a more straightforward appeal. What’s more, the ability to use plentiful high-quality photography will help you put faces to these stories, reinforcing the power of your content even further.
2. Should you choose to print your magazine, a well-designed, high-quality publication is more likely to remain in front of potential donors for a longer period of time — increasing the chance that your audience will take the time to examine its content. Unlike a typical direct mail piece, a magazine should offer editorial value and insight for readers — again boosting its shelf life and making your messages less likely to go straight from the mailbox to the trash bin. In fact, if the magazine’s design and editorial are both produced with world-class quality, supporters will look forward to the arrival of each new issue and incorporate reading the publication into their regular routines.
3. One nice benefit of the longer magazine format is that it allows you space to be able to print lists of donor names more frequently, as desired. Many organizations reserve donor lists for their annual reports, but including these lists on a more frequent basis can provide more timely gratification for those who decide to donate to your organization. (Incidentally, a magazine’s length can vary widely in terms of page count, so long as, for print editions, the page count is evenly divisible by four.)
4. In addition to its messaging benefits, the magazine format also provides you with yet another direct marketing piece, as direct-response materials — including house ads, business reply cards (BRCs), business reply envelopes (BREs) and more — can be bound or tipped (glued) right into the magazine itself, and perforated for easy detachment. Including these materials can help tie your magazine content with a call-to-action for supporters, without coming across as an outright appeal for donations.
Print, Digital or Both?
Print magazines are, as mentioned above, a great way to get your messages in front of your nonprofit’s key constituencies. For larger runs in the thousands, offset printing is probably the most practical option, but digital printing can be a cost-effective alternative for smaller runs (see our blog post “How to Get Printing Bids for Your Magazine Design Project” for a much more in-depth discussion on printing options).
In this highly digitized age, however, distributing your magazine in as many formats as reasonably possible is key to getting your messages out there. Creating desktop/laptop-, tablet- and smartphone-friendly digital magazine editions is fairly straightforward these days. Not everyone likes to read long-form content online, however, so offering a print edition is a good idea — particularly for older audiences.
How to Get Started
While originally intended for nonprofit hospitals, our blog post “Magazine Design and Publishing for Hospitals: How to Get Started” is a good place to learn more about the nonprofit magazine publishing process in general. One word of caution, however: Should you decide to go forward with publishing a magazine, remember that a high degree of quality — both visual and editorial — is key to establishing and maintaining credibility with your supporters. Magazine design is very much a specialized skill within the graphic design industry, so be sure your magazine designer has the experience to create a product that is both superior and appropriate for your niche audience.
Case study: OUTREACH Magazine
To communicate with its various stakeholders as part of its efforts to end extreme poverty worldwide, the stories Outreach International publishes in OUTREACH Magazine focus primarily on the people the organization serves. In keeping with the humble surroundings of its beneficiaries, the magazine’s overall design has a down-to-earth, natural feel that tends toward muted tones, while making use of striking photography to help tell the stories of communities around the globe and connect with the organization’s supporters. In doing so, the magazine adds tangibility to the faces and narratives of remote peoples — establishing a genuine, heartfelt connection and engaging readers on an emotional level that would otherwise be difficult. The magazine goes far beyond a typical marketing/appeal piece in its ability to inspire empathy and spark action, helping donors and other stakeholders realize the true value of their investment in the organization.
Case study: Sentara Martha Jefferson Magazine
Martha Jefferson Hospital makes effective use of its thrice-yearly flagship magazine to communicate with a diverse array of audiences, including donors, local community members and potential patients, to keep readers apprised on new services and technological advances available at the hospital, as well as featuring public outreach initiatives and human interest stories. To promote general awareness and help inform community members who may be facing medical challenges, editorial content often focuses on accounts from patients who have received care at the hospital, and how they faced their own challenges. In today’s changing and highly competitive healthcare environment, the magazine helps Martha Jefferson reinforce its identity as a leading healthcare provider and public service organization, serving as a key element in the hospital’s overall outreach and marketing campaigns. In addition, the Martha Jefferson Hospital Foundation dedicates a portion of each issue to profiles of donors and how their contributions impact real-life hospital patients and staff, as well as more detailed information on the hospital’s philanthropic objectives and initiatives. Donor-focused content enables the hospital to show donors — large and small — how their support is put to use for the benefit of the entire community.