This month, Channels is focusing on the power of newsletters for social impact. We caught up with Virginia Mucchi, head of communications at ECDPM (a think tank specialising in Africa-Europe relations, development policy and international cooperation) about running a large think tank newsletter. Find the interview below. Thanks for chatting with us, Virginia!
Channels: How long have you been editing ECDPM's newsletter?
Virginia: ECDPM’s Weekly Compass newsletter has been around for a long time, although its format and looks have changed a few times over the years. When I joined ECDPM in 2017, we decided to update the layout to the one you see now.
When did your Communications team (or you, yourself) realise the value of newsletters?
Virginia: A newsletter is really good for building and maintaining relationships. Compared to social media for example, it might reach fewer people but you know that those reading it are genuinely interested in what you have to say as they have signed up for it. Newsletters also have the added benefit of offering the space to tell a story and to contextualise your work.
Statistics show us that the Weekly Compass is one of the best ways for us to get our work in front of as many people as possible. But what really convinced me of the added value is when I regularly started receiving emails from readers, thanking us for keeping them in the loop or for the analysis or research done by ECDPM. What they also appreciate is that beyond our own work, we scan the news and offer recommended readings from a variety of voices, which offers them a well-rounded perspective on the news of the week.
How does it work 'behind-the-scenes' of the Weekly Compass? Is it a great team effort to make it happen, or is it a one-person show?
Virginia: The Weekly Compass is very much a team effort. We work closely with our programme and support teams to get our papers and commentaries out in time for the newsletter. Besides myself, two of my colleagues in the communications team dedicate a significant amount of time to selecting recommended readings, preparing the newsletter and making sure we send out a quality product. It is time consuming to put together the newsletter each week, but it is definitely worth it, as it has truly become a staple of our communication efforts.
What has been your biggest lesson learned about newsletters?
Virginia: For me there are several things. First, it’s important to know who your readers are to be able to offer them something of value. That can mean providing something different, something that saves your readers time, or something that is hot off the press so your readers are the first ones to hear about it. Second, I think it’s good to have a personal touch, to try to connect with your readers and build a relationship with them. At the end of the day, it’s people and their stories we relate to, not brands. And third, one needs to keep in mind that producing a good newsletter is time consuming – it is a substantial commitment. A tight schedule and clear task division are essential, while keeping in mind that sometimes you need to be flexible and improvise.
How do you think newsletters can benefit organisations/foundations/think tanks/institutions that focus on social impact?
Virginia: We all know that impact is very difficult to measure. For many of us working in the social impact field a lot depends on how successful we are in sharing knowledge and ideas, not least with those who have the power to make a change for the better. The way we communicate our research and analysis is therefore crucial. It’s about reaching the right people at the right time and giving them useful and interesting information but also bite-sized, practical takeaways. It’s also about building relationships, gathering feedback and adapting when necessary. Newsletters are a very useful tool to do all this.
Want to learn more about newsletters? Check out our content on our Instagram this month!