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few good email newsletter tools
intends to provide rigorous reviews of many different kinds of nonprofit
software. However, it will take some time to create all these detailed
reviews. Our A Few Good Tools series
provides some thoughts in the meantime by recommending software
that is used and liked by the Idealware community. They may not
be the very best of their kind, but they have worked well for us.
Perhaps they will also work for you.
So youíre looking
for a way to send out email in bulk. Youíve thought through your
strategy (useful, well written information to a list of people who
are eager to get it, right?) and identified your needs. Maybe you
want to send fancy eNewsletters, or maybe just text action alerts.
Perhaps youíre hoping for a tool that can send emails to tens of
thousands of people, or perhaps just a few hundred. Maybe you need
something that can integrate with your offline database, customize
the content for large donors, send emails to tailored segments of
your list, or allow custom eNewsletter templates.
your precise needs, you no doubt are hoping for a tool that is reliable,
affordable, and easy to use. We asked seven nonprofit technology
professionals what tools have worked well for them. We then combined
their thoughts with some of the collective wisdom of various listserves
and forums to come up with a set of solid tools that might work
You Already Have
likely that you can send email newsletters with the software you
already own. While it wonít provide sophisticated reports or effectively
deliver thousands of emails, this might be a practical choice for
a small list.
The tools listed
below send email from your own domain and email server. When using
any tool like this, you need to be concerned that your emails will
be trapped by Spam filters and never make it to your subscribers.
Organizations that send millions of emails (like the hosted email
companies listed below) work carefully with ISPs (such as AOL and
Yahoo) to ensure their email is delivered. You canít easily do this
as an individual organization.
If you send
out a lot of emails, some people are likely to complain that your
emails are spam, regardless of how careful you are. If this happens,
all your emails could be labeled as spam, or your domain could even
be blacklisted. If you are blacklisted, major ISPs will refuse to
deliver any email from you, including your organization's day-to-day
email. If you are only sending out a thousand or two thousand emails
a month, you probably donít need to be concerned, but at larger
volumes, it is well worth looking into other options.
(or other email browsers):
Outlook and other standard email browsers will certainly work
to send a couple dozen emails, even ones with complex formatting
and images. However, this method has some substantial disadvantages.
First, putting lots of email addresses into the BCC field (the
standard procedure for emailing to a large anonymous group) may
cause your email to be flagged as spam. Second, youíll have to
manually manage your list. There's a lot of effort involved in
adding new subscribers, deleting those who request to be removed,
and monitoring emails that are returned. Remember that you are
legally responsible for removing those people who request it.
(or other email list tools offered by your web host): If
you are hosting your website with a commercial shared hosting
service, there is a good chance that your hosting package already
includes Mailman for free. Check your website control panel. This
email list tool will allow you to post a plain text or graphic
message to a large distribution list by sending the message to
a specific email address. Itís not the easiest tool to use, and
doesnít easily support subscriptions through a website, tracking
how many opened an email or clicked on a link, or exporting your
List Management Tools
There are three
online tools that allow you send emails to a list for free: Google
Yahoo Groups (http://groups.yahoo.com/),
and Topicaís free service (http://lists.topica.com/).
These three tools are very similar to each other: they allow you
to create a list with an unlimited number of people and send plain
text emails to that list. People can subscribe or unsubscribe by
sending an email to a particular address. All three show substantial
advertisements at the top of the email messages you send, and none
allow you to track how many opened an email or clicked on a link.
The emails are sent off the servicesí server, so the service will
handle some of the issues around deliverability and blacklisting.
of the most common ways to send email newsletters is to use one
of the hosted services that are set up to handle precisely this
function. There are hundreds of these tools that are used both by
nonprofits and businesses.
tools typically allow you to manage your list, create emails, and
view reports through a web-based interface. Most will allow you
to send formatted emails; some provide tools to let you easily format
them. You can generally integrate them into your website so that
you can take subscriptions online, and the tools will automatically
manage unsubscribe requests and delete email addresses that are
no longer valid. Reports allow you to see how many opened a particular
eNewsletter and how many clicked on a link.
minimize the possibility of being blacklisted as a spammer. In addition,
many of the vendors proactively manage relationships with ISPs to
prevent spam filter problems.
