While many ministries have been slow to adopt modern communications technology, Internet broadcast e-mail can be a low cost and effective way to keep in touch with donors and friends. More than 1 billion e-mail messages are sent each day. E-mail is replacing the fax machine in most business communication applications except those that require a physical signature. (And a standard for electronic signatures is being codified!)
How can your center use e-mail? There are several natural ways in which to appropriate this technology. Of course, the first step is to try to collect e-mail addresses from as many people as you know. Noting whether they are friend, supporter, or client will allow you to send different messages to different groups. Some ministries have started "Rapid Action Networks" as a means of distributing prayer and support requests during emergencies. This is a wonderful way to get out information about needs between newsletters or events. The key is to not use e-mail addresses collected this way UNLESS IT IS A TRUE EMERGENCY. We've all heard of spam — being deluged with unwanted or unrequested e-mail messages — but what we're talking about is not this type of communication. Centers can use e-mail once a month without offending supporters. Broadcast e-mails like the one shown here contain graphics, links, and a short article. Each e-mail contains a link to allow for "opting out" of the mailings. Your web site can be one of the collection vehicles as you place a button on your home page encouraging people to sign up for this type of communication. If you do your own broadcast e-mail, the cost is only the time you spend and the cost of the Internet connection, which you may already have. Setting up mailing lists is easy with programs such as Entourage, Netscape, and the Apple e-mail program. If your list is long, there are services that can provide mail out and list maintenance services to you (If you'd like to learn about one that we recommend, give us a call at 1-610-372-1111.)
Principles of Design: What's the big idea? What is the main thought you want to present in the e-mail? Keep the message brief. People get a lot of e-mail. Make sure your message is a quick read. Always include an opt-in, opt-out capability in the mailing so people can communicate their choices. Short is better than long. Color is better than black and white. Include short descriptions of additional information and links for switching to that sight. Use standard, simple type faces like Arial and Times New Roman to make sure your message appears the same as it will go to many different computer systems. While there will be some of your audience that will not touch a computer and you will have to use paper and the mail to contact them, many are replacing the sheet of paper with the infinite scroll of the Internet browser and e-mail reader. May the Lord give you a vision to reach people where they are about what you need.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jerry Thacker, B.A., M.A., is president of Right Ideas, Inc., and Publisher of At the Center. He can be reached at (800) 588-7744 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.