Sending emails to large numbers of people has been the one constant in every single job I’ve had. But This is Not a Moment has taught me more than almost any other email project I’ve ever run.
So to mark this little anniversary, I wanted to pass along five of those lessons:
Start with a plan. The starting point for This is Not a Moment was a position brief. To define its goals, I outlined an initial purpose (to highlight what it takes to mobilize grassroots audiences), who we we were trying to reach (campaigners and organizers at every level of their careers), the frequency we were planning to send (monthly!) and what types of content we’d include (original analysis, job postings, and the flexibility to feature other things as necessary). Two years later, that initial outline holds up. Upfront thinking is part of the reason why this project has been a success.
Listen to your audience. Even though this newsletter is aimed at a group of campaigners, and those are folks we know pretty well, we don’t assume we know what will keep people reading each month. We’re looking at engagement rates and clicks, of course, but that kind of signal only offers part of the answer. So, we’ve repeatedly asked for qualitative input. We’ve sent surveys (like we’re doing this month!). We’ve asked people to reply to the newsletter directly with their thoughts. Then, we actively work to implement their suggestions. You have to make feedback one of the ways you plan for the future.
Bring other people in. I pushed for this newsletter to happen. And I love writing it. But every time other people have contributed to it, the value has been immense. We’ve used This is Not a Moment to feature interviews with people like Tori Taylor and Ivan Cheung. Blue Staters like Sabina Tarnówka and Lizzy Divine have written entire issues. Others like Mallory Royer, Sarah Carpenter, and Lauren Tsuboyama have made it better with edits month after month. The work we do as campaigners is never the product of one person, and a project like this shouldn’t be either.
Don’t ignore the present. This newsletter has always had a goal of escaping the gravitational well of the political news cycle. In that initial position brief, I told myself that I’d avoid writing about the clever email tactic from the last fundraising deadline or whatever big advertising buy that caught my eye. And I’ve largely been successful on that front. But in January, I wrote about what the new version of the White House website said about how Joe Biden would govern. Almost a year before that, when the realities of the pandemic set in, we sent a special issue of this newsletter to talk about how organizations were testing new tactics to reach people in ways that met the moment. And those particular issues of the newsletter produced some of the best feedback we’ve had. Even when you’re trying to focus on a different set of priorities, sometimes, you just have to talk about what’s happening in the world.
Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. We send this newsletter every month. Sometimes, I know what I’m going to say well before my deadline. Sometimes, I don’t. But it has to go out either way. So I’ve written it while my newborn has napped on my shoulder. I’ve woken up early and stayed up late because those were the moments I could find to get the job done. Part of building a newsletter is committing to a schedule and delivering on it every single time. Because that’s what you owe to people who sign up to read it.