Tutorial: Email Newsletters for Clubs and Districts

Here’s a demo of the email newsletter tool built into Toastmost websites and the WordPress for Toastmasters software. I used it to send out the Future of Online Toastmasters workshop follow-up message shown in the demo and again to send out this announcement.

You compose messages in the same editor you use for blog posts (with the post title becoming the subject line), preview them in a template that shows what recipients will see in their inbox, and send them out to club members or to a larger list, such as a district’s email list.

See also the written documentation. Thanks to Anna Donahue of District 62 for her feedback as one of the first active users.

A few details not shown in this demo:

  • Visit the RSVPMaker Email List screen to add people to your list or import your list from another service, such as Mailchimp. Options for setting up an email list signup page are shown there, along with a link to the relevant settings screen.
  • Toastmost website owners will be able to email their club members using this tool, but sending to a larger list requires an upgrade from the basic subscription. Behind the scenes, Toastmost is buying email sending services from a company called Postmark and needs to cover that expense.
    • The club basic subscription includes 500 emails / month — plenty for sending a newsletter to members. Upgrade if you start building a bigger list of guests and prospective members.
    • Club gold subscription ($100 per year) includes 2,500 emails per month, with further upgrades available in 2,500-email increments.
    • District website subscription ($250 per year) includes 10,000 emails per month, with further upgrades available.
    • Pricing is by total number of messages sent (including miscellaneous ones like RSVP confirmations and meeting reminders) — but for example the district plan would allow you to send a weekly newsletter to more than 2,000 recipients.
  • The Postmark Email Log screen allows you to track messages sent as well as who opened them or clicked on a link. Within minutes of sending the survey message shown in my demo, I could see that 141 recipients had opened it and 40 had clicked on one of the links (to complete the survey or to watch the related video on YouTube).
  • Users of the open source version who run independent websites can add Postmark credentials to the RSVPMaker settings screen.
  • Alternatively, you can use an integration with Mailchimp to compose messages in WordPress but send them through the Mailchimp service. Not as tightly integrated but works fine.
  • Messages can include dynamic content such as listings of upcoming events, recent blog posts, and YouTube videos.
  • Automated newsletters can be sent out on a schedule or in response to events such as signing up for the newsletter (a welcome message) or the publication of a new blog post.
  • Outside of Toastmasters, this email capability is available as part of the RSVPMaker plugin for WordPress and used, for example, to distribute bulletins from an investigative news website. So this is another example of a tool you can learn in Toastmasters and apply to other business and nonprofit ventures.

Replay: Toastmost & WordPress Workshop, Plus 2 Bonus Lessons

Here is the full replay of the September 10 workshop on Toastmost and WordPress for Toastmasters, hosted by Joni-Renee Laidlaw of District 81 as part of her Logical Logistics series on tech for Toastmasters. Below, I’ve added pointers to a few significant segments of the workshop plus two bonus videos.

For those who may not want to watch the full three-hours, I’ve highlighted some relevant clips below. Click on the timestamp to jump to the relevant segment.

17:20 WordPress basics and working with images and video

58:30 Joseph Esler, founder of Tragicomedy Toastmasters, explains how he created the club website and how important it has been to marketing the club and organizing its meetings

1:34:09 Agenda management in the WordPress for Toastmasters framework

1:55:52 How to set up a Toastmost website from scratch

Bonus 1 of 2: All About Blocks

My friend Carol Prahinski told me she found working with blocks in the editor confusing. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned.

Bonus 2 of 2: Recovering from a Mistake

Going back to an earlier version

If you accidentally delete something important or make some other mistake while working in the editor, on either marketing or agenda content, here is how you can retrace your steps and recover your work. WordPress saves the last few revisions of every post, page, or other document. By clicking the Revisions button in the document properties sidebar, it’s possible to go back to an earlier version.

Here’s how:

Easy Online Meetings Role Signup Tool

Inspiration for this new tool came from Tricia Jervis, VP of Education at Club Awesome Toastmasters in Coral Springs, Florida. The idea was to recreate, in a club that has shifted to hybrid meetings, the experience of passing around a clipboard in the room to get members to sign up for roles, without the need to spend meeting time asking for volunteers. It allows online participants to sign up for a role (without the need to enter a password) by following a link shared in the online meeting chat.

