Communication resources: tools, tips, and technology

These tips and tools have been given to each EMM worker. As the newsletter manager on the MST, it is good for you to be familiar with them as well.


Telling your story

Telling your story helps to build a bridge between the world you are experiencing as a mission worker, and the world that your friends and family experience every day.

When you demonstrate the ways that God is building His kingdom in your host country, people back home can more easily understand and relate to the people you’re serving in your outreach location. As you think through how you tell your story, you will also be processing your own range of experiences and changes.

Prepare for storytelling by disciplining yourself to keep a journal; these “unforgettable” experiences can easily be forgotten if not noted somewhere.


Newsletter writing tips

Realize that you are not going to be able to communicate your whole experience in your newsletter.

Create small windows and glimpses. Carefully choose the stories you wish to tell, and tell those few well.

Create glimpses of culture, share experiences, and provide reflections. Describe sights, smells, and sounds.

Show, don’t tell. Shock, rather than saying something is shocking. Surprise. Amuse.

Use a strong first sentence to pull people in.

Make it relevant and purposeful. Don’t tell us everything you’ve done in the last month. Instead, think of telling a story to a friend. What would interest him or her? What parts would be boring?

Use the story of an experience to demonstrate something deeper or as a springboard for your
reflections  but don’t force the spiritual elements.

Celebrate the positives, but don’t deny the challenges; be real.

Be sensitive; think things through and reread, especially through others’ eyes. Make sure you’re comfortable with anyone (in the U.S. or from your ministry location) reading your newsletter. Don’t share personal details that would offend, and be careful that your tone is never condescending.

Use active language (not passive).

Active:                                        Passive:
Susan is cooking dinner.            Dinner is being cooked by Susan.
They will finish it tomorrow.      It will be finished by them tomorrow.
Two people will attend.             There will be two people attending.

Keep it short and frequent. People are more likely to read short updates, and frequent updates keep you in the minds of your readers/supporters.

Identify yourself or your team in the header of an email newsletter.

Don’t assume too much knowledge in your reader. Your newsletter and blog will be read by many people who do not know you or your team that well.

Don’t use nicknames. Most people will not remember the details of what you wrote last time. Include enough information for your story to make sense to those who haven’t read all of your previous letters.

Connect yourself to Eastern Mennonite Missions (unless you are serving in a sensitive location). 
Because you have chosen to serve with EMM, you represent EMM’s work. Connecting yourself to EMM reminds readers that you are part of a larger strategic mission effort. Many people who may not know you personally will read your newsletters, emails, and blogs and will pray for you and engage with your work.

Review/edit your work for clarity and brevity before you send it out. Will it make sense to others? Have someone else read what you wrote, and be sure to check spelling.

Be aware that your writing may be reproduced by EMM communications staff. We always ask for permission to use your stories in a publication, but keep in mind that your work could show up in EMM media.

Avoid:
• clichés and jargon (especially spiritual jargon)
• acronyms
• sarcasm (easily misunderstood in writing)
• too many ideas in a paragraph
• simply listing the things you do/did
• apologies or excuses for not writing
• smiley faces and exclamation points


Newsletter design basics

Overall objective

A nicely designed newsletter with a good sense of space and design will help your newsletter to be both read and understood.

A newsletter title/nameplate

Choose a name that identifies you or your location. (Note: If you are serving in a sensitive location, you will want to use a region, e.g., Southeast Asia, to identify your location, rather than a specific town or even a country.) Many people choose to alliterate their titles. These may sound a bit corny, but they make for catchy titles. Here are two examples:
    • Letters from Lezhe
    • Halle Happenings
Include date and issue or volume information in your heading. Keep your heading consistent on each issue.

Layout and body text
  • Layout should not look cluttered — leave some white space, margins, etc.
  • Use boxes or frames sparingly.
  • The use of columns can be very effective at making a printed newsletter more readable.
  • Font size of 10 or 11 is adequate for many fonts, but design with your readers in mind.
  • Spacing before (above) each paragraph can help make the body of your newsletter look less cluttered. (Do not indent paragraphs if using paragraph spacing.)
  • Use a sidebar for something special and shorter. Set it off with a line or very light background.
  • Use a slightly smaller font. Sidebars are usually narrower than standard columns.
  • Use all caps only on very rare occasions, for emphasis. Words in all capitals are the equivalent of shouting.
  • Do not put text on top of photos or colored backgrounds.
  • Use white text on black backgrounds sparingly; white on black is more difficult to read than black on white.

Font
  • Use one font only for body text. If you wish, you may use a second font for headers (but this is not necessary).
  • Best fonts: Times, Arial, Verdana, Trebuchet
  • Do not use Comic Sans or any other script font (such as those meant to look like handwriting).

Contact information
  • Place all of your contact details on a sidebar or footer at the bottom of one page. Remember the significance of your missionary support team; you may wish to include them on your regular sidebar.
  • Include an EMM logo. Find various versions of the EMM logo at emm.org/logos.

Photos/illustrations
  • A caption is usually placed below or beside the picture.
  • When possible, crop clutter out of your photos to make them stronger and more focused.
Pull quotes

Used to attract attention, especially in longer articles. A pull quote is a small selection of text “pulled out and quoted” in a larger typeface.

Headings and subheadings
  • Headlines identify each article in a newsletter and are the most prominent text elements.
  • Subheadings appear within the body of articles to divide the article into smaller sections.
  • Headlines and subheadings not only help the reader, but they may help you organize your thoughts for writing.
  • Use bold or larger font sizes to identify headers and subheadings.
  • You do not need to center headers and subheadings.

Capitalize consistently

Titles do not need to have every word capitalized; just choose a style and be consistent in every issue.

