Murphy the Missionary has been raising support for eight months, and tonight begins his email nightmare. He never saw it coming. He claims his signup sheet from the display table and keys the legible addresses into his laptop. Sure, he’s mistyped some addresses before, but tonight’s typo starts his first email headache.
Instead of email@example.com, Murphy enters firstname.lastname@example.org. His next update reaches Sour Sam, a SPAM vigilante with a quick trigger finger and a short fuse. When he sees the prayer letter, Sam’s alarms go off, and he immediately reports poor Murphy as a spammer.
It’s three months before Murphy finds out that about 10% of his supporters are no longer seeing his letters.
With the help of Ed, a friend from his sending church, Murphy uses a to find out why his emails are being blocked. After another six weeks of back-and-forth emails to the blacklist maintainers, he is finally able to clear his reputation.
Ed means well, but those guidelines are written for someone that knows how to crawl underneath the Internet and rewire the tubes of the information superhighway. That’s not Murphy. He thanks Ed profusely, follows the suggestions he understands, and hopes for the best with everything else. At least his emails are no longer being blocked, and Murphy now has hundreds of email addresses on his laptop.
But now, Murphy has another problem. His email program is starting to complain when he sends to such a large group. Murphy’s solution is to divide the addresses across multiple distribution lists and shoot his letters out in batches. Though this is tedious, Murphy is willing to take the extra effort in order to make sure those letters get sent.
His email program is starting to complain when he sends to such a large group.
But email sent is not the same as email delivered. With so many people on his list, Murphy finds more and more “Undeliverable” messages coming back. Some are temporary delivery failures and some are permanent.
It’s annoying, and Murphy decides he needs to go through all the alerts and clean up his distribution lists … some day.
Before “some day” comes, three years pass, and Murphy raises all of his support. Grateful for God’s provision, and thrilled at the opportunity to reach the field to which he was called, he carries his bloated email list across the ocean and continues to send out letters faithfully every month for three years. In his last four letters, he has shared some heart-felt details about a ministry challenge with one specific returning visitor to his church. One Sunday, only weeks before Murphy is to leave on furlough, this visitor creates a scene that ignites the fledgling church into an uproar.
Desperate for godly counsel, Murphy places some calls to trusted pastors in the states. Of the first eight pastors that he calls, their responses prove that half of them are unfamiliar with the growing situation Murphy has written about for four months.
As he tries to figure out why, he learns that that two of those pastors’ email addresses were among those coming back as undeliverable. He assumes the other two either didn’t read his letters or had the details overshadowed with things going on in their own churches.
He longs for a way to know who is faithful in reading his letters.
Humbly, Murphy’s mind completely understands their unawareness of his needs and struggles, but his heart still aches at the abandonment he felt from the disconnected counsel of that handful of advisors he trusts. He longs for a way to know who is faithful in reading his letters. If he can know that, he will call those pastors first next time.
After twenty-two hours of travel with two layovers, Murphy lands exhausted at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, to begin his furlough. He passes through the jetway and into the terminal. The restaurants, the music, the faces, the accents are at the same time both familiar and eerily foreign after years in his new missionary home. He navigates the maze of transportation to baggage claim, where he greets a few representatives of his sending church family, waiting for their first-term missionary with open arms and far more attention and energy than this weary traveller can return. He acknowledges their love and support, and listens to their stories, sharing some of his own as he retrieves the rest of his luggage. He is grateful that they have a hotel room waiting for him after their late-night dinner.
Collapsing on the bed, Murphy rests motionless for fifteen minutes before preparing himself and his room for a night of sleep.
That preparation: turning off the light. There is no energy for more.
With the drapes still open, the sun provides an early morning wake-up call. Murphy dresses and prepares to send out his first furlough email update when he discovers the unthinkable.
His laptop bag is not in his room.
Energized now by adrenaline, he triple-checks the floor, the closet – everything. He calls the airport; no laptop bag has been reported to lost and found. He calls the church. It’s not in the van, and nobody who greeted him has seen it. He can only assume it was stolen somewhere between baggage claim and the parking garage.
