I’m tired of getting spammed by Muslim organizations, and I know I’m not the only one.
I know you’re working for the benefit of the Hereafter. I know that you’re informing me about a good cause. I know that you’re doing selfless work that is for the betterment of humanity. I know that I should actually thank you for giving me the opportunity to have a share in this wonderful project.
None of that, however, changes the fact that you have no right to violate the privacy of my inbox.
You wouldn’t appreciate it if I knocked on your door at dinner-time every day to solicit donations for a masjid in another state. I’m also fairly certain you wouldn’t appreciate it if I called you every day, for 2 weeks, leading up to an Islamic class to inform you about it – even though it takes place 800 miles away from you. If my wife invited your family to our house for dinner, you would probably contend that it doesn’t give me the right to continuously text message you to solicit donations for my children’s college fund.
So what’s with all the emails? For some reason or another Islamic organizations feel that their higher calling gives them a license to break all the rules. Even if you aren’t directly impacted by the email, you should do your Muslim duty to forward it to everyone you know, perchance they are affected by it. We feel that our higher purpose, our good cause, somehow trumps the respect that we should have for someone else’s privacy and time.
I have to make a confession: I have started hitting the ‘report spam’ button in my email for some of these “noble” emails. I didn’t agree to be on your list, and you didn’t give me an unsubscribe option, so now you have to deal with the consequences of your actions.
So now your masjid, or MSA, or your dawah organization needs an email list. How do you ensure that you are not spamming anyone?
Here’s three quick tips to keep in mind.
1. Create an email list using a newsletter service that allows people to manage their subscription. Examples include Google Groups and Constant Contact. Do not send out a mass email that you BCC everyone on (horrible), much less broadcast your whole list by adding them to the TO or CC lines (even worse). Remember that whole thing in the Qur’ān about simply reminding people (i.e. not shoving things down their throats)? It applies here too. Let people opt to receive or not receive your email.
Utilizing a service like this also makes it easier for people who actually want you to communicate with them, to sign up for your list.
That brings up another point, make sure your email list is actually open to membership. One Islamic center in my area has a closed list, and I have actually tried subscribing to it four times, but still cannot join. I do however, receive random emails from that list when they are forwarded to me by people I don’t know. This is a failure of epic proportions.
2. Get permission to add people’s email addresses to your list. When starting a list, it is difficult to get going. A masjid, for example, might take their membership directory and add everyone to the masjid announcement list. This is okay, it is within your scope – provided you follow the advice in the first point above (i.e. they can unsubscribe at will). It is not okay, to take the emails from a private class, and dump those emails into a list for city-wide announcements about all kinds of random projects. Students expect only communications related to that class, not a plethora of other projects, no matter how worthwhile they are.
3. Respect other people’s time and privacy. You are not entitled to have access to someone’s email address, and you are not entitled to having them read it. The same way you would not give unfettered access to your text message inbox, others don’t want you intruding their email box. That means you need to make sure what you are sending is important and relevant to the list itself. It also means that you need to utilize the proper member access controls (which are only available if you utilize #1 properly). A masjid or MSA announcement email list should never have an ongoing debate about anything. Why? Because your list should never authorize the general community to send an email to the list and broadcast their (sometimes beneficial, sometimes useless) thoughts to everyone in the first place.
Finally, for those of you who are actually in charge of sending emails on behalf of organizations, it is a must that you read through both Seth Godin’s email checklist and Chris Andersen’s (from TED) email charter.