Mailing panel

You may wish to fold your newsletter into thirds and leave one panel empty for a mailing label and stamp. This means lower mailing costs, but also takes space away from text.

Response slip

A tear-off response slip is a convenient way to encourage a financial response.

Use of EMM logo
  • Go to EMM logos to download a logo according to your purpose; different file formats work best for different purposes. The logo should never look grainy, blocky, or blurred. Do not stretch or distort the logo.
  • The logo should always appear on a white background.
  • Do not reverse the logo or make it transparent.
  • Please make sure you have our most recent logo. (Check EMM logos to be sure.)

Distributing your newsletter

For electronic distribution, a PDF is usually the best file format. All other formats require that the reader have certain software to view it; the PDFs do require a “reader,” but it is free (unlike MS Word, WordPerfect, Publisher, and many others). If distributing the PDF via email, include this phrase in the text of your email: “If you have problems reading this newsletter, try downloading the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader for free at adobe.com/reader."

Put some thought into who will and will not read your newsletter if you only use an electronic version. Be aware of your supporters’ preferences.

Google documents have several designed templates that you could use and export as a PDF. 


Electronic communications

Blogs

Many EMM personnel create blogs. These blogs are an easy and efficient way to communicate. Aim for a well-rounded blog which will include not only family updates but personal reflections and ministry details as well. For those working in sensitive regions  you may want to limit your writing to personal, family, or cross-cultural reflections. Alternatively, you may want to password protect your blog so that only your supporters (with a password) can access it. If you password protect your blog, you will need to develop a secure way to let people know the password. You should never email a password unless you are using an encrypted email service.

If you produce a blog, let us know and we will put a link to it on the EMM website. We appreciate if you also provide a link from your blog to emm.org (in non-sensitive cases). 

MailChimp

MailChimp is a web-based electronic newsletter service that helps you design and send email newsletters and share them on social networks. It is easy to use and free if you are distributing to fewer than 2000 email addresses. Go to mailchimp.com for more information.

Facebook

EMM has a Facebook page, and we welcome you to like our page so that our posts will appear in your news feed. We welcome your comments and reflections on the EMM Facebook page.

Creating guidelines for yourself and those who communicate with you

The higher the level of risk in your location, the more attention you will need to give to developing guidelines, using the information on the next few pages. However, this is not an exact science, and you will always face some risk. We offer these guidelines to help make you aware of the risks and to maintain as much security as possible, for the sake of your work, other missionaries, and local believers.

Guidelines for communication content
What should you say to whom? How much do you reveal when communicating with others? These are fundamental questions that should always be in your mind in your everyday work and communications, especially when you are putting things into writing. 

Email gatekeeper
For added security, you may want to appoint an email gatekeeper for your correspondence. The stateside gatekeeper receives all of your email, reviews/edits it as necessary to remove potentially problematic language, and then forwards it to you. The person may also be responsible to forward your replies (after removing your contact info) on to the appropriate people, so that all email to you and from you comes and goes through the gatekeeper  and very few people (perhaps only the gatekeeper) can email you directly. The person you choose should be very familiar with your wishes for handling your email. This person is often a family member or someone on your missionary support team (MST). Let your gatekeeper know if anyone is communicating with you inappropriately.

Email habits
  • Use BCC. It is a good idea to use BCC when sending an email to several individuals. Using BCC hides the list of email addresses from recipients.
  • Use generic email addresses. Neither the username part of an email address or the domain name should capture unwanted attention or reveal too much about your identity. Nothing compromising should pop up if you visit networksolutions.com/whois/index.jsp and enter the domain name or surf to the corresponding website.
  • Use a mail server in friendly territory, preferably in the country where most of your email correspondents live. There is no guarantee that email between your server and others will not pass through another server where the message could be compromised — but the odds of that happening are higher if you choose a mail server in a land populated primarily by the kinds of people you would least like reading your email. 
  •  Use secure webmail. Webmail access is great on the road. However, make sure the connection is secure with https, not http. Don’t use webmail from untrusted cybercafés and strangers’ computers. Using your own notebook computer at a wireless hotspot is better.

Social networking
If you are concerned about security, make sure to thoroughly evaluate your presence and activity on social networking sites (Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, etc.). If you use social networks, think through the following:
  • Social networking sites can create a false sense of security. It may feel like you are only communicating with a small group of people. This may lead you to reveal more than what is safe.
  • Be aware of what your personal data and comments reveal about yourself and those you
  • work with. If someone hacked into your account, what would they find out about you and your friends?
  • Consider not belonging to a specific network or group. Keep your online circle of friends tightly controlled.
  • Remove add-on applications. These can create “holes,” allowing others to see things you may not be aware of.
  • Be aware of all security settings and changes: Social networking sites often change security/privacy settings. Make sure you are aware of all security changes.
  • Consider using your first and middle name only and not revealing your last name.
  • Consider not allowing comments on your page. Others’ comments can reveal things about you. It’s not just what you say, but also what friends (who may not understand the risks) say that could put you (or others) at risk.

Skype
Skype conversations are encrypted as a long as both parties are using Skype software. However, the identity of the person with whom you are talking may not be hidden. Skype-to-phone conversations are not encrypted. For extra security, clear your conversation history regularly.

Guidelines for family, friends, and church
Consider creating communication guidelines to distribute to your family, friends, and church. Explain a bit about the need for sensitive communication, and also include specific instructions. If you wish, you may distribute the document "Keeping in touch with me during my mission assignment." Request a copy from the MST Coach or MST Coach for short-term assignments and adapt it for your location and needs. Include your gatekeeper’s contact information if applicable.