DARS Bulk Email Functionality Guidelines
This article will be updated on a regular basis. Updates may be required in response to updates to DARS or changes to business processes or errors.
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Author(s): Alison Edwards (UO Alumni Office), Dan Keyworth (UODO) and members of the DARS Business Process Working Group
This document sets out guidance for using the new bulk email functionality within DARS to create, send and then track emails to your constituents.
Using the functionality
Please refer to the DARS Training Manuals (Marketing and Communications) on the DARS Wiki for instructions on how to use the bulk email functionality.
The costs of sending emails through Blackbaud’s secure servers are currently already covered as part of the DARS Annual Service & Maintenance fee paid by each Participant. It is, however, a requirement of each Participant using this service that they immediately update their constituents’ records following any hard bounces received, to ensure the number of failed deliveries is kept to a minimum and Oxford remains white-listed on Blackbaud’s email servers.
Best practice recommendations
- Before you start
Users should ask themselves the following questions before embarking on a bulk email communication
- Do I need to send this? Can it be integrated with other communications?
- Does the mailing and its content comply with Data Protection legislation and, in particular, the rules about using email for marketing purposes (including fundraising) set out in PECR (See Mandatory Items, below)
It is recommended that any user contacts the DARS Support Centre before sending a new type of email for the first time, so that they can be supported through the process.
Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) compliance
In each email you send, you must include links to:
- A User Email Preferences Form, set up within Oxford Alumni Online
It is recommended that you incorporate these two links into any email template you develop. As they are legally required, DARS will not allow you to send any email through the System without including them. Contact the DARS Support Centre if you need assistance setting these up for your Participant.
Also, see https://www.darscentral.ox.ac.uk/file/collectingconsents.pdf for further details about PECR and processes to be followed by all Participants in relation to collecting consent from constituents prior to sending them email communications.
Data Protection Act (DPA) compliance
In respect of email communications we send out, for general emails not attaching a publication we must use the following statement:
- Please see www.alumni.ox.ac.uk/data_protection for information on the way in which your personal data are held and used in DARS. If you no longer wish to be contacted by the University by email, or wish to alter the way your data are held and used, please send a suitably worded email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For specific email publications (set up with a Mail Preference), we must use the following statement, inserting the name of the specific publication it relates to, so as to make clear that the Data Subject may opt out of receiving it:
- Please see www.alumni.ox.ac.uk/data_protection for information on the way in which your personal data are held and used in DARS. If you no longer wish to be contacted by the University by email, or wish to alter the way your data are held and used, or no longer wish to receive e-Pidge, our monthly Alumni e-bulletin, please send a suitably worded email to email@example.com.
It is recommended that you incorporate the relevant wording into any email template you develop. Further information about compliance with Data Protection can be found on the Development and Alumni Relations Intranet
Before you send an email message to its final recipients, you should first send it to an email list of a few test recipients. The test list recipients can review the message, such as to verify its design displays correctly in multiple email client readers. For more information about test email lists, see the DARS User Guides.
Users might consider the advantages of using an email template. This could support best practice and improve branding, but there are likely to be initial resource implications.
A library of email templates is under construction on the Development & Alumni Relations Intranet. A list of suggested external suppliers who can support this will also be developed and posted here. Contact James Heywood for further details.
What are the objectives for the communication? What do you want people to do/think? How do you wish them to respond?
We strongly recommend use of the new email tracking functionality (email Message Reports) within the Web Area of DARS to provide key statistics on the effectiveness of the emailing. Some suggested KPIs for emails are:
- Percentage of emails opened/read (over 25% may be a good result)
- Click-throughs to your website
- Percentage of email addresses bouncing back (we should aim for less than 2%)
- Tracking and recording email responses received
- Gifts and/or event bookings received (online transactions or otherwise)
- Impact on social networking activity, e.g. subscriptions or “Likes” on Facebook, new followers on Twitter account, etc.
All Participants have a duty to ensure that the quality of their data is as high as it possibly can be. Bulk email communications created in DARS will be sent via Blackbaud’s servers and, as a consequence, poor quality data carries the risk that communications will be categorised as spam where an unacceptably high percentage of email addresses bounce. Oxford currently has “white list” status but Blackbaud reserves the right to block future usage if data quality becomes an issue.
Not only this, but as emails sent to alumni can contain merged personal data fields, it is important that this data is as accurate as possible. Therefore it is in all users’ interests to help ensure that data is cleaned promptly, from both a practical and reputational point of view.
