I feel like I’ve really put my foot into yet another soggy area, e-communications. The laws of unintended entanglements are in full swing.
A few years ago we noticed that we were having trouble getting our emails through spam filters. We wanted to use HTML email because it is prettier and people enjoy reading it more—and they seem to respond better. Creating HTML email upped our spam scores with many ISPs, though, and of course, creating lots of HTML emails (this is not the place for my rant on what “HTML email” means, code-wise) was not how we wanted our web developer to spend time.
We migrated from one vendor to another, and right now, when we send out e-letters, we use a service called Constant Contact. The service is, indeed, admirable and reliable in some regards. They made it relatively easy for us to set up templates so that regular staff can put together the e-letters and e-blasts without relying on our developer. But, that just scratched the surface of what it turned out we needed.
First, Constant Contact seems to assume that we have one e-letter. Oops, we have several. So, when you unsubscribe from one, it shouldn’t mean that you are asking us not to contact you at all—it could very well mean, “I’m tired of hearing about your educational program, but I love your regular e-letter”. This is not necessarily true in Constant Contact-land, so we probably have considerably more churn than our subscribers intended.
To ensure that we are not confused with spammers, we go to great lengths to subscribe only people who ask to be subscribed. We then have to ask them to confirm. And we have to accept that lots of people never get, see, or respond to those confirmations. This also means that it is usually useless for us to subscribe someone manually—if they can’t even figure out how to fill in the “send me your e-letter” form, what are the odds that they’ll see the confirmation message and respond appropriately? (I have mixed feelings about this. We all had to learn how to deal with snail mail. We’ve all had to learn how to fill out traditional forms. We’ve all had to learn how to confirm that those do-gooder telemarketers claiming to represent political or charitable organizations that matter to us actually represent such organizations. We don’t give out social security numbers over the phone (most of us). Why would we wring our hands because some people draw a line and just aren’t going to figure out email?)
But what I really wanted to talk about is how to manage these e-communications. In theory, what we need is one database with everyone’s email address, noting what types of communications people want (and for our development folks, to which types of emails specific people respond so that we don’t send email to people who aren’t interested in that subject or cause). Nobody seems to be doing this well. Our current CRM company (DonorPerfect) is pretty miserable at managing this, and we’d basically have to write an interface for subscribers and get it to talk to DP on our own. Then, of course, we’d have to export the list each time we wanted to send a mailing. We’ve looked at tools like Kintera (the things we’ve heard about Kintera support would blister your ears) and Convio (I have yet to get a Convio user email me and admit to same—whether in love with the tool or hating the tool). Maybe they work. But I’d hate to throw out our existing CRM system so that I could experiment and find out. I’m sure there is a way of figuring this out. And I’m especially not going to let them manage our website after we have finally gotten Drupal, a good, open source CMS, working for us (and even moreso after looking at Convio- and Kintera-generated websites with their wonky spider-unfriendly URLs and horrid HTML).
I gotta figure this out because it is useless that I cannot communicate with people interested in our organization in ways that work with what interests them, especially in a time when I want them to be giving us money while financial worlds are melting down around us.
Who’s found something that works? that fits their organization’s needs? What are you doing? What makes it work for you?