Making comms better

It’s coming up for a year since Rob Crane was elected to the Dons Trust Board, with a pledge to improve the Trust’s communications. So, he asks, what’s changed since then?

In April we sent our first monthly email newsletter to Dons Trust members. These newsletters aim to make members aware of news stories on the Trust website that they might otherwise have missed. They’re also useful for promoting upcoming events, such as the recent Foodbank collection. We send these emails to about 3,000 members every month.

Most organisations that send out email newsletters get an “open rate” (the percentage of recipients who open the email) of around 15–25%. Our first newsletter got an open rate of just under 70%, and since then they’re averaging around 50% (and we don’t know how many people might be reading them in their email preview pane without actually opening them).

Turning to social media, we recently invested in a subscription to Zoho Social, a platform that allows us to monitor social media and engage with supporters far more effectively and – crucial for a volunteer-led organisation – efficiently. It also lets us schedule posts in advance – useful, for example, for promoting an event such as the Junior Dons Christmas Party – and pick up references to the Trust even when we haven’t been tagged into a message.

We’ve been subscribed to Zoho Social for just over a month now, and the initial results are encouraging. Our Twitter “active audience” (the number of people who have interacted with us) and our “engagement rate” (the number of times people interact with our posts) have both rocketed up, and the number of followers recently passed the 3,000 mark.

A Dons Trust Facebook page was recently given a soft launch (i.e. with no promotion) and is now picking up its first few “likes”. It will be interesting to see what effect (if any!) mentioning it in this programme has on how many people “like” it. We’ll then start pushing it more proactively; we should be engaging our members and supporters wherever they are, and Facebook remains a key platform, at least for a certain demographic.

In our newsletters, and on Twitter and Facebook, we mainly promote news items that are already on the Trust website (thedonstrust.org). Comparing 1 November with a year previously, the number of visits to the website has gone up by 145%. In addition, 114% more people have visited the site and there have been 126% more page views. So the combined effect is clearly positive, and we’re reaching more people than we were before.

So far, the hands-on running of all this has been done mostly by me and fellow board member Hannah Kitcher. As with all our volunteer-led activities, we’ll respond as quickly as we can – but please do be understanding if there’s a slight delay. We recently advertised for two communications volunteers to come on board and help ease the workload. At the time of writing, we’re sifting through the responses.

Hannah is also involved in two other projects: a new Trust website and a new members-only online forum. Our current website isn’t responsive (i.e. it doesn’t adapt its layout if you’re viewing it on a mobile) and is based on a WordPress template that’s so old it’s creaking at the seams. And our members- only Trust Webjam forum has been a useful “toe dip” into the field, but it isn’t particularly user-friendly and requires members to be signed up manually, which isn’t ideal. Both these projects are works in progress and quite large in scope, so keep an eye open for news as they evolve.

All of this, I hope you’ll agree, is great – at least for our members who are online. But what about those who aren’t online? One of the challenges we’ll be setting our two new volunteers is to think of a cost- effective way of producing a printed quarterly “round- up” newsletter to send to offline members, as well as for distribution electronically.

But if you’re a member who’s receiving mailings from us through the post (about SGMs, the current election, etc.), please do switch to electronic communication if you can. There are of course valid reasons why some people can’t, but switching to email would not only make it easier for us to communicate more effectively with you, it’ll also save us a considerable amount of money! If you would like to switch, please email membership@thedonstrust.org.

Communication can always be improved, and that has to be our continuous aim, but hopefully you’ll agree that we now have a solid foundation in place.

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