There is an act in place which was legislated in order to control spam e-mail. This act is known as the “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act”, or CAN-SPAM. It was instilled in January 2004, but there are many organizations which are still unclear on how this act affects them. The act itself was introduced in order to stem the tide of unsolicited e-mails. However it can also adversely affect smaller non-profit organizations from reaching their target audience. But the act can also work as a guideline for your own organization to ensure your outgoing e-mails maintain a professional presentation.
When we speak about spam, there is an implicit understanding that it is an e-mail which may be unwanted or coming from a source which we are not interested in receiving e-mail from. CAN-SPAM works because it is a set of regulations which apply to any messages which are commercial in nature. Non-profit solicitations are not inherently commercial by nature but may be considered as such in certain situations. Corporate funding may actually put your e-mail into a grey area as well as your use of e-mail to market products. Fundraising appeals do not count as commercial content but it is safe to follow the rules in order to stay within the boundaries of the law.
Always be sure that your recipients are aware of who the e-mail is sent by and how to respond. There should not only be a valid return e-mail address, but a street or PO box address also. E-mails are fairly informal by nature, so make sure to be aware of the individual recipients. Refrain from using an e-mail address such as firstname.lastname@example.org and instead try something like email@example.com. It would also behoove a business to be candid in the subject line of the e-mail. A subject line which misleads the recipient may be on the border of being illegal! Indicate that you are trying to help sell a product, a service, or help somebody.
It is also critical that everybody on the e-mail list is meant to be there. There is a temptation to send e-mails to people that you know might be potential customers or donors. However, unless they have specifically asked to be on that list, they probably should not be. There also needs to be an option for the recipient to unsubscribe from the solicitations including a direct link to unsubscribe. The recipient should not have to offer anything other than their e-mail address in order to have themselves removed. It is also a good idea to have subscribers have a way to sign up for specific types of e-mails so that they may have solicitations tailored to their specific tastes. Drowning subscriber’s inboxes with unwanted e-mails may actually damage what you are attempting to accomplish. Any request to unsubscribe must be complied with within 10 days to accommodate the law.
Should you decide to outsource your e-mail to a marketing firm, be aware that they are also in compliance with the law. While they may be keeping your e-mails out of a recipients spam folder, they may also be unintentionally breaking the law. Be aware that if a lawsuit is filed, both you and the marketing firm may be held liable for damages so it is a good idea to double check. Any complaints about violations regarding the CAN-SPAM act may be directed to the FTC at firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure to also inform your own e-mail provider and the senders e-mail provider while also including the content of the communication in question.
If your concerns rise to the level of legality, it may be best to contact an attorney who is familiar with this particular field of law. Different countries maintain different regulations about e-mail, so a good knowledge about your customers’ laws is important. Violations of the CAN-SPAM act can run fines up to potentially $16,000. Simply by complying with the law could save you a lot of money and ensure that your e-mail etiquette is pristine