Friday, September 23, 2011

Leaders in the volunteer sector reinforce bad practices

Jayne Craven just posted UN Volunteers, IFRC, ILO & others make HUGE misstep. and the news she brings us is not good.

Quoting Jayne,"The measurement so many of us have been campaigning to end - or at least not make the primary measurement of the value of volunteering - is being officially embraced by UNV and IFRC."

I agree with Jayne that there are more useful and quite frankly more accurate ways of measuring the value of volunteer engagement.
To Jayne's list of ways we can talk about the value of volunteers at the community level, I would like to add one at the organizational level.
  • To what degree does the engagement of volunteers lead to the accomplishment of the organization's mission? 
I see a use for calculating a value for the time a volunteer contributes but given that it is a resource that is consumed in the process, it ought to be treated in a similar fashion to money being spent. It is a part of how something gets accomplished and not, as the UNV/IFRC position views it, the accomplishment itself. An organization spends money and spends volunteer time in pursuit of a mission. In a well run organization the value of what it accomplishes outweighs the grand total of both types of expenditures.
In the next couple of weeks I'll be introducing an ROI (Return on Investment) calculator for volunteer effort. It does not look at the big community/global picture such as the enlightened ways Jayne describes volunteering can be valued.  This calculator is designed as a management tool to help nonprofits allocate resources in a manner that maximizes the accomplishment of its mission. Common to Jayne's view of valuing volunteer effort, the focus is not on the accumulation of hours as goal. It is being sponsored by so it will be available to use at no cost.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

5 tips for keeping emails to volunteers from getting trashed or spam filtered

With the launch of version 3.0 of our software we added some tools to help us look at the performance of the software so that we can tweak things to make them better. One of the things that we have learned from this is that our servers are handling over 8,000,000 emails a year! With this kind of volume and the relationship that we have with the very large email and internet service providers, we can see the effects of email writing that triggers spam filters. With that in mind I’ve dug up some advice from various sources on how to write emails that will get delivered and get read.
  1. Only send mail to the people that ought to receive it 
  2. Avoid spam triggering words and phrases
  3. Use subject lines that let the volunteer know what the email is about 
  4. Avoid large attachments and certain attachment types
  5. Remove bad addresses from your database
1. Only send mail to the people that ought to receive it 
Yahoo’s mail service reminds us that spammers write to many people who don't want their mail, so their anti-spam filters are designed to identify that behaviour.  One of the patterns they consider to identify a spammer is too high a percentage of respondents that choose to move the email to the spam folder. 

To avoid being perceived as a spammer, don’t send out an email to all volunteers with many different messages intended for different groups of volunteers. Filter the list to send only the pertinent information out to the right people in each email. Volunteers would rather receive two emails with separate messages where both pertain to them, than one long email with a mishmash of information, some of which has nothing to do with them.

2. Avoid spam triggering words and phrases
One of our clients had an email treated as spam  by more than one of the large internet mail providers because she included the phrase “Free tickets”. It was a totally legitimate offer she was making to her volunteers but too many spammers have used similar wording. tells us that “Unfortunately, there is no complete list of spam trigger words. Further, it is not always the case that your email will end up in the spam filter simply by using a so-called trigger word. The key thing to remember is that a spam filter is trying to remove commercial advertisements and promotions. So generally, words that are common in such emails should be avoided or used sparingly.” has put together 100 Spam Trigger Words & Phrases to Avoid in subject lines.

3. Use subject lines that let the volunteer know what the email is about
So if your email gets past the spam filters you still have to prevent it from being mistaken for spam or unnecessary information and deleted without so much as a glance. suggests that we treat subject lines a little like newspaper headlines. “A newspaper headline has two functions: It grabs your attention, and it tells you what the article is about, so that you can decide if you want to read further. Email subject lines need to do exactly the same thing! Use a few well-chosen words, so that the recipient knows at a glance what the email is about….Of course, just as it would be ridiculous to publish a newspaper without headlines, never leave the subject line blank. Emails with blank subject lines are usually spam!”

Mail Chimp analyzed over 40 million emails sent from customers and found that 9 of the top 10 highest open rates had the company name in it

Really Bad - Subject: Free donuts
Bad - Subject: Free donuts at orientation
Good - Subject: Volunteer orientation 10:00 this Thursday
Very Good - Subject: Anytown Museum volunteer orientation 10:00 this Thursday

4. Avoid Large Attachments and Certain Attachment Types
In general, .jpg, .gif, .png and .pdf attachments are safe to send, provided you include some content in the email as well. However, executable attachments such as .exe, .zip, .swf, etc. should be avoided entirely. suggests “Don’t attach large files to an e-mail; anything over one or two megabytes shouldn’t be sent via e-mail. E-mail attachments consume inordinate amounts of e-mail server space and network bandwidth and are often the culprits behind virus outbreaks.” Because of their link to viruses, emails containing attachments can have a greater chance of being treated as spam if other elements of the email are similar to spam. Many sources online agreed with limiting the file size of attachments, not only in a single attachment but as a total as well. Some email inboxes have limits to their capacity; emails with large attachments can claim too much space to be kept.

5. Remove bad addresses from your database
Spammers list typically have a larger percentage of bad email addresses than legitimate lists. One great way to look like a spammer is to include bad email address in your bulk emails, especially when you keep sending to that address.