If you’re paying for 50,000 subscribers on your broadcast email tool, why not use them all? Building your list of email subscribers is easier said than done, and with the ever looming temptation of buying a list hanging overhead, it can be difficult to do it on your own. Even if you are pushing out great content, some people just can’t be pleased, and will unsubscribe faster than you can say “spam.” In our latest session in The Email Fundraiser’s Toolkit, we talked about the touchy subject of email list-building and how you can make it work for your organization.

We have a list of people who have participated in our program either as a program volunteer or participant. We haven’t emailed them in the past, can we send them emails?

The short answer is yes, it is OK to add past program participants and volunteers to your email list. But make sure you are smart about it!

If you have had their emails for a while, make sure to add them in a strategic way. Consider sending a special email to the list explaining where you got their email from and that you’d like to add them to your email list. Remember to make the case for why they should be on your list–explain the value. Importantly, make sure to offer either an opt-in or opt-out option so that they have some control over their involvement. This email will act both as an explanation as to why they are suddenly getting email from your organization and offer a choice for inclusion.

Do you have any data on response for opt-in vs. opt-out (e.g. are the addresses gathered through an opt-out only process less likely to give)?

We talked about this in depth in class, but I wanted to see fi we could locate specific data. Here are two interesting articles on the topic:

A great contact for us is special education teachers within the school districts. I can find their email addresses online, but from what you’ve said today, I would be spamming them if I contacted them via email. What is your suggestion for contacting them? Or can I contact them initially via email and then ask them to opt in/opt out?

You are right, if you pull names of individuals from the web and email them on mass without any relationship, no matter how much you think they should care about what you have to say, you are spamming them. Emailing them individually, however, is in bounds. You could send a personal email to each person with an introduction and an invitation to join your list.

For this particular group, consider if there is an association who might be able to help. Potentially you could connect with a professional network of special educators (http://www.naset.org/ or http://www.cec.sped.org/)? What about the school union or state education department? Using a partner introduction might be an interesting approach to list building for this area.

What are some good examples of eNewsletters?

I love these two newsletters from Philadelphia arts organizations: The Eastern State Penitentiary (http://www.easternstate.org) and the Headlong Dance Theater (http://headlong.org/contact/). ESP provides a well thought out, meaty eNews in a more traditional format. Headlong offers a completely different, out-of-the-box feel that directly reflects the values of the organization. Also look at the examples in these articles: