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Meet the Perps

The authors of this blog have received unsolicited bulk email from the following nonprofit organizations:

In many cases, these are nonprofit organizations that we respect deeply. We may even count their employees as friends and colleagues. However, these organizations did not ask for our explicit permission before putting us on a list to receive email blasts.

Please understand that we are not impugning the missions of these organizations or the motives of the individuals that work for them. The latter are good people working for positive change. We are seeking to make them aware of the disparity between their laudable goals and the questionable tactics that they are using.

26 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2011 3:42 am

    I love this!

  2. March 16, 2011 4:01 am

    Hardcore and spot-on. I admire your bravery and goals, but wonder if you took the due-diligence step to seeking inform these nonprofits before making your post. That would give them a better chance to respond and — hopefully — make amends.

  3. helenquine permalink
    March 17, 2011 1:16 pm

    I’ve always been annoyed by Change.org who automatically sign you up to their list if you sign a petition with no opportunity to opt out (as far as I can see).

  4. March 22, 2011 6:18 am

    Deborah – are you folks asking for the nonprofits to strive for confirmed opt in, double opt in, or what? As the “vendor” (you know I hate that word) I feel it is our job to advise them on best practices and we do. But the problem is that they do what they want in the end. For example when using the DMA’s ECC to pull guidelines which is what I spoke on at the 2010 NTC organizations (nonprofit and for profit alike) need to make sure that they have some simple often over looked settings checked. For example if you have one of those join now forms with a “YES/NO” option IT IS NOT OK to pre-check yes and assume they would un-check it. Any ideas on how we can streamline best practices in a bigger scale besides the five of you and my broom stick?
    Jordan

    • March 22, 2011 12:40 pm

      Thanks for asking Jordan! If you take a look at the first article on this blog (“My nonprofit spam manifesto”), you’ll see that I propose the following ethical standards:

      * Confirmed opt-in policy: good

      * Unconfirmed opt-in policy: acceptable

      * Opt-out policy: evil

  5. March 23, 2011 6:38 pm

    Good cause, but I have to wonder…how are you confirming that these are indeed unsolicited bulk email? Sometimes I get emails from groups that I *may* have signed up for at some point but can’t really remember because I visit so many nonprofit sites and may have been struck by a sudden surge of passion for a cause that later died down. I would hate for a group to be publicly shamed because someone signed up for a list, forgot about it, then raged when the emails started showing up.

    • March 24, 2011 9:38 pm

      Here’s my own personal standard for adding an organization to our perp list: If I’m receiving unsolicited bulk email on a regular basis, and I would be willing to swear under oath that I didn’t not opt-in for these messages, that that organization goes on the perp list.

      I have afew exceptions, which I have listed in my “nonprofit spam manifesto.” For example, if a nonprofit or foundation that is my client puts me on its list to receive regular e-bulletins, that’s fine with me. That organization is absolutely correct in assuming that I want to see updates from them. I continue to consider them my clients long after the project wraps up, and I’ll be grateful to hear how they’re doing, as long as I live.

      However, woe unto those who assume, if we met once at a professional event and exchanged cards, this constitutes permission to give me an unrequested lifetime subscription to their newsletters, urgent action network alerts, and fundraising appeals. That’s just wrong.

  6. Matt permalink
    March 24, 2011 6:03 am

    Like some of the other posters, I agree that this is a laudable mission and people shouldn’t send unsolicited email. But if you’re not offering the organizations any way to appeal or investigate the incident, that’s not really fair is it? Seems like you should at least offer an easy way for the organization in question to find out what email address received the purported spam so they can investigate their database? It’s not unheard of for “friends” to sign people up to lists unwittingly….

    • March 25, 2011 1:59 am

      Thanks for your reflections, Matt!

      A couple of points:

      1) If a nonprofit organization holds firmly to a “confirmed opt-in” policy, it won’t matter how many friends sign up other people for bulk email. If the intended recipient does not close the loop by approving the subscription, then no unsolicited bulk email will be sent.

      2) It never occurred to us that we would need an investigation or appeals process for our “Meet the Perps” page! We didn’t anticipate that we’d attract so much serious attention so quickly.

