Aspiration eAdvocacy Training - Email

Email For Advocacy and Community Organizing: Basics, Essentials, and Best Practices

This curriculum is targeted at individuals who understand simple email communications (send & receive), and activists who have little or no email campaigning experience. Learning goals include understanding of fundamental concepts in email campaigning, online strategy, technology, and processes, as well as hands-on exposure to simple email campaigning workflow, and understanding of email composition best practices.

The two-day "Email For Advocacy and Community Organizing" training covers the following topic areas:

  • Overview of email campaigns: Defining goals and mapping strategies
  • Summary of email campaign process: the email campaign life cycle
  • How to write effective email campaign messages
  • Measuring impact: tracking open rates and responses
  • How to manage and sustain email lists
  • Best practices for privacy, security, and avoiding “spammer” status
  • Survey of tools and technologies used in email advocacy

Training Materials

The following are section-by-section summaries of the training materials.

All materials are distributed under a Creative Commons license: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5.

This set of slides is authored for use in conjunction with the Democracy in Action online advocacy platform. The curriculum itself has been designed to be as platform-independent as possible, and other target platforms are being evaluated for future versions of the trainings.

1. Training Overview

The first slide set frames training scope and goals:

  • Describes intended audience
  • Enumerates initial key concepts
  • Defines core terminology
  • Enumerates potential outcomes on online advocacy and organizing

This section also emphasizes the non-techincal factors in online advocacy and organizing, and addresses limits of "e" activism and email, considering digital divides and those who are excluded by online strategies.

2. Democracy In Action: Logging in

This short exercise is allows training participants log in and view the DIA system. Once logged, participants take a tour of the list management and email blasting features of the platform.

3. Email Campaigning Road Map

This presentation lays out the high-level steps required for a successful email-oriented campaign:

  • Developing online goals and tactics
  • Identifying roles in your online campaign team
  • Developing a process for creating emails
  • Designing an email template
  • Developing a delivery calendar
  • Composing and sending email messages
  • Assessing response and impact
  • Building and growing your list

Particular emphasis is placed on understanding both the organizational and online campaign goals of your group. A range of possible online goals are discussed, including base building, awareness raising, fundraising, advocacy, event mobilization/turnout, and volunteer engagement. Development of workflow and corresponding decision making processes for sending out emails are explained.

4. Email Campaign Roles

A range of roles need to be filled in any online campaign, and the outcome of any campaign depends on successfully coordinating those roles. In addition, one person may serve in more than one role, so it's important to establish checks & balances to support the decision-making process on how, when and to whom emails are sent.

Roles explained in this section include Online Campaign Manager, Issue Expert/Campaigner, Fundraiser, Tech Expert, Designer, Testers and Focus Groups, and Email Service Providers.

5. Developing Online Strategy

Technology-enabled campaigns depend on well-organized, effective campaign strategies. These slides elaborate on strategies for particular goals, including relationship building, online fundraising, and winning specific campaigns. Campaign strategy milestones are enumerated, from defining campaign goals to identifying target and audiences, to other points along a timetable. Framing, assembling, and designing online messages are also addressed. Organizational mission and vision are contrasted with specific campaign goals, and integration of online and offline strategies is covered. The concept of "viral activism" is also explained.

6. Email Signup Best Practices

This list of essential tips covers a range of issues, including making it easy for supporters to sign up for emails on your website, collecting geographical inforrmation, and always telling supporters when they are going to be added to your mailing list. Etiquette essentials are also enumerated, including sending welcome email to new subscribers and being serious about privacy. “Opt-in” and “Double opt-in” signup methods are defined and contrasted.

7. Maintaining Your Lists

This presentation describes how to establish appropriate content and frequency for mailing list postings. Avoiding "List Fatigue" is emphasized, along with privacy and security considerations. Good "netiquette" for attachments is explained, and appropriate tools for sending to large groups are explained

8. Democracy In Action: Creating Your List

These slides walk you through tthe process of setting up a list and sending an initial message, including the importing of email addresses.

9. Email Composition Best Practices

No matter what your campaign, there are some universal guidelines to the messages you send. In particular, each email should have a clear goal/message, properly developed and framed within the campaign. Email is a casual and personal method of communication, and message composition should reflect that. Think in terms of a subject line and 3 main points: state the problem, state your solution, and state ways for the recipient to get involved. Design for "ease of consumption", understanding what "above the fold" means and what to put there, and use white space to break up information chunks. Make emails exciting and participatory. Design for function, aware of whether you are sending an action alert, fundraising appeal, newsletter, or event annoucement.

10. Designing Email for Function

This section calls out the differences between different types email messages, including "action alerts", fundraising appeals, newsletters, and event announcements. Layout and content for each type of message are explained, and many examples are provided.

11. Essential Message Elements

Message content varies by campaign and topic, but all messages share a need for certain essential components. This includes organizational links, as well as information about the email, such as the date the email was sent, a link to the archive of past messages and, for organization with multiple lists, clear indication of which list message the message is addressed to. Include “viral marketing information”, such as “Tell a friend” links, “Forward this email” links, and information on how to subscribe if you were not the original recipient. Other essential subscription information includes an easy-to-find un-subscribe link, the email address of the supporter (some people have multiple email addresses), and a link to update the supporter's preferences and subscription information.

12. Email Graphic Design Best Practices

Starting from the premise that simplicity is golden, this sections offers tips for effective message headers, footers and side bars. Options for delivery format– HTML vs. text-only – are contrasted. Best practices for handling graphics and images are detailed, and best practices for text-only messages are called out.

13. Democracy In Action: Create an Email Message

This hands-on exercise walks participants through the steps of creating and "blasting" an email message using the DIA platform.

14. Sending Email: Best Practices

These slides address process issues that span multiple message blasts. Delivery calendar and frequency are considered in the context of different campaign types. Best practices for mailing list "care and feeding" are explained, including reply management. Email campaign evaluation and the art of maximizing click-through rates are also addressed.

15. "Pre-Send" Check List

Before you send out an email blast, there are some things you can do to avoid errors, embarrassment and loss of member trust. These include sending yourself and your testers a sample email to verify the following points: review your email layout and content, test all links, and verify your email sending "envelope". In addition, verify your target and timing: are you sending to the right list or group of people? Have you scheduled it for a good delivery time?

16: Democracy In Action: Mail Blasting

This hands-on exercise gets into the details of "blasting" using the DIA platform.

17. Closing Summary

These slides summarize key points, with an emphasis on "take-away" themes.

All materials are distributed under a Creative Commons license: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5.

We welcome comments, suggestions and any other feedback on all of the above materials. Please address all correspondence to

"Total but cohesive anarchy."

Participant, Dev Summit
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