Funder by the Department of Human Services Auspiced by Our Community

Help Sheet

Communication with your members/supporters

When you're working on a campaign or a cause it's very easy to get caught up in your own world and forget about what's going on around you. The passion can drive you, but it can also give you blinkers.

It's important to have structures in place that mean that you communicate with your members and supporters in an effective and timely manner. By keeping your members and supporters up to speed with your activities you're showing them just why they're supporting your good work, and you're letting them know how they can get involved and help out.

Newsletters

Newsletters are probably the most common way for advocacy groups to keep their members and supporters informed.

They can include many things - a list of activities, an editorial, a list of upcoming events, links to various media items, and much, much more.

Think carefully about the purpose of your organisation's newsletter, and refine its targeting. There are some fantastic newsletters out there, so have a look at them and pick the bits you think best align with your needs.

eBulletins/Email Newsletters

Email has seen the humble newsletter turn into an eBulletin. Whilst the two formats - hard copy and electronic - are often quite similar, there are important differences that must be taken into consideration when choosing between the two.

There are pros and cons for both hard copy and electronic communication:

Hard Copy

 

eBulletin

Pros

Cons

 

Pros

Cons

  • Can be photocopied for members with no access to computers

  • Hard copy usually holds more clout

  • Can be individualised more easily with, for example, stick-on tabs or even stickers: something that says the receiver is special in some way.

  • Can provide some indication of those who have fallen off the list when letters are returned.

  • Can potentially get to the homeless population
  • Uses lots of paper and trees are a valuable resource.

  • Discriminates against younger consumers who eat, sleep and dream computers.

  • Can be a real hassle for groups with old and unreliable photocopiers.

  • Paper and postage can be expensive
 
  • Cheaper than hard copy

  • Easily forwarded on, leading to increase in circulation

  • Potentially quicker route from sender to receiver

  • Can be printed, photocopied and distributed to hard to access groups by hand and through support organisations.
  • Barrage of emails means they are less likely to be read

  • Inaccessible to many mental health consumers who do not have their own computer

  • Discriminates against those who are not comfortable with computers and don't have easy access to email

A lot of people just take for granted these days that email is always the best option. Often it is. Just be sure you give it plenty of thought beforehand.

The most likely solution in the mental health consumer domain is to prepare both eBulletins and hard copy newsletters.

At the same time, resources permitting, a useful initiative would be to establish a partnership with a private company to provide your group with computers with internet access and then work with consumer members, staff and Committee of Management members to improve people's confidence and competence in using the internet.

The level of production that goes into newsletters and eBulletins also needs consideration. Is it worth spending hours to make your hard copy newsletter or eNewsletter look good? Or is it that all that is really needed is a quick reminder about the activities of your organisation or campaign?

Considerations for consumer delivered initiatives

There can be tricky issues that arise for Consumer Delivered Initiatives when considering the types of newsletters they might want to produce.

Some of these are discussed below.

Mental health consumers, like all people, have greatly varying needs and tastes. Perhaps the most important thing to remember when considering the styles and delivery mechanisms for your newsletters is to never make assumptions, but rather to try something out and evaluate it.

Build in the evaluation so it is not onerous but will gather the information that is needed to make choices about methods of communication in the long term.

Opening up meetings

If you're holding regular campaign meetings, why not open them up to your members, instead of just your staff? It's a great way of getting more people to help out and to widen your reach and gain access to the various skills that your members may have. (The potential downside of this is that it can be difficult to make quick decisions.)

Email groups/discussion lists

Some organisations like to facilitate open discussion and decision-making amongst their members. The most common way of doing this is to hold regular meetings open to all members.

Some groups, however, choose to use email groups, also known as discussion lists. In these cases a system is set up so that if you send an email to one central email address, everyone on the email group list will receive a copy of the email.

These groups can be fantastic. They can also be a nightmare. The discussion can very quickly flood your inbox and leave you with 50, or even 100, emails a day to get through in order to keep up. They can also be dominated by a small number of people, and "flaming" or "stoushing" - where people are antagonised, leading to a long string of irate unhelpful exchanges - can be a problem.

However, when various people's areas of knowledge come together in a useful fashion to generate some genuinely important and engaging debate this can lead to better policy outcomes. If you decide to try this method, be sure to appoint a list monitor who keeps track of what is being said and enforces strict guidelines to enable a constructive discussion.

Both Yahoo and Google offer free email group services and, with a bit of technical know-how, Mailman can be installed on your web server and hosted internally.

Annual General Meeting (AGM)

Incorporated organisations are legally required to hold an AGM once a year. These provide an important opportunity to communicate key strategic measures to your members and the public, and gives them a chance to question or confirm the direction of the group.

They are also useful in opening up the lines of communication.

Annual Report

Annual reports are often closely linked to the AGM. Your organisation's annual report should contain a summary of the year's activities, a record of the last year's achievements, a preview of what's planned for the next year, and a restatement of the organisation's vision.

They're a good way of keeping your members and the community aware of what you're doing, where you're going, and where you've been.

Website

Increasingly, your website is people's first contact with your organisation. It's vital that it's kept as up to date as possible, and that it features all the relevant information anyone could want.

A good website also aids transparency and accessibility - both important virtues when running a campaign.

Blog

'Blog' is short for 'Weblog' - websites that are sometimes known as Web Diaries or Online Journals.

They basically consist of 'posts' (the online equivalent of a diary entry) which are listed in chronological order, often include provision for readers to comment, and have other elements of interactivity.

Advocacy organisations and advocacy campaigns are increasingly turning to blogs to allow their people to keep up to date with campaign developments in real time.

Phone/SMS Tree

Some advocacy organisations use phone or 'SMS Trees' to mobilise a large number of people in a very short period of time. The idea is that someone sends out 10 text messages or calls 10 people. Those 10 then each call or SMS 10 more people and so on.

This allows a lot of people to be mobilised in a very short period of time and at a relatively small cost to each individual person. They're more effective on the small scale, and they're renowned for breaking down when someone doesn't do their bit, but they've also been known to be remarkably effective.

Who, What, When, Why ... will give you How

When choosing which communication methods to use you need to ask yourself "Who is my audience? What am I communicating? Why am I communicating it? When am I communicating it (i.e. what sort of time frame is needed)?"

Asking and answering these questions should answer the question of how you should communicate, at which point you can pick one or more (or all) of the above methods.

An initiative of Department of Human Services, Developed & Managed by www.ourcommunity.com.au