  7. Dave permalink
    March 25, 2011 1:43 am

    I notice a lot of spammers are using Constant Contact. I don’t know if it is only naive people who use the company (rather than Mail Chimp), or if some of their salesmen give unprincipled advice: but in any case, they say:

    To report a violation:
    Email: abuse@constantcontact.com

  8. March 25, 2011 4:47 am

    Hi Deborah,

    My name is Matt Koltermann, and I’m the online marketing manager at Action Against Hunger | ACF-USA — the first organization on your list (our placement at the beginning of alphabetized lists is usually a good thing…).

    I’m very concerned about the claim that one or more authors of this blog have received unsolicited bulk email from my organization, and I’d like to get to the bottom of it.

    I’m not aware of any email list renting or buying practices at my organization — all of our mass emails are sent through Convio to subscribers who have opted-in to our list, and all of those emails contain explicit unsubscribe links.

    I also searched our constituent database for records related to you, Erin, Michael, and Peter using several different methods (I don’t know who the unnamed “C” is, of course) — the only record that turned up was one bearing your name. It was created on July 7, 2005, registered to the email address belonging to the owner of Information Systems Forum, and the “Accept Email” status is “Yes”.

    I would very much appreciate a sample of the email or emails received from Action Against Hunger that resulted in our appearance on this list. I share your disdain for spammy email practices, and I want to learn why this might be happening so I can fix it.

    Thanks for your help,
    Matt

  9. March 28, 2011 6:25 pm

    Hi Deborah,

    Have you been able to track down those emails from Action Against Hunger?

    Thanks,
    Matt

    • April 14, 2011 5:08 am

      I’d just like to provide everyone with a little progress report.

      Matt and I have been in touch via email, and I have submitted documentation to him about the unsolicited messages I have received. He is currently on vacation, but assured me before he left that he would continue to investigate the matter.

      I have the utmost respect for Matt’s professional integrity, and appreciate the way that he is pursuing his efforts to get to the bottom of this. Way to go, Matt!

  10. Lan Cole permalink
    March 29, 2011 1:27 am

    There also needs to be a list of non-profits that post jobs as a ruse to collect marketing information. You never hear of the job being filled but you end up getting direct marketing from them – think American Red Cross.

  11. April 4, 2011 4:46 pm

    Boys & Girls Clubs of America — one of the organizations listed on your “perps” page — does not purchase email lists from outside vendors, nor do we implement SPAM practices. We only send emails to individuals who subscribe to our newsletter.

    Should we receive a request to unsubscribe, Boys & Girls Clubs of America removes that person’s email address from our database.

    Should ANYONE wish to be removed from our database, please let me know. Just email “info@bgca.org” and I will assist you.

    Sincerely — Lori McLemore

    To the owner of this blog: Please remove Boys & Girls Clubs of America from the Perps page. Should you need to discuss our listing, please contact me at info@bgca.org. Thank you.

    • Nonprofit Curmudgeon permalink
      April 14, 2011 4:06 am

      Dear Ms. McLemore:

      I suggest that you operate according to the guideline that I call the “Vitriolic Rule” for your email blast database:

      “Do unto others as if they are snarky anonymous bloggers who will take pleasure in scourging and thwarting you if you spam them.”

      In spite of your protestations, you are apparently sending bulk email to at least one person who never signed up for it and is embittered against your organization because of it. You should assume that for every person who complains, there are untold others who are silently seething with annoyance. You never know which of them will turn into a self-appointed angel of vengeance in the blogosphere, so I suggest that you re-examine your actual systems and practices, instead of reacting by boasting about your ostensible policies.

      By the way, I’m not picking up on a even a hint of an apology in your comment, or even a tentative acknowledgment that the Boys & Girls Club of America might be in the wrong. That’s not what I like to see in a nonprofit organization that has offended a constituent. On the basis of that alone, I can assure you that I won’t be sending you a check. Ever.

      -N.C.

    • April 14, 2011 4:22 am

      Dear Lori,

      Oh, my.

      I’m the person who is receiving unsolicited bulk email from the Boys & Girls Club of America. I’m prepared to swear under the pains and penalties of perjury that I never signed up for email blast from your organization. I’ll be happy to discuss with you via email, as you suggest, but I don’t see any reason at this point to remove BGCA from this list.

