Tools for Newsletters and Meeting Minutes

Club Presidents, Secretaries, and VPs of Education and Public Relations should be aware of a few tools bundled into WordPress for Toastmasters for sharing information with members. They have the advantage of allowing you to share information in a web-native format or in the body of email messages rather than sending out PDFs and other file attachments.

If you email me a PDF, I am less likely to read the contents than if the message you want to deliver is in the body of the email itself. Opening the PDF is an extra step, and I think of PDFs as electronic representations of print documents — worth using if you expect people to print the contents; otherwise not. But that’s admittedly a matter of taste.

The tools I suggest you take advantage of are:

  • RSVP Mailer, which allows you to create and edit the contents of an email message using the WordPress editor. Rather than being published on the website, these documents can then be sent out to your membership list or another email list (via MailChimp integration, for example).
  • Members Only blog posts that can be only be viewed by members who are logged into the website. This is one way of publishing an archive of meeting minutes but keeping those posts separate from blog posts that are part of your PR and marketing efforts. (I’ve also used the Members Only category can also be used for private sharing of speech videos).
  • The option to copy existing blog post or web page content to the RSVP Mailer tool and use it as the starting point for an email message.

RSVP Mailer is part of the RSVPMaker plugin, a component of the WordPress for Toastmasters software, and was originally designed for sending out event invitations.

The easiest way to explain how you might use RSVP Mailer is by example. Here’s a mockup of a club newsletter for Online Presenters, as it might be emailed out to club members:

an email newsletter

This is what it looked like in the WordPress editor, using the RSVP Mailer tab on the dashboard.

composing a message in the WordPress editor
Composing a message in the WordPress editor

When you publish and view one of these documents, it is displayed in an email preview template rather than the one for a blog post or web page.

Preview of an email broadcast
Preview with mailing list controls

As an authorized author or editor for this sort of content, you also see controls at the top of the email preview that allow you to pick a list of recipients and click Send Now. There is an option to send yourself a preview version of the email first, which is a good idea to make sure it comes through correctly.

Incorporating Blog Content in Email Messages

If you have content you want to publish content to both your blog and to your email list, one way to do that is to create the blog post first and copy that content into RSVP Mailer.

When you are logged in and have editing rights on the website, you will see a black bar across the top of the screen that shows administrative options. The New menu shows new content you can create, including new Post (blog post) and new RSVP Email. When you are viewing a blog post or web page, there is a submenu item under RSVP Email labeled Copy to Email.

Creating an email based on a blog post
Copy to Email option

Clicking Copy to Email duplicates the current page or post as an RSVP Mailer document and opens it in the editor. You can then make any adjustments that may be needed before sending it out as an email message.

In the case of meeting minutes, the process I suggest would be:

  • Create the meeting minutes as a blog post marked Members Only (see below for how to do that).
  • Copy that blog post to RSVP Mailer.
  • Send it out to the membership list.

For a newsletter, you could do the same but skip marking the content Members Only. Another approach would be to create blog posts on an ongoing basis and send out a monthly or quarterly newsletter that contains a list of headlines and links to the best of that content.

You can also mix and match these techniques. You might copy a blog post to RSVP Mailer but only email out a portion of the content, with a link to read the rest on the website. This is a technique I often use when sending out emails from wp4toastmasters.com.

Members Only Content

When you create a blog post, you have the option to assign it to one or more categories. Categories describe the nature of the content and allow visitors to see a listing of all posts in that category. For example, view any post in the Video category, and you can click on the Video link to see all other posts tagged with the Video category.

A special category that is automatically created for a WordPress for Toastmasters website is Members Only. Zny post marked Members Only can only be viewed by a logged in member of the website. Visitors who do not have a password will not see these posts in blog listings or search results.

The list of categories is displayed in the Document tab of the editor sidebar. You can check off any existing category and add others as needed.

Setting the Members Only category for a blog post
Marking a blog post Members Only

Members Only and Club News Sidebar Widgets

Although Members Only posts will not show up in your primary blog listing, headlines may be displayed in some recent blog post listings such as the standard Recent Posts sidebar widget. You can avoid advertising content that visitors without a login won’t be able to see by using the Members Only sidebar widget and the Club News sidebar widget (which displays published blogs NOT in the Members Only category).

The example here is from Club Awesome Toastmasters, where blogs that show member speech videos have been shared as Members Only posts.

Members only sidebar widget for a Toastmasters club website

As of summer 2020, new club websites created on toastmost.org have the Club News and Members Only widgets configured by default. A site administrator can also add them (and change other widgets on the sidebar) using the WordPress Customizer (basic tutorial here).

Adding and rearranging sidebar widgets using the WordPress Customize tool