“I’m always gathering email addresses any way I can. Anytime someone forwards a joke or an email to me and includes a bunch of other email addresses, I add all of them to the email marketing list for our organization.”
That was the story from a respected rural nonprofit leader.
She said that even though her rural town has fewer than 10,000 population, she has over 100,000 names on her email list now. And she encouraged everyone to do the same, adding anyone they could find an address for. If they don’t like it, they can unsubscribe.
What could possibly be wrong with that?
You risk violating US or Canadian law
If you add anyone this way who resides in Canada, you have just violated Canadian law. The law applies to both businesses and nonprofits, according to the Government of Canada. You must have permission to send emails promoting a product or service people pay you money for, especially if sent to non-members or others you do not have an existing relationship with.
If you add anyone this way who resides in the US and who has previously asked you to unsubscribe, you have just violated US law. Nonprofits and businesses must comply with the law any time you promote a product or service people pay money to you for especially if sent to non-members or others who did not specifically ask to be on your list, according to the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
I didn’t check EU or UK law, but I suspect it’s even more strict.
You risk getting all your messages filtered out as SPAM
When you send email to people who didn’t specifically ask for it, they are more likely to flag your emails as spam. That cuts down on your future “deliverability.” The more you use bad tactics like this, the more you hurt your own ability to get email through to people, not just to the people who flagged your message as spam, but also to everyone you try to send email to.
All interactions with your emails are tracked by many different services, mostly unknown to you. ISPs and spamcop organizations keep that data and use it to evaluate all future emails from your address and decide whether to automatically delete all your emails rather than deliver them. And those organizations share data with each other, meaning your bad reputation can haunt you all across the internet.
You risk irritating people you don’t even know
If my first experience with you is being added to an email list that I never asked to join, I’m likely to think negatively about your entire organization. I’m probably not the only one.
You risk violating your email company’s rules
If you are sending email through a professional service such as MailChimp, Constant Contact, or Emma and you use these bad tactics, you are risking violating their terms of service. They will not like that. They are, in fact, required to investigate complaints and enforce industry standards. If they receive enough complaints, they may even suspend your account entirely.
What you should do to gather email addresses
Check with your email service for their own best practices. They all provide clear explanations of what is and is not allowed.
If you are sending emails in bulk using your own email account without a service provider, follow these guidelines from the well-respected MailChimp email service:
What if you send a one-time email?
Could you send an invitation to join your list to those email addresses you collected? I think that would be smarter than just adding them to your list, but do check with your email provider.
Bottom Line: Just get permission
Clearly ask for and receive permission before you send emails to people. It’s in your own best interest.
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.