Does it help organizations to have me on their mailing lists?
December 17, 2016 7:35 AM   Subscribe

Like many people, I have stepped up my charitable donations and political letter writing and petition signing in recent weeks. This has, of course, resulted in a trillion emails. My inbox is out of control and I would like to unsubscribe to some of the lists, but hesitate because they're all for worthy causes. Hence, my question: Does it benefit a nonprofit or politician in any way to have me on their mailing list, or should I unsubscribe for the sake of my sanity because it makes no difference either way?

Assume that I am aware of what all the organizations are and that I will not forget them if I want to donate again. Also assume that I am happy to sign petitions if they come my way but am a little skeptical about their efficacy, particularly if something comes every single day (a la Move On or DCCC).

Any input appreciated, especially if you work in politics or the nonprofit world. Thanks for helping me overthink this plate of beans!
posted by ferret branca to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
[This is an answer from an anonymous commenter.]
NFP-er here. I'm familiar with a number of organizations that use, among other things, the number of mailing list subscribers and subscriber growth as key performance indicators which have a meaningful effect on securing funding. For this reason, I encourage people to stay subscribed unless they really don't like what we're sending out.

In my experience, this is particularly important when it's a newsletter from a part of an NFP that isn't directly related to program delivery (e.g. advocacy research, KMb). Although the work that people in these departments do is valuable, in NFP-land we have a tendency to make staff in ancillary areas fight a bit too hard for their continued existence. Often times, subscriber headcounts are the best tool these departments have at their disposal.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:27 AM on December 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

I second what the anonymous commentator says. My NPO is nonlobbying organization, but grant sources as well as the institutions we work with/work to reform look to our subscriber base as a metric of our reach/importance/value. We've never been asked how many people open our email correspondence (well, I get asked by my boss and my board but not by funders or people trying to figure out if I am important enough to listen to), but we are asked for number of members (donors and subscribers as separate entities) from time to time.

I'd suggest a straight to archive filter or a separate email for your donations, if you can.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:35 AM on December 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I also work for nonprofits and handle marketing. I disagree with the above comments. You should unsubscribe if you do not like the frequency or content. It's the only way to let companies know that it is NOT okay to send daily emails for months, or worse, multiple emails a day. I use our unsubscribe numbers as a tool to stop my bosses from demanding that we send frivolous blasts. "Every time you send an email, we get X% unsubs. Are you sure you want to send this?" As a result, the emails we do send are extraordinarily effective.
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:40 AM on December 17, 2016 [22 favorites]

Oh, and we do get asked about read and open rates by the board. These are business people who know plenty about modern marketing and what matters. Some have marketing backgrounds.
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:42 AM on December 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

My experience with working with several charities is that the more intelligent ones use viable Internet means in order to track demographics of actual and potential donors, so they can target and adjust campaigns more effectively (probably similar or identical to political parties who want your vote/cash, except they just want your cash). Without hopefully sounding too cynical, the primary objective of many charities is to gain enough income to cover their costs, and these include salaries, so they can keep going. Their secondary objective is to do the thing they claim to do.

From a modern world sanity point of view, the way I cope with this is to have separate, and well-partitioned, email addresses and accounts. By partitioned I mean on different services e.g. outlook, yahoo, gmail, my regular ISP, with different passwords, and not using each others email addresses as secondary security e.g. "Forgotten password email reminder". If there's a hacking scandal involving one - note I mentioned yahoo there - then it doesn't affect the others.

Doing this means that the long-term problems with the more shifty charities selling or compromising your email address are limited. It also means that, if you're having a low day, then opening your primary inbox won't result in you seeing appeals to donate to save puppies/kittens/children/pandas from imminent danger. Even if you do have your emails partitioned, then from your own time/state of mind it is healthy to unsubscribe, and even block, charities if you need to. Zero reason to feel bad or guilty (and if a charity deliberately makes you feel this way, it's a stronger case to block or drop them).

Again, the large majority do not care about you at all as a person; you are a source of income and a data point for their algorithms, and that is it - nothing more.
posted by Wordshore at 9:07 AM on December 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I do a mailing list for a non-profit. We like numbers of recipients but our people are not savvy enough to count opens or that sort of thing. From an inbox perspective you could filter these all into a folder (and skip the inbox entirely) called GOODCAUSES and otherwise leave them alone until you feel like donating or checking in.
posted by jessamyn at 9:07 AM on December 17, 2016

Thanks, everyone! I'm going to incorporate several of your suggestions. I've made a new account for the emails that I still want to receive but not look at every day, and have unsubscribed from a couple of the most egregious multi-email-a-day operators.
posted by ferret branca at 10:18 AM on December 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Another NFP-er here. Depending on how many organisations are emailing you, instead of just unsubscribing, if you have the time how about contacting them to adjust the frequency / type of communications you receive?

My organisation can tailor right down to a very granular level exactly which kinds of information you want to receive, and via which channel (eg email, phone, letter, sms).

Another aspect to this issue is that (in Australia at least) privacy laws dictate that we cannot share your personal information outside the organisation without your permission, but if you have opted in for this, then there's a benefit from being able to share or swap contact lists with other NFPs - one NFP's casual donor might become the other NFP's regular subscribed donor. This is quite widely done, and a strong source of new supporters (if you support charity A there's a good chance you may also help like-minded charity B).

So by staying on the contact list (and agreeing to list swapping) you can benefit the NFP by giving slightly more bargaining power when organising these kinds of trades.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:48 PM on December 17, 2016

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