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Why we moved our member newsletter to a digital format

December 19 2011 | Communications,

Every now and then we have someone ask us why we moved our member newsletter, Making Waves, from paper to an online format. I thought I'd share what I tell them with the larger audience.

1. Surfrider's mission is to protect the environment.

The single most important thing at Surfrider Foundation is encapsulated in our mission.

We are all connected to Surfrider because we believe in "the protection and enjoyment of oceans, waves and beaches via our powerful activist network." The mission should trump everything else. We should be very comfortable asking "are our actions in support of our mission?" We should be willing to change our processes to ensure that the answer to that question is yes.

In 2009 we printed over 300,000 individual issues of Making Waves. We then mailed those to people near and far. Sure, we tried our best... used recycled paper and soy-based inks and we hope that our members recycled the paper after they read the issue. As we've shared before when we are at the "recycle" choice that means that we've failed at the previous three choices refusing, reducing and reusing. Recycling isn't winning, it's the last resort after failing other options with lesser impact.

Moving away from paper enabled us to stop printing, distributing and (sometimes) throwing away 300,000 magazines.

2. Utilize funds to more directly support the mission and our grassroots network.

In rough terms last year we spent about $300,000 to print and distribute Making Waves on paper and send it to our members. As is the case with everything in business, it's always good to understand the tradeoffs and the true cost of one option over an alternative.

At Surfrider we know that among the single best investment we can make is to fund support for our chapters and activists. We know, with certainty, that when we add a regional manager a region will increase it's number of victories, engage locals at a deeper level and overall have more value. Support can also come in having more legal expertise available to chapters as well as other means that help our chapters move their local campaigns ahead.

Saving $300,000 in printing and distribution costs enabled us to more directly fund exactly what our supporters expect from us, success with our mission.

3. Engagement at deeper level.

While I'm aware that every new technology immediately gets compared to it's predecessor (cars were originally compared with horses, people didn't originally want a cell phone because they already had a phone, etc). I'm also aware that if we step back and ask the larger question, it helps put things into perspective.

Our objective with Making Waves is to engage people more deeply in our mission.

Success = deeper knowledge, deeper engagement.

Before I started to work at Surfrider and if I opened Making Waves... I'd spend maybe 5 - 10 minutes reading it. Don't get me wrong, I love books and even still subscribe to one or two printed magzines. That said, I... all of us... get the strong majority of news and updates from non-paper sources. I'm guessing most people don't subscribe to 1 or 2 newspapers and instead get their news from television or an internet-based source. This makes sense as the experience delivered via video is... better. Look at the below video from our activist issue. There is no way we could write a piece that would accurately reflect Jessica's tone and inflection. The reason this is so important to us is... our mission. The last three words of our mission are "... powerful activist network." We want to SHOW you what that looks like, it looks like Jessica. We want you to see yourself in people like Jessica. We want you to engage deeper in our mission.

I used to spend about 5 minutes reading Making Waves and now I spend about 20 minutes. This last issue had 15 videos. I work here and still watch most of them. I love them. This is one from our recent issue.

Don't compare the new Making Waves to a paper newsletter. Instead ask if it... like the rest of your choices regarding media... is giving you access to great information about real people who are doing extraordinary work. If it's not then send Alexis an email and help her make it better. She's at

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