In particular, it is the particular responsibility of anyone using the bulk email functionality to ensure prompt processing of “hard bounce” email returns in good time to ensure that data quality continues to improve (see below).
A “bounced” email is one that is sent but cannot be delivered. The email Message Report includes details about two types of bounces: hard and soft. A hard bounce occurs when you send the message to an invalid account. A soft bounce occurs if the message reaches the recipient’s mail server but cannot be delivered. This may happen, for example, if the recipient’s mailbox is full or the size of the message is too large.
You can view a breakdown of how many messages bounced and the type of bounce that occurred. If a sent email bounces, you can also view the bounce error. Following this:
- An overnight process will automatically process email addresses that Blackbaud’s Email Services have reported as bounced. These will be addresses where the email was unable to be delivered because the address no longer exists or follows an invalid address format. The bounced email address will be flagged as ‘Do Not Email’. If the email address was primary the next valid email address will be promoted to the primary email address. The next valid email address will be determined by the most recent ‘Start Date’ on the address. An end date will be applied to all bounced email addresses. The exception to the rule is where there is no valid email address to promote to the primary. The ‘Do Not Email’ flag will remain in place, but no end date will be assigned.
- You do not need to correct constituent records for soft bounces. Furthermore, if the bounce error is caused by a temporary failure, the program tries to send the email again periodically for up to 24 hours, and you can also click to attempt to send the email again.
Issues to consider when developing bulk email communications
- Leave space between other key communications (email or otherwise)
- Be aware of timings of major communications at the University level, which include:
- Oxford Today (early March, late June and late October)
- Alumni e-Pidge (first Wednesday of every month)
- Campaign Report (c. July)
- Annual Fund mailing (c. November)
- An overview of major communications activity undertaken by UODO/ARO/PAD is available on the Development & Alumni Relations Intranet and key activity will also be notified by email and other means (such as Development Office News and the College News Digest)
- Be aware of other major communications activities
The functionality offers exciting communications opportunities but it should be recognised that some forms of communication demand greater planning, coordination and forethought. Most critically this includes emails that make a fundraising “ask”.
Ensure that you have considered which categories of constituent it is appropriate to send the email communication to, and excluded any inappropriate categories through additional suppressions to your standard ones for deceased, inactive, Solicit Codes, Mail Preferences etc. For example, should your communication be sent to staff? Or to students? Or to current donors?
We recommend that you use Salutations (Name Formats) if greeting constituents personally and always include their DARS Lookup ID (which is also their Alumni Card Number). Be mindful that any anomalies in your data contained within the merged data fields will be exposed to your constituents.
The functionality deliberately operates on a “no attachments” policy, as emails should instead provide links to online documents, rather than sending attachments, in order to save email bandwidth for the collegiate University and for the recipient.
| Important: If you wish to include any images or special links in your bulk email communications, then a workaround is currently necessary in order to facilitate them displaying correctly. Details are available at: http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/media/global/wwwadminoxacuk/localsites/dars/documents/BBDM_Images_workaround_QRG.pdf
It is recommended that users contact the DARS Support Centre before including images in their email for the first time. Please also ensure that you carefully test the correct display of your images and links before sending the email to any external constituents. NB. You will need to do this from a computer which is outside the University of Oxford domain to be sure that the images are displaying correctly.
How many people are you proposing to send the email to?
Emails to fewer than 15,000 recipients
Users developing email communications going to less than 15,000 recipients must share this information as matter of best practice and courtesy with their Email Champion as set out below.
Emails to more than 15,000 recipients
- Before sending any category of communication for 15,000 or more recipients through DARS for the first time, this must be referred by your Participant’s Email Champion to the DARS System Management Committee (SMC), and shared with other Email Champions for information.
- In doing so, the following information is requested by SMC to enable them to consider the proposal:
- Purpose and content of the email, including whether or not the communication includes a gift request/opportunity
- Proposed timing (and frequency if to be repeated)
- Number and type of recipient
- Brief information on your data cleaning procedures
Please send such a request to the Head of DARS Support Centre for inclusion in the Committee’s agenda.
DARS Communications SIG
The Email Communications SIG mailing list firstname.lastname@example.org can be used to share tips or resources with other Communication Administrators throughout the Collegiate University. Please also use this list to ask any questions or ask advice from the group.