Communications between the association staff and membership is critical, as is a dialogue between members.
Bulk mail is now moving rapidly from posted paper to email as the preferred way to maintain a dialogue with clients who agree to receive it.
Formatted mail is gaining popularity as it allows an organisation's brand messages to be re-inforced much more powerfully than can be achieved with plain text. Most of us have noticed that the ability to incorporate graphics is often abused. However, a happy medium is not hard to achieve, given a little thought.
Bulk mailers are somewhat different tools to the humble, but familiar, desktop eMail clients like Outlook. They need to cater for a range mail servers, client applications, SPAM filters etc. The industry standards for eMail (MIME) allow mails to be sent in such a way that this goal can be readily achieved if you have the right tools.
In the real world we often need to mix post, eMail and Fax to reach a whole community. Facilities can be provided to make this simple enough. This can include a fax gateway to reach those recipients without email. This costs more than email (around 13p per page) but much less than post (average £1 per message). Finally, the right system can extract a mail-merge list that covers those recipients who accept neither email nor fax - or who simply prefer their communications on paper.
Permission management is becoming increasingly important, not just because of legislation but also because of the growing extent of email abuse on the net. You need reliable systems for handling unsubscriptions and all the proper opt-in and opt-out mechanisms.
Email rejections are inevitable as people move service providers, companies etc. These dead addresses not only clog up your database but you can lose coverage at an alarming rate. The solution is to have these failures automatically flagged on your database and, once they are established as permanent errors, create a process for handling the inevitable database updates.
When emails do arrive at their correct destination you need to be concerned about whether they are "hitting the spot". Track and trace capabilities can help you analyse the results in terms of whether they were read at all and, if so, which parts of your message were interesting to which recipients. Careful use of tools like this enable you to build up individual readership profiles that can steadily improve the precision of your marketing activities.
The Bigger Picture
eMail ias useful for outgoing information flow but it's so much more useful if part of an integrated two way communication strategy.
eMail for members
It ought to be very convenient for members to interact by email. These days it's not usually necessary to provide facilites for this as almost everyone is online. However, it is not always convenient for members to reach the right people with their messages. One way to ameliorate this is to provide a standardised addressing scheme so that members can be reached at forename.surname at your-association.org.
Frequently used lists of members such as councils or working groups generally require distribution lists.
Archives and Fora
In can be very useful to refer back to past correspondence by topics. This type of achive can be provided, typically attached to an organisation group.
Personal publishing online can also be a useful adjunct to communication between members. This could be done with blogs within e-ssociation or simply by including blog-rolls in members' personal profiles.
Structured approach to data gathering with convenient analysis.
Web Content Management
Last but not least, if you do not have full control over your website you should adopt a content management solution. This will allow you to keep your site current and to react quickly to changing circumstances.