5 tips for writing charity newsletters with CiviCRM


CiviCRM is an open source Constituent Relationship Manager that has been designed with non-profits in mind.

An underutilised feature of CiviCRM is its newsletter functionality, which allows users to create, manage, and send mailings to mailing lists.

While there are already web-based email clients that allow you to do this, e.g. Mailchimp, the benefit of using CiviCRM is that all of the data is centralised, including your mailings.

This means that information such as who is responding to your email campaigns is collected in the same place as your other information about that person, and adding people to mailing lists can be done automatically rather than manually through a separate system.

The main disadvantage of CiviCRM’s newsletter system is that it’s not as developed as some of the proprietary systems, so if you don’t have a custom-designed template you cannot be as flexible with your content.

Here are five steps for best practice in getting to grips with Civi newslettering:

1. Make your images the size you use them

This is a best practice that applies to both email newsletters and for your website. Because some email programs ignore the height and width attributes you can set in your text editor, you should use an image manipulation program to serve your readers a well formatted image. We recommend picresize.com for ease of use and because it won’t require any installation on your computer, but proprietary programs such as Photoshop or open-source programs like GIMP work just as well if you have them.

2. Aligning images to the left and right is fine, but outlook won’t render it this way

Whilst aligning an image to the left or to the right looks pretty and works for most email clients, Outlook will remove this alignment and set the image on its own line. It's useful to be aware of this and let it guide where you place your images. Our recommendation would be to put your images at the start of a paragraph if you're going to align it left or right. If you have columns, it may be worth alleviating this problem by making the image the full width of the column (make sure you resize it appropriately!).


3. Try not to copy and paste from documents; type the text in directly as much as possible

Copy and paste is one of the time saving greats when you're reformatting a document, but it causes a bit of havoc when moving your content from a word processor to a web format.

The issue arises because even your word processor uses code to set the style of your text and render it. This styling attaches itself to the text when you copy it and will make your text appear different to text that is already within your newsletter.

Strangely enough, it is worth knowing that copying and pasting within CiviCRM is not recommended either because the same issue, albeit to a lesser degree, will occur.

CiviCRM has a button called paste from Word, which attempts to removes any styling attached to your text, but this functionally is not perfect. Our recommendation would be to type as much of your text content directly into your newsletter in CiviCRM.

4. Use the styles that have been designed and configured for you.

Civi's WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor sometimes has more buttons than you need. Your website designers will have configured your newsletter templates to an agreed design, and this configuration includes small items like the text colour or the text size. If you would like to amend items like these, it’s best to go back to your designers and ask them to change the size for you in the template, rather than doing it ad hoc in the WYSIWYG editor.

Also bear in mind that text colours (both the normal body text and your headers) will have been designed according to your brand, so it’s best to leave these as they are.

5. Email clients don’t display custom fonts

Whilst there are some individuals making efforts into displaying custom fonts in emails, the current situation is that unless you have the custom font installed on your machine, it won’t display it in your newsletter. Your developers will have picked out a good standard font for you to use in your newsletters, according to what font most closely matches your brand. We would recommend not changing your font... unless it’s comic sans.

6 March 2014