Autoresponders: Church Communication and Fundraising Applications
A number of technology tools can help a church in their fundraising and communication. Over time, I will post information about them. This article will deal with one of the most basic: autoresponders.
What is an autoresponder?
An autoresponder is an email facility that allows for the broadcast of an email, or a series of emails mailed at predetermined intervals, to be sent to people who give their OK (voluntarily opt-in) to receive the information.
Who can autoresponders reach?
Today, virtually everyone. Most people have a computer. Even my 90-year old mother had a computer. She communicated with friends and relatives all over the place. Her grandchildren grew up in an era where the word “letter” was not in their vocabulary. Everything was email. Today, my mom would have to buy an iPhone or a Blackberry and learn how to text message. But those are topics for a future post. Almost everyone who has a computer can send and receive email.
Are autoresponders intrusive?
No. First, a person normally has to fill out a form on a web site, enter their email address and give permission for information to be sent to them via email.
To prevent someone from entering your email address, reputable autoresponder companies use a double opt-in process. After you fill out the form, an email is sent to the email address you provided with a link you must click on to activate the autoresponder. For a church, this is also an added safeguard in that this confirmation provides proof of the opt-in if the person forgets or if there is a spam complaint.
What if you are a church with an existing email list? Can you import all these emails into an autoresponder? Generally, no. Most autoresponder providers either require everyone on your list to opt-in or require the church to show that everyone has already opted in to another list.
Autoresponders in general
The mechanics are very simple. There are ways to use an autoresponder without a web site, although a web site or blog would be necessary in order to put up a form allowing folks to put in their name and email to subscribe.
Emails can be sent out in text or HTML format. Some autoresponder companies have their system programmed so that if you send out an HTML email and the person’s email client can’t read HTML, a text email will be substituted.
If you choose to use HTML, there are tons of template choices. You can use the autoresponder provider’s templates or a company that specializes in email templates.
With that quick overview, I want to spend the rest of the article suggesting applications of autoresponders in your church. This is certainly not an all-inclusive list. Perhaps one topic will spark your creative juices and you will come up with many more uses.
Register for an event
It’s a simple process to put up a form on your web site allowing people to sign up for a class, dinner, teleseminar or webinar. I’ll discuss below how you can customize your form to gather many different kinds of information. For example, you could find out how many in the family will be attending the dinner. Once they have registered and are on that specific list, the church can follow up with reminders, change of plans or the specifics on how to access the teleconference or webinar. After the event, the autoresponder can provide for any follow up necessary.
The class could be about anything. The pastor could provide an email class similar to one he/she would teach in person. The key is, however, is that the class would only have to be composed once. Subsequent classes would be sent by the autoresponder at, for example, weekly intervals as new students sign up.
While the most common use of autoresponders is to send out prewritten messages at intervals, there is a broadcast feature that allows a message to be sent out to everyone on a specific list whenever you want. Your church could be involved in a capital campaign or the search for a new pastor. The autoresponder could be used to broadcast updates.
The most common use of the broadcast feature is to send out a newsletter. With postage rates going up, the ability to send a newsletter for free is a welcome alternative.
The web form where people enter their name and email address can contain many other fields. As such, it can operate as a mechanism to collect things such as birthdays, anniversaries etc. It can also function as a way to conduct a simple survey.
Communicating with non-attendees
The two groups that immediately come to mind are the home bound and service men and women.
I’m sure every communication, announcement and update about what’s going on at the church is very much appreciated by those who are tied to their home. What could brighten a person’s day more who is half way around the world, putting their life on the line to defend our freedom than a message or prayer from the pastor?
Those who have moved away
We are in a mobile society. Just because someone moved to another community doesn’t mean they have lost interest in what’s going on at the church they attended. I think that includes potential financial support as well. Keep in touch.
Send links to other resources
To be delivered and read, emails should be short. The autoresponder can send out a broadcast message, which includes a link to a video or audio posted on your web site or blog.
On the fundraising side, you could produce DVDs or audio CDs of events or sermons and sell them to raise money. The DVDs and CDs could be physical. Today, there are ways to deliver this content digitally as well. Either way, the announcement about the content can be communicated via an autoresponder.
To form subgroups
Use a web form to have church members sign up for a committee. Use the form to build a youth group. In both cases, now you have a segregated list that can be used to communicate with the subgroup as necessary.
Coordinate with a blog
If your church has a blog, you can put an autoresponder form on the blog, which allows people to sign up to get a heads up email when blog posts appear. You can set your autoresponder to send out an email whenever a certain number of blogs posts accrue, on a specific day or days of the month or automatically every time a new blog post is published.
There are a number of autoresponder providers, but only a couple that are the cream of the crop. I use two, one of which is coordinated with my shopping cart. The one I would recommend you check out is AWeber.
I hope that this post gives you some ideas you can employ in your church. Post your creative applications under ‘Leave A Comment’ so everyone else can benefit.