How to set up a trade union email list

If one thing has become clear in trade union use of the Internet over the last decade, it is this: without a list of your members’ and supporters’ email addresses, there is almost no point in having a website.
But how do you set up a mailing list? There are basically two approaches: host one yourself, or pay someone to host a mailing list for you.


Large unions will already have membership databases that should include email addresses of members. In those cases, there will usually be a way for those systems to allow mass emailings. At a minimum, those membership databases generally allow the export of emails addresses to a separate file, which can then be used by any one of a number of mailing list programs. One of the least expensive and best of these is Group Mail, produced by an Irish company called Infacta. There are even free mailing list programs which you can set up on your web server, if you have the skills. Subscribe Me Lite is one example.
Programs like Group Mail and Subscribe Me Lite not only give your union the facility to send out bulk emailings, but also include subscribe and unsubscribe capabilities.
But my own experience with both of these has been mixed. Group Mail works best if your internet service provider allows you to use its outgoing mail server, which is not always the case. And Subscribe Me Lite is best suited to small lists. If your union has several thousand addresses, you’ll need a more robust solution.
This is where an externally hosted mailing list is a good idea, and here we are spoilt for choice. The good old days of free mailing lists (Listbot, later purchased by Microsoft, was a good example) are long gone. Today we pay for such services. For LabourStart’s mailing list of nearly 40,000, we heard prices ranging from £100 to £10,000 per year — for the same service. Shopping around is, therefore, a very good idea.
British unions have increasingly been using unionlists.org.uk to host their mailing lists. Unionlists is a very low cost, powerful solution, and is based upon the well-known Sympa mailing list software.
For more information, visit http://www.unionlists.org.uk/lists/.
Email nick@thewebtailor.co.uk for pricing and to get your union’s mailing list up and running.

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