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The Golden Rule and Opt-in Marketing

November 23, 2010

Opt-in MarketingYikes, it’s been a long time since our last post. As I was reflecting on this earlier today and trying to decide how best to resume ‘our thought’, I noticed out of the corner of my eye one of those mail-in product registration cards that promise free goodies or in this case $30 in future purchases for completing and returning the card.

As a tool for capturing business leads, one could argue either way as to the effectiveness of this approach, not to mention the relative quality of information received from or the general value to the consumer. But that’s not the point of this post. In fact, by now you’re probably asking yourself what product registration cards have to do with the marketing or fundraising of NPOs. Possibly more that you realize.

Besides check boxes, blank fields and the ubiquitous ‘No Postage Necessary’ imprint, the one thing these cards always include is a check box relating to the recipient’s wish to receive information and ‘special offers’. This is not unlike the scenario we often receive inquiries about from our clients who ask whether it’s advisable to leverage a particularly popular event invitation to help build their mailing list.

In many cases, while inviting you to respond to or register for some activity, businesses will state their case for you to also join their mailing list and will give you the opportunity to opt in. This typically takes the form of asking you to check a box next to a line that clearly states something like “yes, I would like to receive information from you in the future”. This would be considered a form of opt-in marketing.

In other cases, businesses will force you to check the box if you don’t want to receive information. This is considered opt-out because you’re effectively opting in if you do not check the box. Generally speaking, the goal here is to get people to inadvertently join a mailing list because they didn’t see, were in too much of a hurry to or forgot to check the box. I’ve heard all the arguments for doing this, and yes, even from nonprofits. Regardless of how cleverly one argues the case for opt-out, it’s always better to ask someone for their explicit permission than to assume they want to be on your list.

Ultimately, what this comes down to is the golden rule and treating others as you want to be treated. Opt-out is not illegal (in the US) and opt-in is not required under CAN-SPAM. Legitimate email service providers will require that their clients use opt-in, but many organizations we work with also conduct their own email campaigns. Thus making it easy to recruit new subscribers in any way they choose.

Fundraising and marketing are about relationships first. Tricking someone into a relationship may satisfy short-term metrics for reach, but will ultimately turn more people away from your organization and hinder your ability to begin developing a relationship with your audience and prospective donors.

As for the product registration card I referenced earlier, it employed a particularly annoying tactic. Technically speaking, it was opt-in, but I’ll list it here for you to decide for yourself how you would respond:

[ ] Please check this box to confirm that you are 14 years or older
and would like to receive information and special offers from X.

As it turns out, we really want the $30 in coupons in exchange for some of our profile information, but do you think we gave them our primary email address? Nope, they got the one we reserve for junk mail. I know… shame on us. But isn’t that the kind of relationship they asked for?

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