Zoom chat to signup form

The WordPress for Toastmasters version is based on one she originally created using Google Forms but it has the advantage of being integrated with the signup records on the website. You’ll find links keyed to future meetings under the Signup Sheet menu on any week’s agenda.

Easy Online Meeting Signup menu item.

The person initiating this process does need to be logged in, but other members will not need to enter their password to use the form. The coded links will have an expiration time several hours in the future, but they are meant to be shared within the meeting chat not via email. We have other tools for sharing the agenda and signup opportunities by email, with one-click signup links included, using a similar method to let members bypass having to enter a password.

Here’s what the meeting organizer screen looks like.

Meeting organizer view

If you scroll down a little, you will see personalized links for specific members. This list is filtered to show only members who (a) haven’t already taken a role for the future meeting and (b) aren’t on the planned absences list. You can use that to send direct messages to specific users.

When you click on any of these, you’ll see a Copied! message indicating it’s been copied to your clipboard.

Paste the message into the chat on Zoom (or other online meeting tool). On Zoom, to send a private message, you would change the selection from Everyone to the member’s name.

A member who follows one of these links will be taken to a form with their name pre-selected and a listing of the current open roles. They can then pick a role from the list and click Sign Up.

Member’s role signup screen

If the chosen role is Speaker, they will be prompted to enter speech project info, but those details can also be filled in later.

Occasionally, it may happen that another member has taken the same role in the meantime. In that case, the member will be prompted to choose again. However, if you send the messages to members one at a time, that shouldn’t happen often.

Tool for Routinely Sharing Speech Videos (Updated)

The WordPress for Toastmasters sharing tool for YouTube is designed to assist with the sharing of speech videos, either publicly or for club member’s eyes only. Adding YouTube video to WordPress blogs is pretty easy to begin with, but this tool helps you organize videos associated with member speeches and archive them tagged with the member names.

Here is a video demo:

See also this knowledge base article.

Email marketing for Toastmasters clubs and districts

New and enhanced email services are now available to clubs with ambitious marketing plans, as well as districts that send broadcasts to club and district leaders.

For example, I’m currently working with District 62, which was the first district to host its website on the Toastmost platform, to move their weekly newsletter to my RSVP Mailer tool. RSVP Mailer is the email authoring component of my RSVPMaker events marketing software and one of the building blocks of the WordPress for Toastmasters solution.

I just used RSVP Mailer to send the email version of this article to about 1300 subscribers to the WordPress for Toastmasters email list. Here’s a video demo of how that worked.

One of the main advantages of RSVP Mailer that it allows you to compose email messages in the same WordPress editor you use for blog posts and web pages. And given a WordPress theme like those available on Toastmost that incorporate the Toastmasters brand colors, those colors are also readily available for email design.

You can send email newsletters and event promotions to club members, guests who have registered for your events, and people who have signed up for your mailing list using a form on your website.

Mockup of a newsletter for District 62

For context, I’m a longtime user of Mailchimp, which RSVPMaker integrates with for sending event invitations and newsletters. But the integration is not as tight as what I’m able to offer with RSVP Mailer. I also had a brief infatuation with MailPoet, a WordPress-based email marketing plugin and service. However, even MailPoet requires you to use an entirely different editor than you use for other WordPress content.

What’s allowing me to phase out those other options is an integration between RSVP Mailer as the newsletter authoring tool and a service called Postmark, an economical, high volume, and reliable email sending service. Postmark handles some of the complexities of maintaining a mailing list’s reputation, such as weeding out bad email addresses and handling any spam complaints.

When you send out a marketing message, Postmark tracks which messages were opened and which links were clicked. It then reports back to RSVPMaker, allowing you to see those statistics within the WordPress dashboard.

Pricing for this add-on service

On Toastmost, you’re welcome to send newsletters to up to 100 recipients as part of your base Toastmost subscription. Sending to larger email lists will be available for an additional charge of $12 per month or $110 if you pay for a year at a time. That will be good for up to 10,000 total email sends. Write back to me if you’re interested.

Districts and clubs who run their own WordPress sites can install the free RSVPMaker plugin, plus an add-on with the Postmark integration (available free for a limited time) and your own Postmark account, which starts at $10 per month for up to 10,000 email sends and scales from there. I’m also available to consult on setup and implementation.