Email Now (www.groundspring.org):
A good basic service, with solid deliverability and reports. If
you want to send formatted newsletters, you must create them in
a different tool and paste the HTML in. At $19.95/ month for 10,000
emails and $1 or less for every 1000 thereafter, Groundspring
is affordably priced even for small lists, and becomes a tremendous
deal for bigger ones. Groundspring is a nonprofit itself and is
committed to the nonprofit sector.
Embers NPOGroups (www.electricembers.net):
NPOGroups has perhaps more in common with tools like
Yahoo Groups than the other services in this section Ė it provides
a similar service without the advertising and a bit more control
over the list. It doesnít easily support HTML formatting. It is
priced on a sliding scale, starting at $10/month for 2500 subscribers,
and $5 per extra 5000.
GraphicMail offers 10,000 emails (in total) free to nonprofits
(notable branding for GraphicMail is included in your emails in
this free version; the branding can be removed for $20/year).
Additional emails are about half a cent per email. The tool has
solid editing and reporting tools, including a HTML editor that
allows you to create your own templates.
Emma is a good solution for those who want to send good
looking formatted emails without messing around with HTML. You
can install a custom template (designed by you, a consultant,
or by Emma themselves) and then easily change the text and images
for each newsletter. It has solid reporting tools. Itís $35/month
for up to 1000 emails, $45/month for up to 2500, and so on through
a number of levels, reaching $600/month for 100,000 emails.
Intended for web designers who can build their own HTML emails,
CampaignMonitor doesnít provide any template options, but offers
good custom fields and reporting functionality as well as solid
deliverability. At $5 per email campaign, plus $0.01 per email,
the service is very affordable for small lists but probably overpriced
for large ones.
In addition to its well known free service, Topica offers
a solid paid option. The tool offers sophisticated website integration,
lots of custom fields, and powerful list segmentation tools as
well as the standard newsletter template and report functions.
Itís $50/month for up to 5000 subscribers (ask about an additional
nonprofit discount), but goes up quickly from there: the next
level is $250/month for up to 25,000 subscribers.
A commonly used tool in both the business and nonprofit
worlds, ConstantContact provides solid templates, segmenting,
and reporting features. The pricing scheme is friendly to small
lists: $15/month for under 500 subscribers, $30/month for under
2500, and so on up to $150/month for up to 25,000 subscribers.
However, several people mentioned trouble with spam filters when
DemocracyInAction (DIA) offers a lot of flexibility to set your
email template and website forms just the way you want them, and
includes an extensive developerís API. Unfortunately, getting
started is not as easy as with most of these other hosted tools,
so youíll want someone with HTML skills on hand. DIA is on the
expensive side for small lists, charging $50/month for up to 2500
subscribers, but a great deal for large lists at $100/month for
up to 50,000 subscribers.
the Technically Inclined
your staff includes someone with skill in PHP, itís worth considering
PHPList. PHPList is a free open source email application
with solid subscriber management and HTML email creation tools,
although itís light on reports. It is generally similar to the basic
hosted tools listed above, but needs to be installed onto your web
server. It can be installed onto most shared hosts without problem.
If youíre already
running an open source content management system such as Plone,
Drupal, or CivicSpace, donít overlook
the possibility of using these tools to manage your email newsletters.
Many open source CMSs include basic email list management tools
as part of the package.
that all of these tools send emails through your own email server,
so the caveats about sending eNewsletters through Outlook or Mailman
apply here as well: you will need to consider whether youíll be
able to manage your relationships with ISPs in order to keep your
emails out of subscribersí spam filters, and to keep yourself from
Advanced Internet Strategies
you interact with your constituents primarily by email, the tools
listed above may work well. But if you are also tracking their actions,
donations, or what they look at on your website, you may want to
consider tools that can manage all of these activities. There are
a number of online integrated tools that handle a broad swath of
internet features. GetActive has a particular focus
on email campaigns. Convio, Kintera,
eTapesty, and LocalVoice are integrated
tools that might also be of interest.
to the nonprofit technology professionals who offered recommendations,
advice, and otherwise helped with this article:
was edited by Idealware; any errors or omissions are Idealwareís