This post is adapted from Carol’s interview with Megan Venzin, writing for The Nonprofit Communications Report, published by John Wiley & Sons.
When is a nonprofit publication a sound investment?
WHEN IT IS READ! Sadly, over 50% of school magazines should go straight to the wastebasket. They fail to demonstrate how the institution is living its mission in a way that engages alumni, past parents and others in the family.
What are some characteristics that successful magazines share?
They have a distinct purpose—growing enrollment and voluntary support, and retaining members and friends; informing the public of the relevance and impact of your work; positively influencing funding sources.
What are some signs that your magazine may be struggling and may no longer be a worthy investment?
Inconsistent or unreliable publishing schedule; amateur photography; writing that does not engage; dated mailing list; lack of coordination with digital communication.
Do you have any tips for measuring ROI? What valuation points should be reviewed in order to determine this figure?
With print, it’s almost impossible to calculate a profit or loss figure—it’s a matter of engagement and growth. Are your annual fund gifts more numerous and larger? Do more people attend your events and offer to volunteer, is your audience getting bigger? Profile your readership and produce a magazine that makes your “tribe” feel proud to be associated with your school. They will serve as your ambassadors. Give them stories to tell.
Are there certain intangible benefits of nonprofits publications that may be overlooked when measuring ROI, and why is it important to include them?
Ultimately, your magazine is a tool of persuasion, a reputable builder that demonstrates your worthiness for support. Your tribe wants to know you are forward-looking, well managed and paying attention to their interests. View your magazine as a tangible gift that engages. It may be the only communication you send that doesn’t overtly ask for money.
What advice can you offer to a school that is going through the process of reviewing the ROI of the magazine for the first time?
You probably can’t do it all in-house. Set the bar high by investing in professional services—freelance writing, photography, graphic design for more impressive results and less reliance on staff who are not trained in these specialties and who are already crushed by their workload. If the budget is tight, produce fewer issues (two a year) and do fewer pages per issue. Restrict the photography budget to the cover and feature stories. Call selected readers after the magazine comes out to get informal opinions and advice. Survey your whole mailing list online, and look at other school magazines. Check out the CASE award winners.
Anything else you’d like to share on this topic?
There is a difference between photojournalism and public relations. A real magazine tells stories that build your reputation. With news migrating to the website and social media, your editorial structure and tone can be more timeless, more thematic. Connect your story lineup with current topics of general interest, and find ways to help older tribe members feel your school is still their school.