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Five Crucial Steps to Creating an Email Newsletter in iModules

The students, instructors, and researchers of Weinberg College are continually creating exciting events, new scholarship, and laudable accomplishments. Sharing the unique story of your department or program is an often-cited goal for many groups. Read on for tips on managing your departmental or program resources to create engaging email newsletters.

When emailing alumni at Northwestern University, Alumni Relations and Development requires the use of the iModules email software program. By using iModules, you have access to the CATRACKS, the database for alumni and other community members’ contact information. Additionally, ARD and Weinberg College IT provide support services for iModules users through training, customized templates, and ongoing technical support. More information on training and resources for iModules is available here.

While each department, program, or center in Weinberg College has a unique story to tell, there are five important steps that every group should consider when building their email newsletters.

1. Plan and Research 

Before writing content or building an email, begin by defining your internal goals:

Once you’ve developed your goals and available resources, identify any missing training, software titles, or other gaps that will need to be addressed. The most important skills will be building emails in iModules, creating webpages in Cascade, and using various software programs to resize/crop images.

 2. Determine your audience’s interests

Once you’ve defined your internal strategy, research your audience. Rebecca Lindell, Associate Director of Content Strategy for Weinberg College advises, “Any effort you can make to find out what your audience wants to read is worth the effort. Look at analytics; consider creating a simple Qualtrics survey, with a field asking them directly what sort of stories they’d like to see. You will likely generate enough ideas for your first few issues!”

Other research techniques include:

3. Craft your Email

Your audience does a lot to determine the tone of your content. Many groups send one general newsletter to all of their alumni. However, consider the different ages and interests of your alumni and community members. You may want to try different content for your recent graduates, local community members, and alumni who are mid or late-career.

In each email, you should include a Call to Action (CTA). A CTA asks your readers to do something; like read your full newsletter, check out events on your website, or follow you on social media. Ideally, your email is not the final stop for your readers, but rather a vehicle that moves them into further interaction with your group. 

4. Plan in Advance

Many key tasks should be started at least a month before you want to send your email newsletter. 

One month before send

For their biannual newsletter, Economics Senior Program Coordinator Christy Anderson creates content over a few months so that it is ready to be plugged into Cascade/iModules a week before sending. She advises to plan for several days of concentrated work right before your scheduled email send.

Three weeks before send

If you need to request an updated alumni list from Alumni Relations & Development, it is best to allow for up to three weeks processing time for that request. If this is your first email send and you aren’t sure about which alumni/donor population you’d like to contact, leave even more time to discuss your recipients list with Alumni Relations & Development. To request a report, fill out the Report Request form and email it to catracksreports@northwestern.edu.

Two weeks before send

If you haven’t already, begin building your content out in iModules, Cascade, and any other platforms you’re using. 

Week of send

Begin testing your email by sending it to several people, trying out these different combinations:

Your email will probably look slightly different in all these different cases. That is because the email client and browser of any given individual will interpret the base coding of the email in slightly different ways. Don’t sweat the small formatting changes, but instead check to make sure there are no big issues, especially images that won’t load, broken links, and strange formatting.

Identify the time and date you want to send the email. Email newsletters are generally best sent during a weekday morning.

Day of send

Publish any new webpage content that your email is linking to. Do a final proof-reading check. Send your email in iModules.

Celebrate!

Day and Week after send

Check your analytics and assess the email’s performance.

5. Track Performance and Engagement

 What does it mean to have a well-performing email? The open rate and click rates are good places to start when assessing your email newsletter performance. Many academic departmental newsletters see a minimum of 20% open rates. Your click rate, which shows how many individual links were clicked in an email, should see a 11% or more. 

If your rates are lower than you’d like, it’s best to go back to your audience and make sure that your content is connecting with them. Remember that emailing small numbers of people that are highlight engaged with your newsletters is better than emailing large numbers of people who aren’t.

Email newsletters can be an incredibly effective way to connect with your alumni and community members. Finding the content creation process that works for your team and integrating it with the annual rhythm of your group’s activities is crucial for long-term success. Join our Weinberg College iModules administrators listserv or quarterly meetings by emailing Rachel Goc.

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