His email list with all of his supporters is gone!
His church’s offer to help him replace his laptop is welcome, but Murphy has a bigger concern than the hardware itself. His email list with all of his supporters is on that laptop. Now it’s all gone! Then Murphy remembers that he backed up his email list to a thumb drive. That thumb drive also vanished in the stolen laptop bag.
What Is An Email Manager And How Would It Help Murphy?
An email manager is software – usually online – that handles the tedious work of making sure your emails get delivered. Three popular email managers are MailChimp, AWeber, and Constant Contact. I’ll explain later why, for missionaries, I recommend MailChimp over the alternatives. (Hint: Most missionaries can use it completely free!) First, let’s look at how an email manager would help poor Murphy.
1. Never Lose Your List
These email managers keep a copy of your email list separately from your personal computer. If you find yourself without your laptop, you can still log in to your account from any computer or mobile device and broadcast an email.
2. Avoid Illegible Addresses
Don’t lose prayer supporters just because you can’t read their handwriting. Instead of a sheet of paper asking for hand-scribbled email addresses, use your iPad or Android Tablet to collect email addresses for MailChimp using MailChimp Subscribe from Google Play or the iTunes App Store.
You won’t need to ask the church for an internet connection, because it stores the email addresses right on your tablet. Add them to your MailChimp account when you connect to the internet from home or from your hotel room.
3. Protect Your Reputation And Get More Email Delivered
There’s a lot of work – very technical work – required to follow those “Best Practices” for bulk email that Ed shared with Murphy. Unless you understand Sender ID validation, SPF and DKIM authentication and you can add records to your email domain’s DNS server, it’s probably best to leave the anti-spam handling to an email manager.
Email managers take care of those technical aspects for you. You still have to make sure you’re not sending SPAM.
Although you are still responsible to make sure that you aren’t engaging in SPAM-like behavior, these email managers do try to help you in at least a couple of important ways:
- They give you a place to put your mailing address
- They make it easy to include an unsubscribe link.
Those are two things the CAN-SPAM Act requires for commercial email in the United States.
I’m not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. You may think that prayer letters are not considered commercial email. You may be right, but if your prayer letter ever mentions a book or CD or download available with any link that can collect money, you’d be wise to comply with commercial email laws just in case.
4. Send To The Right Address
Murphy isn’t the only one who can fat-finger an email address. I’ve been known to bungle my own sometimes. If that happens, there really isn’t anything that software can do to fix it, but software can help you steer clear of the wrath of Sour Sam, the SPAM vigilante. The solution to the problem has some side effects, though.
These email managers support something called double opt-in.
With double opt-in, every subscriber’s first email is a request to confirm that they really did want to subscribe to your list.
Now here’s the catch. If your supporters don’t click the confirmation link in that email, they won’t be added to your list. That’s good to keep away from Sour Sam, but some of those people who sign up won’t get around to clicking that link. You may have mixed thoughts about that.
On one hand, you really want as many people as possible to know how to pray for you. On the other hand, someone who is truly engaged enough to pray for your ministry will likely click that link to confirm their connection.
If your supporters don’t click the confirmation link, they won’t be added to your list.
The best email managers strongly encourage double opt-in. I recommend following their advice to prevent bad e-mail addresses. Some email managers will evaluate your risk to their reputation, and they won’t use their most trusted servers to send email from lists that aren’t well-behaved. That includes neglecting to turn on double opt-in.
One missionary even had her account disabled temporarily when she sent a test email to a list of email addresses that did not go through a double opt-in. The company behind the email manager asked for a scan or photograph of the signup sheet where the supporters provided their email addresses before they would re-activate the missionary’s account.
Remember, those email managers are doing everything they can to guarantee delivery of non-SPAM email. Their reputation (which you’re borrowing as your own reputation) depends on it. It just makes sense to do your part to show them that your email isn’t SPAM.
