OverviewDo’s and don’ts
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Last edited: January 03, 2012

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E-mail has become a simple, accessible and much-used tool in advocacy campaigns, e.g. for letter-writing and petitions. The campaign message can be sent directly to the persons that need to be contacted, from any computer, at any time. People can join the campaign quickly and easily by passing on the message to others. E-mails can be used to get a response from people and start virtual conversations. They can also be used to send out bulletins or action alerts to campaign supporters informing them of specific events taking place, or urging them to take urgent specific action (write to a newspaper, call a public official’s office, etc). Emails disseminated through an email subscriber list are also good ways of sharing regular information like newsletters or bulletins.

Basic rules for e-mail in campaigns

  • Craft campaign e-mail messages as carefully as printed campaign letters. If they are well-designed and compelling, they are likely to be forwarded to other readers, potentially reaching a much larger audience than print materials.
  • Include deadlines, i.e. precise dates, on urgent alerts so that people do not continue passing on the message beyond the required date.
  • Use simple text formats – i.e., do not include images or animations – unless a large portion of the target audience has fast internet connections. If connection speed varies widely among different segments of the audience, choose an internet format that enables viewers to choose options.
  • Include hyper-links to the campaign website and additional sources of information. Evaluations of e-campaigns suggest that readers frequently use these links (Advocacy Online, 2009. E-Campaigning Ideas).
  • Be aware of e-mail filtering systems, often known as ‘firewalls’, which could block a message if it contains certain key-words (e.g. “sexual”, “rape”) that activate the filter. If your message is blocked, send another message that does not contain such key-words to inform recipients of the website/link where they can retrieve the necessary information. In addition, many email systems today, particularly free, internet-based ones such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, contain filters which may designate your message as ‘spam’ (junk mail) if it contains certain key-words, or looks like a suspicious, commercial advertisement. The best way to avoid this is to keep email messages short, succinct and free of typos; also avoid sending messages to too many people at once (break up your list into smaller chunks), since this can sometimes be an indicator of ‘spam’ for some filter systems.
  • Use e-mail strategically and sparingly to avoid annoying the audience.
  • Protect the privacy of e-mail recipients by using the “BCC” field in the message header, instead of the “TO” or “CC” field. The “BCC” function leaves recipients’ e-mail addresses undisclosed, while the “TO” and “CC” fields will show every email address you have entered.
  • Where appropriate, encourage forwarding to friends and colleagues to boost numbers of recipients.
  • Newsgroups and list servers, which can be created free of charge via web-mail providers such as Yahoo or Google, allow for email conversations as a group, and archiving mails on the web. Providers’ websites include detailed guidance on setting up newsgroups.
  • Monitor your in-box daily for urgent feed-back and queries related to your mails and respond swiftly.
  • Provide an opt-out function for those who want to be removed from the list and remove them swiftly.
  • Collect e-mail addresses and update them regularly, e.g. by removing addresses of people who ask not to be contacted, or addresses that do not work anymore.