      Notwithstanding that the Nonprofit Curmudgeon is dedicated to the art of ranting, and therefore is given to rhetorical flourishes that are purely for entertainment purposes, I have to admit that he has a point here. There’s a very real possibility that – no matter what your written policies are – in practice you are adding people like me to your database for bulk email blasts. Some concern about that possibility, some show of willingness to apologize if BGCA is in the wrong, would be extremely welcome.

      Best regards from Deborah

      • April 14, 2011 12:25 pm

        Hi Deborah. Thank you for replying to my post. Please send me additional information so that I may remove you from our database. I do not see your contact information in our e-mail contacts.

        Are you receiving electronic communications from Boys & Girls Clubs of America or one of our local affiliates? What is the name of the publication you are receiving?

        Please follow up with me at info@bgca.org and I will try to track down the source.

        Thank you for your assistance,
        Lori

    • April 14, 2011 12:58 pm

      An update: I have responded to Lori McLemore’s latest comment with two samples (including all headers) of unsolicited bulk email that I have received from the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

      • April 20, 2011 8:49 pm

        Deborah –

        First, I would like to apologize. The information you received did come from Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Our PR team included your contact name in their blog outreach plan. They view blogs as part of the “new” media and, as such, sent two press releases to your attention.

        With traditional media, we do not ask permission to send out our press releases. Our PR team is reaching out to bloggers as they would to traditional media. In this case, we will immediately remove your name from our blogger outreach. However, I would like to ask you and your readers if you think of blogging as a subset of media outlets.

        Again, I apologize for the confusion. I was reacting from an e-mail marketing perspective and not a public relations viewpoint. We respect your work and what you do.

        Lesson learned –

        Lori McLemore

  12. April 20, 2011 9:00 pm

    Dear Lori,

    Thank you for looking into this, and for your very gracious acknowledgement of a lesson learned. Kudos to you and Boys & Girls Club of America.

    I will remove your organization’s name from our list of perps, but keep the comments intact, so that others will have a chance to see that BGCA was willing to scrutinize its bulk email practices and to be responsive to the criticism we offered.

    Many thanks and best regards from Deborah

    • Matt permalink
      April 22, 2011 12:12 am

      Deborah, it seems like an apology of your own may be in order. If you agree with Lori’s version of events, then it seems like you mistakenly labelled a press release as an unsolicited bulk email.

      • April 22, 2011 12:38 am

        I respectfully disagree with you there, Matt. I had been receiving unsolicited bulk email from BGCA for at least a year. We’re not talking about a one-time announcement, with a personal note explaining why BGCA thought that it would be of interest to me.

        It does raise the interesting question of whether unsolicited bulk email should be given a free pass, if it is packaged at a “press release.” My answer is no, although perhaps a professional journalist would have a different response.

        Best regards from Deborah

  13. December 31, 2011 12:26 am

    Nice to hear guys.
    Nice to people on the left whom think noble causes don’t exempt them from normal mores.
    I was today spammed by care2 whom sent me a security warning that my details were at risk due an exploit.
    I have never heard of this org or had anything to do with them and a closer look showed they were using a tracker code / token in the reply email instead of the usual replyto@.
    I have noticed here in Australia when you unsubscribe from a charity suddenly half a dozen others have your phone number and wont say where they got it. Current subscribers it seems are protected but un-financial ones just a source of alternative revenue. All robustly denied when you follow up – but physical facts cant be denied away.
    I know some of these charities outsource their sales to third parties that might play fast and loose but in this care2 case its clearly the organization themselves.
    Trying to unsubscribe caused a cascade of other mail which I individually have to unsubscribe from now (and those could generate more ..).
    I didnt want to block the site as putting it on a spamlist might interfere with its fashionable causes but when I saw that the new emails were from rotated and randomized send email addresses and rotated header code I realized that too much had be learned from the underbelly of the web .
    I’ve done some searching and found I’m not alone and that care2 is at least as well known as a spam generator (the org itself more than its members) as it is a platform for elevated causes. Ironically the members apparently suffer large external spam but the org is at least consistent in not limiting these commercial competitors ;).
    Anyway please consider investigating adding care2 to your blacklist – I am adding them to all mine.

  14. Erin McMahon permalink
    August 28, 2012 6:12 pm

    Deborah, how do you feel about including for-profit organizations who serve nonprofits? Is this out of frame?

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