Google Groups is essentially an email-based social platform. What makes Groups helpful for campaigns is that you can enter your volunteer’s emails, and then send email updates about events to everyone in your group at a single time.
The distinguishing feature (as opposed to tech like MailChimp, etc.) is individuals in your list can respond to these emails. If they do respond, it creates an independent email chain, between the individual and the organizer, so you can do things like answer questions, address concerns, or arrange transportation, without bothering the rest of your contacts with specific information that is not applicable to them. It also ensures no one joins or posts in the group without approval.
Setting Up Google Groups
Creating a Google Group is very simple. Setting up all the various options is a bit painstaking, so we suggest using Google’s instructions to help create and name a group.
The most important part of this process is to change the basic permissions to keep the group private and prevent anyone from posting. To do so, ensure the the settings are as they appear below:
Once that is configured, you can create the group, but there are still a lot of other settings that need to be configured. To change the settings of the group, select ‘Manage’ which is either under or next to the group name, depending on the view.
Getting Volunteer Emails from VAN
Exporting the emails from VAN isn’t a particularly complicated process. Depending on how you are keeping track of your volunteers, create a list containing all the people you want to add and run the search. When it loads, click on ‘Export’, and specify the type as ‘Email Blob’. This should provide you a very long string, containing the names and emails for everyone in your list with an email, in a format like this:
Formatting Emails/Direct Adding Members
There are two ways to add members to your group, directly and by request. If your campaign has made personal contact with your volunteers, and want to ensure they are a part of the email list as quickly as possible (and that they don’t deny your request), we recommend direct adding.
The export from VAN, unfortunately, is an incompatible format for Google Groups. Groups is a powerful tool, and as a result, it has been frequently leveraged by those intending to do nothing but send spam. As a result, there are a couple quirks when adding members to your email list.
- For instance, emails must be in a CSV, so we need to get rid of the names, greater and less than signs and semicolons, and extract just the emails separated by commas.
- Be aware of limitations to direct adding. The risk of spam has forced Google to only allow 100 adds per 24 hours and only 10 emails at a time.
- A welcome message must be included for direct adds. We recommend a short and sweet message, informing the volunteer they are being added to an email list for volunteers to inform them about events going on in our area.
Once you have entered the emails, you can click ‘Add’. Google Groups will flag any invalid emails, so this process can also help you to validate the data in your universe. It will also prompt you to add more users at a later time, which will save your welcome message, relieving some of the pain from having to add people in smaller chunks. When you are done, all the volunteers you added will now be members of your group, and you are ready to start sending emails!
Tip: When you add the organizer who will be actually constructing/sending these emails, you will want to change their posting permissions, so they don’t have an extra moderation step where they have to approve their own email. You can do this by selecting the organizer from the list of members, and changing their posting permissions to this setting:
Sending Email Blasts
There are essentially two ways to message your volunteer list now. The first option is to use the @googlegroups.com email generated for you, and just send emails to that address as you would an individual email address, while Google emails everyone in the group independently.
Another option is to send messages from the Groups dashboard. This will give you a couple more choices, and should absolutely be your preference if you intend to use the forum feature in the group. From the dashboard for the group, select ‘New Topic’ as shown below:
Once you’re on this page, you can write your post much like a typical email. A couple specific options are ‘Lock’, which will prevent the ability to respond to the email (for a typical email blast experience), and ‘Display at Top’ which will create a pinned topic in the forum. When you are done, hit ‘POST’ in the top left, then everyone will be emailed about your event.