Email marketing has gotten a bad rap because of the dozens of unsolicited emails we all receive daily (hundreds weekly) from spammers. According to a 2003 Michigan State study by Susan Chang and Mariko Morimoto, most people would rather receive junk mail, which they also dislike, than unsolicited email. And 49 percent of those interviewed would refuse to do business with any company or organization that regularly sends them spam.
However, non-profit organizations know the power of targeted email campaigns. They are an immediate, personalized – and cost-effective – way to mobilize thousands of constituents to advocate on behalf of an issue, attend a cultural event or provide relief funds in times of disaster. Email is also extremely effective in developing and deepening relationships with your members and supporters on a day-to-day basis.
Value of Email Communications for Nonprofits
When done correctly, a targeted email campaign can be an extremely powerful and effective way to keep in touch with your constituents, solicit their support and feedback, and expand your constituent and volunteer base. This medium allows your nonprofit and your constituents to freely communicate with one another and build a relationship based on value and trust. Email campaigns provide benefits that other forms of communication with constituents do not, as they can:
- Be more personalized, based on constituents’ past website use
- Reach the recipient almost immediately after you send it
- Cost much less than print or other media
- Tie into website resources and actions in a way that no other media can
- Provide for faster response from recipients
When done incorrectly, however, email communications can be destructive, eroding the bond between you and your members and stakeholders, and turning them into litigious flamers. That’s why having a well-defined permission-based (opt-in) policy is essential for any non-profit organization. With it, you will ensure that all mass emails (see below) are sent only to subscribers that have opted-in.
Doing It Right
“Nonprofits are in a unique position in that most of what we do depends and builds on the goodwill of our communities,” states Arthur Prokosch, the staff member at Third Sector New England who oversees email and Internet operations. “We need to take care not to send unsolicited email, especially if it solicits donations or sells services.”
According to Mr. Prokosch, sending email without express permission to do so is a sure-fire way to:
- Alienate your constituents and funders
- Damage your organization’s reputation
- Be branded a “spammer”
So what is spam, and what makes you a spammer?
“A commonly accepted definition of spam,” explains Mr. Prokosch, “is unsolicited bulk email. That means if someone did not say they want email from you [overall or on a specific topic], then they will see any mass email you send them as spam.”
What are the direct consequences of being branded a spammer?
Remember the statistic above that nearly 50 percent of interviewees said that they would “boycott” companies and organizations sending them unsolicited email? Additionally, most anti-spam software is supported by Internet activists who collect the spam messages they receive and then send them automatically be tagged as spam.
“At best, your messages will end up in the spam folder of the person sending the message for your organization,” cautions Mr. Prokosch. “At worst, your organization will be blacklisted, causing even routine messages to ‘bounce.’ If that happens several times, your organization could be disconnected from the internet by your Internet service provider (ISP), your online host.
“Depending on your organization’s set-up, your staff won’t be able to send email or browse the Web, or the public won’t be able to view your site. This is rare for your nonprofits, but it can happen.”
So, what do you need to do to be a responsible emailer, avoiding penalties and the bad faith of your current and prospective constituents?