ORGANIZING AND OUTREACH: ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATIONS
EMAIL, WEBSITES, AND DATABASES
Used properly, email and websites can be powerful tools for outreach and advocacy. With a few simple keystrokes, you reach thousands of people,
almost instantaneously. Virtually all of the written materials that your local group produces can be adapted for electronic distribution via email
and/or a website.
PREPARING EFFECTIVE EMAIL ALERTS
When planning to develop an online presence or an electronic networking strategy, here are some important issues to consider:
*Start with a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish and whom you want to reach. Is your constituency online?
If not, are you trying to expand your base of support?
*Make sure you have the resources to maintain an online presence, and determine who will be responsible for answering email.
Once you create a website or launch an email newsletter or discussion list, who will manage it?
(Many free online programs are available to assist activists with creating their own websites.
One site, BIG WILDLIFE,
is an easy-to-use web design page that Big Wildlife used to create this very site.
While Weebly has some limitations, it is a great resource for those with no web design experience.)
*Collect email addresses from your members, supporters and volunteers, the media, your contacts in lawmakers' offices, your donors,
and anyone else with whom you communicate regularly. Include a space for email addresses in your membership sign-up forms,
newsletter subscription forms, and fundraising reply cards.
*If your community group has a website where visitors can sign up to volunteer, to subscribe to a newsletter or action alert,
or to donate money, be sure to ask for an email address as well as other contact information.
*If your group has a table at a conference, rally, or other event, include space for an email address on your sign-up sheet.
*Use email to communicate with media and with staff consultants in legislative offices.
*Establish and promote an email list. These lists, which can be created on software or via websites,
allow you to send an email to a large number of individuals and to maintain an email contact database.
Email lists can be used to alert grassroots activists about meetings, to distribute action alerts, or to host discussions.
Before the Internet was widely used, activists and advocacy organizations distributed action alerts by mail and fax.
Preparing an email action alert is a similar process. But since email has the potential to reach a significantly larger audience,
there are some special considerations. Here's a simple checklist to use when preparing action alerts for electronic distribution:
*Keep the text short and focused. It may be tempting to provide a detailed analysis,
but if your goal is to motivate people to action, get right to the point.
*Write a subject line that's compelling or provocative. Keep in mind that the subject line is the first thing the recipient will see.
The more compelling you make it, the more likely it is that the message is going to be read.
*Identify yourself. Remember to include all your contact information: phone, address, fax, email, URL if you have a website.
You'll have far more credibility — and will probably get better results — if you clearly identify yourself, your group, and your cause.
*Include contact information for decision-makers. You'll get better results if you include the telephone,
fax, and postal address of the decision-makers you are asking people to contact. Research indicates emailed messages to corporations
and public officials are less effective than other forms of communication. Whenever possible, urge activists to mail a letter
or send a fax instead of or in addition to email.
*Compile and maintain a list of the newsgroups and email lists you post to. Once you've identified the best places to post your alerts,
keep the addresses on hand for future use. If your email allows you to set up individual mailboxes, create one for these addresses
so you can send them in a single message. Use the "Bcc" field if mailing to multiple addresses, to protect recipients' privacy.
(Eudora is an excellent program to help you manage email lists. In addition, Filemaker Pro is one of the best databases
available for keeping track of your grassroots and media contacts).
*Send a test message before sending out alerts. Always send a copy of the alert to yourself or to a colleague before distributing it.
Check the format to make sure there are no broken lines or other problems. Check any URLs that you include in the alert
to make sure they work properly.
*Many websites offer detailed technical information about effective use of the Internet.
A particularly useful resource is "The Virtual Activist 2.0," an online guide produced by NetAction (www.netaction.org).