Toastmost hosting of district websites

Districts interested in hosting their club websites with Toastmost can get hosting and email marketing as a package deal for $250 per year. Assuming you have registered a domain name, it can be added to your site after setup (for example District 62 is at 62toast.com, not a toastmost.org domain, even though they’re using Toastmost under the covers).

Alternatively, if your district is happy with its existing web host or prefers dedicated hosting of its website independently, I’m available to consult on configuration and setup of these services.

Contact me to discuss the options.

David F. Carr, DTM, for Toastmost and the WordPress for Toastmasters project, david@wp4toastmasters.com.

More Information

You can find more details on the RSVPMaker website:

Evaluation Prompts for Second Language Speakers

The web-based evaluations provided as part of the WordPress for Toastmasters system now include four additional prompts for those giving speeches in a language that’s not their native language. These prompts can be made to appear after the standard prompts based on those from the Pathways forms for each project.

The additional prompts in this “beta” release of the feature are:

  • Pace: not too fast or too slow
  • Grammar and word usage
  • Word tense, gender, and pronouns
  • Clear pronunciation

Adding these prompts was a feature request from Deborah Pinnock, who recently finished her term as president of Club Awesome Toastmasters in Coral Springs, Florida, which has many English as a second language speakers among its members. Often, one of the reasons they have joined Toastmasters is to get practice with their business English, and these optional prompts are a way of providing them with feedback on a more systematic basis.

Additional Evaluation Prompts
Continue reading “Evaluation Prompts for Second Language Speakers”

Replay: Agenda Management Workshop

Our workshop on working with agendas in the WordPress for Toastmasters system covered how to add, edit, and rearrange the roles that appear on your agenda as well as other elements such as “stage directions” notes. Watch it by clicking on the image below.

Agenda Workshop Replay

Thank you to everyone who attended and enriched the conversation with your questions.

See also the written documentation on how to create and edit meeting agenda documents.

Replay: May Overview Workshop

If you haven’t already seen it, the replay of a previous workshop from late May goes into more detail about using the website as a marketing tool. I also included a demo of the email newsletter tool in that blog post.

Upgrade your incoming officers!

As July 1 comes closer, club webmasters should be preparing to not only update the list of officers displayed on the website but also give at least some of them another promotion — increased access to the website’s back end functions.

There is a case for giving elevated security rights to most every officer, for example so the VP of Education can modify the meeting agendas, the VP of Public Relations can post to the blog, the VP of Membership can add user accounts for new members, the Secretary can record minutes that will be stored on the website, and the Treasurer can set up and track online payments.

The exact division of responsibility will vary between clubs depending on the comfort level various officers have with technology, but the club webmaster should not be doing it all. And every club webmaster should have a backup — at least one other person who has full administrative rights to change website settings.

Continue reading “Upgrade your incoming officers!”

Workshop Replay, Plus a Demo of the New Email Newsletter Tool

We had our best WordPress for Toastmasters workshop yet earlier this week, thanks largely to the input from guest speakers Arelene Preudhomme, Eloise Young, and Loni Huff.

Here’s a replay, with some follow up material below.

For details on the meeting minutes tool briefly mentioned in here, see this video demo. In addition, one thing that I promised to show but didn’t wind up having time for is the new tool for sending newsletters and event invitations by email. As shown in the meeting minutes demo, it can also be used to distribute minutes to club members.

The email tool is part of my RSVPMaker plugin, meaning you can use it on other websites outside of Toastmasters such as one for your small business. There is more detail, including details about advanced customization options, on the RSVPMaker blog.

Brand Compliance

The Toastmost service offers a set of WordPress themes (designs) that incorporate the colors from the brand manual and have been shared with the brand compliance team at Toastmasters International for review.

These WordPress themes provide a brand-compliant starting point, but the Toastmasters leaders who run these sites are still responsible for how they customize these sites.

Independent websites have more freedom to innovate, but with great power comes great responsibility. As part of the workshop, Loni Huff showed off a wildly different website for her Dungeons & Toast specialty site, but as she mentioned only logged in members see that version. The public website still shows off the unique character of that specialty club, while using brand manual colors and the standard logo.

The public website for Dungeons & Toast

One of the things she demonstrates is the power of building on a web platform that allows skilled and creative people to go beyond what I provide “out of the box.”

* This software is offered "for Toastmasters" but not is provided by or endorsed by Toastmasters International. The use of Toastmasters brand assets (with proper disclaimers) in website designs has been reviewed by the Toastmasters International brand compliance team.