Dear Kim:

We are having a discussion in our organization about continuing to send paper newsletters or going to a virtual format. Each side has reasonable arguments, but neither side can sway the other. We are at an impasse and are turning to you.

-No Pressure, but Please Solve This

Dear Solve This:

This is a dilemma faced by many groups and solved in a number of different ways. I invite readers to weigh in on this, and help us out with what you have discovered.

Here is my experience: about a year ago, the Grassroots Fundraising Journal, which is a paper magazine that I publish, was exploring some cost-cutting measures; the most effective one would be to go virtual. To find out what our subscribers thought about this possibility, I posed the question in my regular Letter from the Publisher. To my great surprise, I was deluged with responses! In two weeks, 75 readers had e-mailed their opinion. All but two asked (some begging, some demanding, some cajoling, and some flattering) to please stay in paper. Many people offered to pay more, if necessary. Only one person responded that she would still read the Journal if it went virtual and only one other actually preferred a virtual format. After the first two weeks, e-mails continued to trickle in, all of them opposed to going to a virtual format.

In another cost-cutting attempt, we also polled readers about receiving subscription renewals by e-mail. Only a small number signed up for e-mail renewals. Comparing actual renewal rates told an interesting story: only half as many people who were asked to renew by e-mail did so compared to those receiving paper renewal requests. We no longer offer renewal by e-mail.

On the other hand, it is clear that people read our monthly e-newsletter, as evidenced by the surge in orders from our website that occurs after each issue. We have almost 9,000 subscribers and people reference the e-newsletter frequently. The e-format not only saves trees and postage, it is much better for time-sensitive information and easy for a reader to send on issues they like to someone else.

So, my own experience and that of other people I have talked to makes me think that if possible, organizations should have both an e- newsletter and a paper one. They are really very different formats, and have different functions. One does not substitute for the other—instead they each augment your organizational ability to build relationships with donors, and they should be thought of as two different, albeit related, strategies.

Good luck with your decision.

-Kim Klein