This chapter explains some key ideas that are useful for planning the use of CiviCRM's email capabilities. The chapter should be read by system administrators before they start configuring CiviCRM for sending email, and by regular users before they start sending emails to contacts.
You have three options for sending email:
- Your regular mail client (simplest option)
- CiviCRM's "send mail to contacts" functionality
- CiviMail (most powerful option)
Simple or insignificant emails that don't need to be viewed by others in your organisation shouldn't be sent through CiviCRM. Emails that you want to share with other members of your team should be sent through CiviCRM. If you are also interested in capturing statistics about the success of your email, including bounce statistics and click-throughs, use CiviMail.
CiviMail requires more work initially to configure and there are more steps involved in sending each email.
Working out which method to use for each email might not be immediately apparent. Over time, the best practices for using the right tool for each situation will become more obvious and can be shared among your users.
Personalisation of emails
You can email from a personal address, from a more general email address associated with your organisation, or from another person's address. For instance, an assistant can send official email messages under the name of his manager.
You can use tokens to insert personalised text, such as a persons name, into a mailing sent with CiviCRM. Tokens are placeholders that CiviCRM recognizes and replaces with an appropriate value when sending each message.
Display name and email greeting tokens are very useful. With a bit of customisation, you can also add more sophisticated information, such as details about the recipient's most recent donation or when her membership expires.
You can also provide a link to the person's contact dashboard so that they can review their registration details for themselves after logging in. Or you can use the checksum token to direct them to this page without logging in.
An email template allows you to create a generic structure that can be reused when sending emails.
You might want to have specific headers and footers for mass mailings (newsletter, internal bulletin, Press Release), and a few templates for regular emails.
Part of the planning involves to talk to those using CiviCRM for email to see what they need to send on a regular basis. Use this information to create a template for them.
Lies, Damn Lies, and Reporting
CiviMail can track links that have been clicked, providing useful information to help you understand the areas your recipients are interested in.
You can also track how many of your recipients opened the email and which links in the email were popular.
A word of warning about email opening statistics. The vast majority of the mail clients protect (by default) the privacy of the recipient. That's why, when you receive an email containing external data (such as images that are online), you get a warning message saying something such as "Images are not displayed". If a recipient doesn't override the privacy features, she won't be counted among the contacts that read the email.
Therefore, it's likely you will have more readers than the number reported by CiviCRM.
In our experience, having around a 30% reported opening rate can be considered good. This is obviously different for each organisation and each group you send emails to.
Don't focus too much on the absolute numbers, but rather use them as a way of comparing different mailings you send. You might want to use them to experiment with different layouts, writing styles, and lengths and see what works best for your constituents.
You might also want to consider the privacy issues (and we encourage you to do so). There are good reasons to turn off CiviCRM's tracking of recipients in order to honor your constituents' privacy. For instance, you may wish to avoid tracking who has clicked on the "how to deal with drug issues" link on a specific mailing.
Autofiling outbound email
CiviCRM lets you keep a history of email sent via your email client as follows. Use the BCC field (which no one who receives the email will see) to enter an email address that will be read by the database and converted into an activity. This activity gets filed in the record of the contact that matches the email address. If that email address does not exist in your database a new contact record will be created.