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Email append: is it a hot online marketing strategy or too hot to handle?

Many nonprofits are taking advantage of the cost efficiencies, immediacy and flexibility that email communication with their donors provides. Whether it's for straightforward appeals, event-driven initiatives, direct mail reinforcement or to just share news of the organization's work, email provides cost-cutting and useful benefits.

To maximize these benefits, nonprofits are increasingly turning to a tactic that allows them to jump-start the growth of their email file: email append. Email append is fast, relatively inexpensive and it works. Some nonprofits report incredible return on investment (ROD, as much as $15 in donations for every $1 spent on email append.

Despite this success and growing popularity, email append does have its detractors. Critics question the ethics of the practice and believe it's a violation of the implied trust between a nonprofit and its supporters. A few even consider it such an invasion of donor's privacy, it should be thought of as borderline spam.

The process of appending an email address to a postal name and address is not a new one, but as mentioned, has gained in popularity and legitimacy in recent years. Supporters tout that when performed properly, the process more than meets all CAN-SPAM requirements and it is fully endorsed by trade organizations such as the Direct Marketing Association (DMA).

The procedure is quite simple. A copy of the organization's database (or a portion thereof) is sent to an appropriate vendor for email append processing. When an individual match is found, the email address is added to the file. When an individual match can't be made, most vendors offer the opportunity to provide matches at the household level, i.e. John Smith's email address appended to the spouse Mary Smith's postal file.

A "Welcome Email" is then deployed to the appended donors, also commonly referred to as the "permission email." It introduces the benefits of receiving email from the nonprofit, and gives the person the opportunity to be removed from the list if they do not want to be part of the email database.


All opt-outs are removed, as well as all undelivered emails (bounces). The file that is returned includes the original postal records with current, accurate, opt-in email addresses.

The DMA has published guidelines on appending email addresses to consumer files, largely based on CANSPAM regulation. They endorse the practice as long as several key requirements are met:

* There is an established relationship with the donor, either online or offline;

* The data used in the append process are from sources that provided notice and choice regarding the acceptance of receiving third-party email offers and where the consumer did not opt-out. For example, many append bases are populated with records of consumers who completed product warranties or surveys online. During the process, they are provided with the opportunity to opt-out of third-party rentals.

* Email addresses should never be manufactured, guessed or harvested.

* While not required, a Welcome Email is strongly recommended.

As is the case with all email communication, the appended donor should be given the chance to be removed from the nonprofit's email file, in both the initial welcome email and subsequent communications.


Detractors aren't swayed by the DMA's endorsement. While they might agree email appending follows the "letter of the law," it violates the practical intent, i.e. the "spirit of the law" for which it was created.

Detractors argue that an individual who completed an online survey or took some other Internet-based action, and provided some sort of consent to receive third-party offers, really didn't understand the ramifications of this consent.

Indeed, there is some validity to this Argument. While completing her online survey to receive a ton of money-saving coupons, Mrs. Jones in Heartland, USA likely didn't realize that by "agreeing to receive third-party offers," she'd some day receive an email from the organization to which she made a $10 direct mail donation.

As the time periods widen between the consent, the donation and the Welcome Emails, the worse the transgression, critics proclaim. At some point, they maintain, this email contact with the donor is no different than unsolicited email, one step closer to spam designation.

Append supporters vehemently disagree. To them, consent is consent, period. For the most part, they're right. Almost all third-party email communication is based on the exact type of consent on which email append bases are built. They logically conclude that if you're not a fan of email appending, you can't be a fan of any other type of third-party email activity either; email rentals, co-registration, etc. In fact, sup porters preach, that email appending is more legitimate because the email is sent to a known donor of the organization, not a cold prospect.

Some critics might concede this point, but ask: "Fine, you follow proper procedure and adhered to CAN-SPAM regulation when it comes to individual email matches. However, you don't have relationships with other individuals within the household. You shouldn't be appending email addresses at the household level."

Supporters somewhat agree, and yet also disagree. Common sense should prevail, they insist, and suggest that a nonprofit need only to consider a few questions to determine the legitimacy of household match logic. Those questions include:

* When someone contributes to your organization, how often is the name on the check or credit card, merely the conduit through which the donation was made?

* Is the donation just as much a family donation as it is an individual gift?

* Is your cause one that elicits significantly different opinions within members of a household?

* Is your appeal toward a specific demographic or lifestyle?

Depending on the answers to those questions, it's easy to decide whether the donor relationship is purely with the individual giver or in reality, is one with the household. When in doubt, append supporters suggest starting with individual matches only and subsequently, test household matches.

No matter which side of the fence one is on--the append supporters or append critics--all generally agree that email appending almost always delivers a very favorable ROI, often a remarkable one.

Email append is a relatively inexpensive process. However, as is the case with most forms of online lead generation and acquisition, the cost can vary significantly from vendor-to-vendor and client-to-client.


One constant is the manner in which payment is determined, allowing the nonprofit to comparison shop and make an informed decision. Virtually all reputable vendors only charge for accurate, delivered, opted-in emails. These are email addresses that when deployed were delivered to the recipient's inbox. All bounces and undelivered emails are removed and not subject to payment. Further, donors who opt-out after receiving the Welcome Email are also removed and likewise, not subject to compensation.

The price per appended email is normally determined by the size of the initial input file. Here is where you'll find wide variance, from less than 10 cents per match on a quantity of 1 million or more to more than 20 cents per match on a quantity less than 100,000. Prices are usually calculated project-by-project, although it's often possible to negotiate a favorable price based on a multi-project, annual volume.

Granted, the email addresses obtained are already those of existing donors. However, consider that most online acquisition and lead generation efforts will cost a nonprofit at least $1 per lead and for many, often $2 to $3 per lead. That's as much as 15 times the cost of appended donors. It's not uncommon for nonprofits to bring in $5 to $10 in contributions for every $1 spent on email append processing.


If you've weighed the pros and cons, and have made the decision to undertake an append project, here are the key questions to ask potential vendors:

* What's your initial match rate?

* What's your bounce rate?

* What's the charge per delivered, opted-in email address?

* Are there any additional charges, including set-up fees?

* Can you help with creating the Welcome Email?

* Who are some of your regular append clients?

Nonprofits that have found success online all have something in common: the group developed a donor email file and made it a top priority to grow it steadily and consistently. While everyone isn't sold on the practice, for many, email append plays an integral role in building this all-important foundation.

Diana Estremera is senior vice president of May Development Services, a division of Direct Media International in Greenwich, Conn. Her email is Ed Bocknik is executive vice president of Commerce Services at Direct Media International. His email is
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Title Annotation:LISTS
Author:Estremera, Diana; Bocknik, Ed
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Date:Mar 15, 2008
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