April 23, 2012

6 business reasons for nonprofits to publish a magazine

Print magazines from the nonprofits Black Women in Sport Foundation and Livestrong.

Consider using print on demand to reach new supporters or constituents

This is the first of a two-part series. Coming Tuesday:

• Part 2: On-demand magazine publishing, simple & cheap

Target audience: Nonprofits, cause organizations, foundations, NGOs, social enterprises, educators, Web publishers.

By Lindsay Oberst
Socialbrite staff

Lindsay OberstFor all nonprofits, digital should be the top priority for communications and public outreach. But new technologies now give you more options for reaching existing and potential supporters. One of those options may surprise you: a print-on-demand magazine.

Mid-size and large nonprofits routinely produce monthly or quarterly print magazines as part of their mission. Consider Livestrong Quarterly, which debuted in 2009 and is powered by HP MagCloud technology (more on that tomorrow), as well as such nonprofit stalwarts as Consumer Reports, National Geographic, Smithsonian and AARP Magazine, which boasts the third largest circulation of any magazine in the world. Smaller nonprofits have also joined the fun: There’s Kaleidoscope magazine, published by United Disability Services, Natural Transitions Magazine, published by Natural Transitions, and BWSF Magazine, recently launched by The Black Women in Sport Foundation (download their inaugural issue as a PDF).

Now, we’re not suggesting that you begin publishing a monthly magazine to add to your nonprofit’s plate (although if you do, please let us know!). But let’s get creative for a second. For the first time, you can now print an on-demand, high-quality, full-color magazine to tell your organization’s story, whether it’s tied to a fundraising event, direct mail appeals, an annual report, the opening of a new store (think Goodwill or Salvation Army) — the possibilities are almost limitless. The evidence suggests that most people want to experience both print and digital communications. Give them want they want, and they’ll be more likely to support and follow your cause.

“Today it’s all about using the right mix of communications channels to reach the right people.”
— Kivi Leroux Miller, nonprofit consultant

Kivi Leroux Miller, nonprofit communications consultant and author of The Nonprofit Marketing Guide, believes nonprofits should still use print. “Today it’s all about using the right mix of communications channels to reach the right people,” she told me via email. “I don’t believe in any of this ‘print is dead’ or ‘email is dead’ nonsense. What’s ‘dead’ is thinking you can use just one form of communication and expect your messages to get through.”

According to multiple surveys and market research, the tactile sensation of holding a magazine or any paper product and being able to touch and smell its pages is something most people still value — even digital natives and tech geeks. Different media work in different circumstances. While millions of Americans now read on smartphones and tablets when they’re on the go, many prefer print when reading at home.

Another good thing about printed products is that they provide a much-needed break from the fast-paced onslaught of tweets, emails, ads and IMs. When someone reads your print magazine, they’ll be less likely to get distracted and more likely to absorb your message, update or fundraising appeal — and to take action.

The evidence points to print remaining an important part of the culture for some time: Handmade and printed zines are making a comeback. A new print magazine about social media was named one of the top magazine launches of 2011. Even Hacker Monthly, a curated, best-of-the-Internet print publication, is making a profit. (Check out PrintIsBig for tips on why print still matters, how it is green and why it still drives commerce.)

6 good reasons for nonprofits to publish a magazine

If you’re considering publishing a magazine for your nonprofit or social enterprise, it doesn’t need to be in print form, of course. Current and developing technologies make digital magazines — say, for the iPad — accessible and enjoyable, especially with the increasing numbers of people with tablets. But you’re no longer restricted to one or the other. Publish your magazine online — and in print. Then promote it using social media.

Publishing a magazine isn’t something you want to enter into without a plan that covers such topics as who’ll write the content? Who’ll take the photos? Who’ll design the look? (Often, a combination of staffers and contractors.) And most importantly, who are you trying to reach, why, and how?

Here are six business goals and organizational missions that a magazine can help advance. See if some of these make sense for your organization.

nonprofit magazine Kaleidescope1To get new members and keep current donors. Having something tangible (and well-produced) could be impressive to people considering whether they want to join or support your organization. People you meet will be more likely to remember your nonprofit with a publication than if you simply give them a business card.

2To increase donations. “The majority of individual donor fundraising is still done via print,” Leroux Miller says. Even though many online fundraising tools exist, calls to action in print are still driving people to give money. Recent research shows that online works for attracting donors, but it is not as successful at keeping them. For example, many donors acquired through the Internet are switching to giving through direct mail. Continue reading