Should you do a list swap? The scenario goes like this: someone approaches you--perhaps even someone you trust, from a fellow organization--about getting you dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of new supporters for your list. Sounds like a great opportunity to spread your organization's message to a new segment, right? Make sure you're doing the right thing before you jump in.
Before you say yes, make sure you know what you're getting yourself into. There are contractual and legal issues surrounding the methods you use to obtain your supporter lists, so it's best to be educated about what's okay and what isn't. Here are some of the ways you can minimize issues from a list swap:
Ideal: trading with a similar organization, full disclosure to supporters, full opt-in
Example: Your organization and Organization B have similar campaigns or interests at a particular time. You both agree to acquire new users from each other's supporter list, and agree to go about it in a way that educates and gives informed consent to all involved supporters.
The best approach here is to send an email to your list, directing folks to the other organization’s site through an action, donation, or signup page. Your organization would craft an email explaining why Organization B would interest your supporters, then link to Org B (and vice versa). This way, supporters are made explicitly aware of what is happening and can choose to take action (and opt-in) accordingly. Nobody is added to a list against their will or without their knowledge.
Gray area: "I'm from Org B and I'm here to help you"
Example: Org B has a list it wants to give your organization. However, since it's not okay for your org to just import the list as supporters (see Red Zone below), you import the list just to send them an opt-in message inviting them to join your list. Then you delete/suppress any supporters who don't opt in.
This is dicey, but as long as you still offer an opt-in and don't contact users who choose not to take you up on it, you're okay. When sending the opt-in email to Org B's list, make sure to set the From name as "Org B," even though the email address you list should be from your organization. This maximizes visibility and accountability for both organizations. Again, be sure to keep the list of potential supporters in a special group so that they will be excluded from further contact if they don't opt in. Better yet, after the initial email, set the Receive Email status of the entire group to "Not our client" or other status that prevents additional contact. You can then loop back later and ensure those folks who opted in have the proper Receive Email status to keep getting email from you.
Red Zone: "This nice lady offered me a list of 10,000 new supporters for just $50!"
Example: Org B sends you a list of people. Maybe it's free, maybe they charge you a modest sum. You import them to your list and immediately begin sending them your regular communications and solicitations. It's so easy!
Whoa there, pardner. To start, this is a major violation of the Acceptable Use policies as outlined in Salsa's Terms of Service, and will bring your organization's contract under immediate review. We can and have terminated client accounts for this sort of behavior.
Aside from Salsa's wrath, this is a guaranteed way to receive a mountain of complaints from supporters and their ISPs, and could get your organization in a heap of trouble. The same rules apply if you get the list for free--you still must allow potential supporters to opt in, and respect their privacy if they choose not to.
In short, be respectful of potential supporters. Not only will you maintain goodwill in the Internet community, but you'll ensure that your list has the right kind of people who are actually interested in your work, and avoid a mess of problems in the process.