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Question for not-for-profits: Is it time to rethink the printed magazine?

[ Back to POV ]

March 5, 2013

Hey didn't you get the email?

In a recent board meeting with a not-for-profit organization I belong to, a recurring topic was broached yet again: dwindling membership numbers. Although I had no hard evidence at the time, I did have a gut feeling that part of the blame for the shrinking membership could be the incessant and fragmented online communication that leave members overwhelmed and confused.

In lieu of the traditional printed newsletter or magazine, members are now bombarded by reams of frequent information in the form of tweets, e-blasts, facebook posts, texts, blog notifications—you name it, they’re getting it. What’s more, if those posts happen to hit their inbox when they are busy at work, guess what? It’s either getting deleted or slid to a “read later” folder, until someone responds to one of their questions with “Hey, didn’t you get the email?” The nerve!

POV_BlogGraphic.jpgCyber communication can disappear into cyberspace!

As a member of the organization I receive e-blasts asking me to: patronize sponsors; recruit more members; attend events; donate money; elect leadership; volunteer my time; nominate leaders; recognize winners; attend a conference; take lessons; network; watch a webinar; download forms; vote…and more! How am I supposed to pay attention to – let alone absorb all of this information? I’m overloaded. I’m paralyzed. What do I do first? Aaaahhh!!! I pull the plug and empty the trash.

If It Were Up To Me

When asked what I thought they could do to solve this problem, you won't believe the high-tech solution I came up with. A good old-fashioned printed magazine to hang around on the coffee table. I recommended putting out two–four issues a year that feature all of the sponsors, photos, events, awards, tournament winners, calendar, etc. because it’s not that the information isn’t good and important, it’s just been being packaged in the wrong way. By limiting the frequency of the communication, and raising the value of the material, I believe this strategy will help members stay up to date and involved more effectively than the never-ending email chains.

Stop the delete, delete, delete!

Consider the permanence of a printed publication. It would stick around (waiting patiently) and members might actually get around to reading and absorbing the content instead of skimming the info and pressing the delete button. Also, members could keep issues as keepsakes—especially if they are featured in it—and thus will be more likely to share them with their communities, causing the magazines to double as a recruitment tool that features real members instead of stock photos! The longer shelf life of the media is also an added bonus for the sponsors, who will be more likely to sponsor the organization if they believe their ads are getting more mileage.

The ironic thing about this revelation is that it’s coming from someone (me), who definitely recognizes and regularly preaches the value of social media and the digital revolution. However, just because social media is free and viral, and e-mail blasts are easy, doesn’t mean they’re always the best options. Print has a longer shelf life and isn’t as fleeting as a cyber communication. Of course, there is the additional cost of printing, but it hangs around, to be picked up, found and passed around! Hey, maybe print isn’t dead!

P.S. I’m not the only one that thinks this. Check out this article I recently came across in Forbes.