I use double opt-in on the Edify Hub mailing list. On the signup list, I make it very clear that you’ll get a confirmation email and that you’ll need to click a link. Email managers do let you customize what you say at different stages of the signup process. Try entering your name and email address below. Sign up for my MailChimp list to learn when Edify Hub posts new information about MailChimp, and watch how I avoid the potential pitfalls of double opt-in.
5. Keep Your List Clean Of Undeliverable Mail (Bounces)
Remember those annoying Undeliverable Email notices that Murphy never did get around to cleaning up? Email managers can intercept those messages and automatically clean up your list. A hard bounce from a permanently undeliverable address will automatically be removed from your list. You won’t keep sending to that address, so the receiving domain owner will be less likely to complain about SPAM. A soft bounce from a temporarily undeliverable address will be remembered.
An email manager will also clean an email address off your list after too many soft bounces. Those cleaned addresses will still be available in your list, so you can make them active again. You can affect your reputation when you keep sending to undeliverable addresses, so be careful.
6. See Who’s Reading
If Murphy knew who was consistently reading his emails, he would have called those pastors first, receiving counsel from those already familiar with his situation. Email managers use some pretty clever tracking techniques to tell you which of your subscribers open the most email. In future posts, I’ll explain how you can use that information to segment your list and send more frequent or more sensitive updates only to your most active supporters.
Why Do I Recommend MailChimp?
In a recent unofficial survey I conducted via twitter, more missionaries recommended MailChimp than any other tool for sending email – more than GMail, more than their native email app, more than any other email manager. It’s not hard to see why.
1. MailChimp is Free For Most Missionaries
If you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers and you send fewer than 12,000 emails a month (that’s six different emails to all 2,000 of your subscribers), you can get MailChimp absolutely free. Yes, all of those advantages that I wrote about – all those headaches we could have prevented for Murphy – MailChimp doesn’t charge a thing for any of that as long as your list is as small as most missionaries’ lists. And all that help getting rid of bad email addresses? That helps you even more to keep your list under the limit.
2. MailChimp Has A Mobile Signup Form
Remember MailChimp Subscribe? That signup form for your iPad or Android Tablet? Yeah, that only works with MailChimp. At the time of this writing, I could not find anything equivalent from AWeber or Constant Contact.
Why Might I Use Something Else?
Email managers also offer advanced features like Autoresponders, A/B Split Testing, and other techniques to benefit online marketers. Most missionaries have no use for these features, but if you do, they’re not available with a free MailChimp account.
The paid account does offer those features, and it’s still cheaper than the other alternatives until you have more than 1,150 subscribers. At 2,500 subscribers, it becomes cheaper again, and then the most economical approach varies quite a bit until you exceed 5,600 subscribers. At that point, AWeber saves you the most money. Internet marketers and bloggers often aim for far more subscribers than missionaries typically get, so they often recommend AWeber.
It’s just good etiquette to let you know that Edify Hub participates in the Affiliate Programs for both MailChimp and AWeber. If you actually signup and pay money for something – after clicking on a MailChimp or AWeber link on this page, they’ll help me out.
For AWeber, I’d get a percentage of your subscription fee (and it wouldn’t cost you anything extra). For MailChimp, there’s a benefit for both of us if you sign up through my link and you decide some day that you need a paid plan. If that ever happens, then you and I both will get a small credit to our accounts.
You can always go straight to the MailChimp, AWeber, or Constant Contact websites and sign up from there. But if you go through my links, you’ll be helping me out a bit, so thank you for showing me a bit of love through those links.
Just three questions to ask yourself this week:
- Do I have more than 100 and fewer than 2,000 emails on my prayer letter list?
- Do I know how many of those supporters receive and read my emails?
- If I lost my laptop, would I still be able to email my supporters?
In the next article, I’ll show you how to create your MailChimp account in a way that honors MailChimp’s terms of service and USA’s CAN-SPAM laws.