The coal for the furnace of direct mail fundraising has been list rentals and exchanges. A somewhat incestuous process where Sierra Club rents from NRDC who rents from Environmental Defense who rents from Sierra Club and around and around. Always with the assumption (desperate hope?) that someone, somewhere must be adding new names/donors into the hopper.

With online fundraising surging ahead, especially in response to e-mail solicitations, is it only a matter of time before some version of a list rental/exchange marketplace develops?

Of course the anti-spam online world prizes the personal privacy and “do not disturb” ethos … invading someone's e-mailbox uninvited is tantamount to driving a car through their front door.

So, after they've asked their existing mail donors to fork over their e-mail addresses for the gazillionth time, where's a poor nonprofit supposed to get fresh e-mail addresses suitable for e-prospecting?

One interesting approach showed up in my e-mail inbox the other day. As you'll see, “exchange” means something more convoluted in the e-world.

I received an e-mail from Gene Karpinski at the League of Conservation Voters (on whose e-list I'm happy to park) “sharing” with me “an important message” from his friend Rodger Schlickeisen of the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund regarding the urgent need to protect polar bears.

When I clicked on Rodger's imbedded message, I was whisked to the Defenders site, where the typical e-mail action alert awaited me. The form included a pre-checked box authorizing Defenders to send me future messages (meaning I had to notice it and opt out to escape the clutches of Defenders). Though the Defenders navigation bar included a “Support Us” link, they wisely didn't try to push me to contribute, being content on the first pass to capture my e-mail address as a kindred spirit.

A nice approach. A nice arrangement. Convoluted substitute for plain-old list exchange, but necessarily so given the e-world ethos.

Questions:

1. Did I actually give permission to LCV effectively to give Defenders a shot at me? Probably, in the loose sense that somewhere, sometime I must have invited LCV to e-mail me on issues they deem pertinent. [What if Gene's buddy Ellen over at Emily's List, straying a bit beyond the environment, asked Gene to send me a “cover note” on her PAC's behalf?]

2. Will I hear from Defenders again, even though I deliberately opted-out of receiving future messages from them. Time will tell! Here's my guess (and it's ONLY a guess): I think I'll get another message from them specifically on this polar bear campaign. They'll figure: after all, he did clearly indicate sympathy with our polar bear campaign; he will be mildly offended, at most, if we give him follow-up just on that. It's worth taking a chance.

3. What was the deal? Probably they said to each other: “I'll give you access to X thousand of our e-names, and you'll reciprocate, and we'll see what happens.” Maybe they even have a “bonus” clause of some kind where terms are adjusted by the extent to which either a) folks responded at all, and/or b) respondents to the solicitation actually give permission to Defenders to re-contact them. Maybe it turns out that, in terms of delivering opt-ins, two Defenders names are worth only one LCV name.

4. Finally, did it work?! Gene and Rodger, please tell us! Our readers want to know.

5. Have any of our readers tried such creative approaches to e-list “exchange?”

In any event, I'll bet some Defenders supporters are about to get an e-mail from Rodger, introducing a message from his friend, Gene!

And so the e-world turns.

Tom
P.S. Have no doubt, this is an approach I would test if I were in their shoes. The Agitator has other ideas for generating fresh e-prospects. Stay tuned.

P.P.S. Whooops! As I finish this post, I've already received another message on the Arctic Refuge directly from Defenders … an action alert masquerading as a “Thank you” for my polar bear support. I'm in their clutches!

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