Writing a Support Letter: Apps for Designing a Newsletter or Email Blast

Layout and design used to be reserved for professionals. Nowadays, design technology is so readily accessible that even children can create compelling layouts.

We’ve compiled a list of some applications to try and an idea of the price. Some of them are strictly design programs, which you could use to lay out your newsletter either for print or to save as a PDF and attach to email. Others are email programs that let you design nice-looking emails.

Standard layout programs (that may even come with your computer)

Microsoft Word  (available for PC or Mac) — $109.99microsoft word
(also available in Microsoft Office)

This basic word processing tool has come a long way in its layout capabilities. You can create a simple letter and pretty easily add photos. Many of us are familiar with this program, so it’s a good one to start using for layout.

Microsoft Publisher  (available for PC) — $109.99microsoft publisher

Microsoft says: “Publisher 2013 helps you create, personalize, and share a wide range of professional-quality publications and marketing materials with ease.”

Publisher has templates to help you design your documents. The interface is similar to other Microsoft products, so it should seem familiar and fairly easy to use.

Pages  (for Mac users; compatible with Microsoft Word) — $19.99

pagesFrom Apple: “Pages is a word processor and a page layout tool that helps you create great-looking documents, newsletters, reports, and more.”

Pages has several templates you can use, or you can design your own layout and create graphs and charts. It’s also a word processor and includes photo-editing software — this integration is really convenient.

Layout for the serious

Adobe InDesign  (available for PC or Mac) — $699 (also available in Adobe Suites)

adobe indesignAdobe: “InDesign® CS6 software is a versatile desktop publishing application that gives you pixel-perfect control over design and typography. Create elegant and engaging pages for print, tablets, and other screens.”

Many design professionals use InDesign and the other Adobe products. If you’re an amateur, it is probably an expense you don’t need, unless you’re going to get really into design. However, if you are serious about publications design, it is a very good product. I prefer it to anything else I have used.

Quark — (available for PC or Mac) $849 quarkxpress 9

“QuarkXPress® is design software that lets anyone create and publish rich, compelling materials for print, the Web, e-readers, tablets, and other digital media in one easy-to-use tool — no coding or programming required.”

Again, this isn’t a necessary expense for an amateur.

Free* email programs with design capability
*A basic plan is free. You can pay for more advanced plans.

MailChimp — free for 2,000 subscribers, up to 12,000 emails per month; other monthly plans or pay-as-you-go also available

mailchimpMailChimp is an online program, so there’s no download. You send email directly from MailChimp, but the sent-from address is your own email address.

MailChimp lets you design your own or use templates for your newsletters. It’s easy to integrate with social media. It helps you maintain your mailing list, like allowing you to split your list into groups and not letting you have duplicates. It tracks how many people open your email, so you know if you’re having an effective outreach.

I would say that if you are looking for a free email service, MailChimp is very good. I highly recommend it.

GroupMail — free for up to 500 contacts; one-time fee of $99.95 for personal editiongroupmail

This is a downloadable program to which you can import your contacts. One of the downsides to this free edition is that you can’t manage multiple lists, and the managing you can do is very limited.

Paid email programs with design capability

mad mimiMadMimi — up to 500 contacts, infinite emails for $8/month; more plans available — including a free plan for up to 100 contacts

Looks like a really excellent app, but I haven’t used it personally. I think this is the one I’d check out if I were to pay for an email service.

MyEmma — 1,000 emails per month for $35/month; more plans available
I have helped a friend with this before. It’s nice enough, and my friend says their help has been invaluable. I think they have been working on growing the functionality of their design (not that it was bad before). But I wasn’t overly impressed with it for the price and for what support-raisers would need it for. I just didn’t think it was worth $35/month when you could have most of the same features for free with MailChimp.

Constant Contact — 500 contacts for $15/month; more plans availableconstant contact

I have used this while working at a small company. Again, I don’t know that the $15/month offers you much more than MailChimp gives you for free. It was fine. I wasn’t overly impressed. Constant Contact does send resources via email — little marketing encouragements and tips. But those may or may not be helpful, as they are more directed at businesses doing marketing.

iPad Apps

iStudio — (design software) $17.99 for iPad; $49.99 for computer

iStudioThis would be another design program that you could use for print documents or to attach in email. I haven’t used it, but the company says this:

“iStudio Publisher is an easy-to-use page layout application for Mac OS X. It allows you to be a designer, easily creating stunning documents, ranging from a simple letterhead to professional magazines, adverts, reports, greetings cards and yearbooks. Whether you’re writing a simple note or a full on brochure, you can use iStudio Publisher for anything and everything you need to layout and print.”

Swift Publisher 3  — (design software) $19.99swift publisher 3

Again, this is a design program that I haven’t used.

“Packing a streamlined interface and powerful layout and design tools, Swift Publisher provides all of the tools you need to create effective materials for your clients, partners, and friends. Fliers, brochures, letterheads, booklets, menus, and more, right on your Mac.”

Hoolie — (email design software) $39.99 (one-time fee)

hoolieHoolie is an email program that you download to your iPad. It uses your Apple Address Book for your mailing list, so you can use groups you already have set up.

The company says this: “Hoolie makes it easy to design, send and manage email newsletter and marketing campaigns right from your computer with no limits, monthly costs or per email fees.”

On the App Store, a reviewer who works with a non-profit had this to say: “Hoolie is the perfect app for our nonprofit to use in sending email blasts to all of our supporters. When you compare it to web services like iContact or Constant Contact, hoolie is both smoother to operate and far, far less expensive.”
We’d love to hear from you. What do you use and why?

  • http://twitter.com/madmimi Mad Mimi

    This is a great rundown, thanks for the mention! I do wanna clarify that Mad Mimi’s Free Plan has limited features, and lets you send to 2500 people/12,500 emails per month. Our full-featured paid plans start at $10/month for 500 contacts, and audience capabilities go all the way up to the millions! Feel free to email me at becca@madmimi.com if you’d like any details :)

  • prestonshaw

    Really nice and thorough list! I’ve been using mailchimp and loved it. Saved me a ton of time over the years.

    • paulyoder

      Thanks Preston! I’m actually just finishing up the integration between DonorElf and MailChimp. That way a missionary can automatically keep their MailChimp list in sync with their contact list in DonorElf.

      • prestonshaw

        Brilliant stuff!

        • paulyoder


  • kiwimef

    hi there,
    very useful list! but i can’t seem to find the ipad version of istudio publisher that you mention. (17.99$) where would i find that? it would my perfect match!
    thanks, maria