IT intelligence: email addresses

Sue Fidler explains the opportunities that come from email addresses.

An easy way to collect the names of people who want to hear from you is from their emails. Every charity, no matter how small, should be building up email lists and sending out regular email newsletters. It can cost as little as £50 to set up an account with an email service provider and £10 a month to send out emails.

Asking for email addresses on all supporter communications is obvious, and adding the request to donation forms, campaign forms and all web-based sign-ups should be second nature. These addresses are added to the central database because you have some other contact with the supporter, but you must ask for a data-protection opt-in when receiving emails.

Capturing email addresses through an 'e-news' sign-up form on your website is even easier. As long as it is obvious people are signing up for e-news and you stick to just sending e-news, you don't even need an opt-in.

It's more difficult to decide what to ask for. First name, surname and email address are the usual minimum, and surveys and tests show that the number of people who sign up will significantly decrease if you ask for other contact information.

Some organisations are unwilling to add supporters to the database if they have only names and email addresses. They should recognise that emails can be great marketing tools that allow enquirers to have a gentle and non-aggressive relationship with a charity. If they decide to donate, shop or campaign, they will naturally complete more detailed forms. So either add them to the database using the email address as a matching field, or leave them off until they participate in a more engaged way. With an email service provider system, the email-only people can live in address books until their postal addresses are needed.

- Sue Fidler is an independent charity ICT and internet consultant.

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