Email rules to live by, for marketers

One of my personal friends works in the non-profit space.  He has a blog post put up about the rules that are required in order to pass the CAN SPAM Act.  In doing some research, he found that people would say “Oh, yes, we know the rules about emailing and marketing” but when pressed… not so much.  In other words, people may know that spamming is illegal but they don’t really know the requirements from the law.  I’m reposting his article here:

Many fundraisers are fuzzy on the rules of email solicitations. Nonprofits seem to receive a little grace with people regarding how we use and reuse our email lists. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t know the rules. By following the rules, you can make sure that your email blasts do not start to become SPAM and that you can build trust and accountability with your donors.

The law governing mass emailing is often referred to as CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. This act regulates legal use of unsolicited email. Although this law was written for businesses, it does apply to nonprofit organizations. The Federal Trade Commission does not have jurisdiction over individual nonprofits, but the state attorney general and individual Internet Service Providers (ISP) can enforce the law. Fines can be levied that are as high as $16,000 per individual illegal email sent. Local ISP’s have a vested interest in enforcing this law as they can be liable if their clients break them. Here are a few key points:

  • The spirit of the law intends for all email to be clear about what its purpose is and from whom it is coming.

  • Email should come from a legitimate and active email address. Each recipient should be able to reply to a clearly identified sender or organization email that is visible and identifiable in the “From” section of the email.

  • The body of the unsolicited message should have a physical mailing address for your organization.

  • The subject line of the email should be clear about the content of the body of the email. There is a lot of wiggle room. However, if your email is an advisement, it must be identified as such.

  • There must be a method for an individual to opt-out of future emails. Their request must be granted within 10 days and they must remain off your mailing list for a minimum of 30 days (I would recommend you take them off your list permanently unless they otherwise designate).

  • This law applies to more than just bulk email: “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.”

  • If you hire another company to handle your mass emails, you are still liable.

For more information on the law check out these articles:


For a couple of more articles, refer to Al Iverson of SpamResource who recently wrote a series on the CAN SPAM Act: