Consenting adults only.
There’s a reason that sex with children or animals is highly unethical: there are always grave doubts that consent is fully informed and freely given.(1)
I’m not going to argue that nonprofits that send spam belong in the same circle of Hell as baby rapers.(2) But I do believe that any bulk email newsletters, fundraising pitches, and calls to action sent by nonprofits without the fully informed consent of the recipients is spam, and therefore unethical. Don’t do it.
A group of nonprofit professionals is now on a tear about this, and rightly so. Apparently, they are not so much worried about their own personal email in-boxes, as concerned that they are asked to be complicit in unethical behavior, and concerned about the effect of nonprofit spam on the reputation of the entire sector. Good for them. I particularly like their “Meet the Perps” page, in which they list names of nonprofits (and the email service providers) who are spamming them.
Here’s the statement from the new “No Nonprofit Spam” blog(3):
“Your mission is noble, and your intentions are honorable. But if you subscribed us to your organization’s bulk email list without our permission, then you are sending us spam. That is discourteous, unethical, illegal, and ineffective – so please stop.”
I also like the idea of a Spam Manifesto, so here is mine.
Why your nonprofit organization should not put my email address in your database for bulk messages:
- I really, really believe in freely given and fully informed consent. You need to confirm that I have opted-in before you add me to your email blast. You will have my consent to send me your precious little electronic bulletins, or you will have my eternal enmity.
- I work in the nonprofit sector. This means three things, especially in the case of unsolicited bulk email appeals for money. First, I have a good grasp of what would be worst practices in your job. Spamming falls into that category, and I’m not going to condone it. Second, I’m already working for less money than I could be making in another sector, so you are seriously mistaken if you think that I have a lot of discretionary income that I’m willing to give to people who send me fundraising pitches every hour on the hour. Third, I already have done careful research about the issues that interest me and planned my charitable giving for maximum impact, and am unlikely to send money on impulse in response to random spam.
- I will bitch and moan. That means that I will not only report your nonprofit to Spamhaus and SpamCop, I will also talk trash about you to people who are grantmakers, nonprofit professionals, your current or future donors, and community leaders. If the grant or strategic alliance that you were counting on has fallen through inexplicably, consider the possibility that the word on the street is that your nonprofit is a sleazy operation.
- I’m anonymous. You don’t know who I am. That means that I could be anyone or everyone in your contact database, so you really should operate as if all of us are as easily offended as I am.
You undoubtedly already know the Golden Rule and the Silver Rule, so I will now invoke the Vitriolic Rule for your contact database: “do unto others as if they are snarky anonymous bloggers who will take pleasure in scourging and thwarting you if you spam them.”
2) Unless it’s a nonprofit that is sending spam to me.
3) The cadence of this opening sentence rings a bell. I think I’ve been promoted to the rank of a Literary Influence.