I have a friend who has added me to her personal email list on which she promotes the activities of her worthy local nonprofit organization. Mind you, she isn’t a volunteer, she is the executive director. The frequency of her email hasn’t been burdensome, however if I didn’t know her, I would take steps to remove myself from her list. (I’m already on a number of professional and personal lists, already receive too much email each day, bla bla bla.) Unfortunately, my friend is not following the guidelines of the CAN-SPAM Act, so I can’t opt out without writing to her and asking directly, which feels a bit uncomfortable because I do appreciate the social and professional relationship I have with her. Another option would be to mark her email as junk/spam so that my email client does the filtering, but then I would miss the occasional non-nonprofit social conversation. That is what I do when I receive unsolicited email (spam) from strangers. Today I reviewed the CAN-SPAM act of 2003. The law was instituted to cut down on unwanted and misleading email, however my main interest today was to learn how this law applies to NONPROFIT organizations. According to this CAN-SPAM Act Rules for Nonprofits article by Joanne Fritz:
“Most of the rules that apply to commercial emails apply as well to nonprofits, especially if your organization sells merchandise or delivers commercial offers from corporate sponsors to your donors or members. Even if you do not fall into that category, CAN-SPAM rules comprise best practices for email for any organization.”
The important point for nonprofits is that the CAN-SPAM Act provides a guideline for email best practices, even if the nonprofit doesn’t legally fall into the CAN-SPAM requirement.
To be clear, here is what a nonprofit should do:
  • Provide a clear and conspicuous notice of the opportunity to opt-out. The notice must be in every email message and must be provided to all individuals receiving the message whether or not they have opted-in to receive commercial email offers.
  • Provide a functioning opt-out in every email message, such as a return email address or other Internet-based function. Do not send subsequent offers more than 10 business days after a recipient has requested to not receive further emails. If the recipient has opted-out, the sender may not rent, exchange or otherwise transfer or release the email address of the recipient.
  • Provide a valid physical postal address of the sender.
  • If there is a commercial advertisement in your email, you must be clear that the email is an advertisement to individuals who have not opted-in to receive commercial email messages. If you have an in-house list, or rent a list of individuals who have opted-in to receive commercial email offers, you are exempt from the use of words such as “advertisement” or “solicitation” to label the message.
  • If there is a commercial advertisement in your email, and if you are sending an offer to individuals who have not opted-in to receive commercial email offers, you must make it clear that the message is a promotion, advertisement, or offer. Use phrases such as “you might be especially interested in this offer” in the body copy of the email.
  • Provide a “from” line that accurately and clearly indicates the sender. Doing so provides reassurance to supporters and donors that the email is from a trusted organization.
  • Use a subject line that is not misleading as to what is contained in the email.
For the full article containing this helpful summary of recommendations for email best practices for nonprofit organizations, see: http://nonprofit.about.com/od/onlinefundraising/a/canspamrules.htm. Sara Isenberg Sara Isenberg Web Consulting & Project Management http://saraisenberg.com