Don't put opt-in or subscribe fields in your forms

Political problems

Despite the activist roots of the Internet, we have been conditioned by capitalism to expect every Internet form asking for an email address to be accompanied by a opt in check box asking for permission to send to the email address. We all know why - if you buy a pair of shoes on the Internet and forget to opt out you are guaranteed to be inundated with daily emails about sneakers.

However, we aren't selling shoes. And, if we asked permssion to organize everyone prior to knocking on a door, dialing a phone number or approaching someone on a sidewalk, we would never be successful.

As organizers, everytime someone fills out a form, whether it's a donation, a petition, or an event registration, we need to communicate with them by email in order to do our organizing work.

We also need to give them the opportunity to opt out, but that can happen via an unsubscribe link in every email we send.

Practical Problems

In addition to the political problems of offering an opt-in check box, there are significant logistical problems as well.

Powerbase already has built-in tools to skip contacts that have opted out through the official channels. For review, those are:

  1. Unsubscribe from a group: If you send an email to a group and include an unsubscribe link (the default) and someone follows that link they will be removed from this group automatically. The next time you send to the group, they will not receive the message.
  2. Opt out: If you send an email and include an opt-out link link and someone follow that link, their contact will be coded as "opt out of bulk email" and they will be automatically excluded from all email messages sent via the Mailings -> New Mailing feature. They will still get contribution receipts, email reminders, event confirmations, petition signing confirmations and you can create an email activity.
  3. No email: You can also edit a contact's communications preference and check "No Email" - that works exactly like "Opt Out" except you will no longer be able to send them an email via an activity.

The nice part about these built-in tools is that they are automatic. You don't have to do anything and you can rest easy that nobody will get an email messages that they have opted out of.

But... what happens when you introduce your own custom "Opt In" field on one of your forms? Now, every group you send email to has to be modified to ensure it only includes people who have filled in the opt-in field.

Furthermore, everytime someone gives you their contact info by email or in person and asks to be added to your mailing list, you have to enter the details and remember to check this box. That goes for you, as well as all your colleagues and volunteers who do data entry.

But what about selecting which newsletter they want? Surely that's a good idea?

Not necessarily. In some cases, when you have very distinct programs that truly do not interact with other, you may want to ensure people who sign up for one list don't get email messages from another.

However, in most organizing contexts, our goal is integration. Someone might signup via one program, but be interested in the others.

When you invite people to choose the newsletter to sign up for, you are volunarily tying your organizers' hands and creating silos in your organization.

Is there a better way?

Ideally, we have a limited number of well-defined communication groups. For example, you might have:

  • Action Alerts: weekly messages urging people to take action
  • Newsletter: a monthly regular email summarizing your organization's activities
  • Member Info: an occasional message with critical information for your members

We want to be strategic here. The Member Info group is a smart group limited to your members in good standing. That's pretty straight forward. You keep those messages to a minimum and you want to discourage anyone from unsubscribing.

However, you really want everyone to get the Action Alerts and the Newsletter. And, there is really no harm in sending those to everyone who is in your database with an email address.

So, you can initiate two groups with that exact search: everyone with the '@' character in the email field. If you make it a smart group, then everytime someone is added to your database with an email address, they are automatically added to both the Action Alerts group and the Newsletter group. You don't have to remember to add any special fields, you don't have to check off a box when doing data entry - it's automatic.

And, as long as you are sending each email message with an unsubscribe link, people can easily unsubscribe from one, or the other, or both. This distinction is important - since many people are going to want to remove themselves from a weekly action alert email, but they may enjoy getting the less frequent Newsletter email. By using distcintive templates for each, you can help your subscribers understand the difference, and why unsubscribing from one will not mean they are removed from the other.

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