Submitted by judy on

For the last four years NTLP has provided email mailing lists for use by library organizations.  With NTLP's imminent closure, those organizations should look for replacements for this service.

Even though NTLP ceased normal operations as of April 30, and staff will be dismissed on May 31, 2013, NTLP's mailing lists (with addresses @ntrls.org) can continue to be available as long as NTLP's Google Apps account continues to be active. This in turn will be determined by how long NTLP can keep its 501(c)(3) status intact (to continue eligibility for Google Apps for Nonprofits) and the domain name registered. That gives a little breathing space to the organizations using NTLP-supported mailing lists, but they need to start making alternate plans now.

 

Free Email Mailing List Services

Google Groups  and Yahoo Groups  are the two most popular options for email mailing lists that don't cost the organizer anything.   They are very similar.  Both allow you to send HTML email messages with attachments, and both give you the option of keeping a web-based archive of messages.  Both services require the organizer to have a Google or Yahoo account, but subscribers can receive messages from the list without an account.  Both require an account in order to access the web-based features.  Only Google Groups offers the option of adding subscribers directly, without requiring new subscribers to click on a link to accept an invitation.  (Disclaimer: Online services change.  Service features might be different when you read this.)

Your email mailing list at Google Groups would have an address like my-group @googlegroups.com.  Your list at Yahoo Groups would have an address like my-group @yahoogroups.com.

There is an element of risk when you enroll in a free online service.  The service might change or be discontinued at the whim of the vendor.  Of course, that might happen with a paid online service, too.  Evaluate the company you're choosing and make an educated guess about how stable the product appears to be compared to how essential it is to your operations.

For more about these services, see the help pages for Yahoo Groups or the help pages for Google Groups.

 

Configuring Your Email List

Email lists can usually be configured with the following types of options –

  • Who can send messages to the list?  (only the administrators, or only the subscribers, or everybody)
     
  • Do messages go through a moderator before being sent to the subscribers?
     
  • How do people can subscribe to the list?  (by administrator's invitation, or by sending a request which must be approved by an administrator, or by request without any need for approval)
     
  • Do the list messages have an identifying slug on the subject line? (This can make it easier for people to set up their email programs to organize messages using filters that recognize the subject line.)
     
  • Delivery options for each subscriber can usually be customized to adjust the number of messages sent.  "Digest" or "no email" are good options for subscribers that want to reduce the number of messages in their inbox or prefer to read the list through the web interface.

Common problems -

Sending to the list from alternate email addresses.  Sometimes people don't realize that subscribers are only identified by their email addresses.  If your work email address is the one that's subscribed to the list, your personal email address might not be allowed to send messages to the list, even though they both belong to the same person. 

Receiving messages at alternate email addresses.  Both Yahoo and Google will try to use your email address at their service (@yahoo.com or @gmail.com) your primary delivery address, but both of them allow you to choose an alternate address.  Just make sure that all your email addresses are associated with your account profile, go to the Groups Settings page, and choose your preferred address for delivery for each group.

Maximum message size.  Both Yahoo and Google impose maximum message sizes that might cause problems if you are trying to send a message with large attachments. 

Replies. Depending on the group's configuration, replies might go to the sender of the original message, or to the whole group.  The nature of your group will determine which is generally more appropriate, but the best solution to this issue is to train the group members to pay attention to the addressee field when they reply to a message.  If they need to reply to the whole group, or if they prefer to reply to just one person, it's easy to edit the 'To' field of the message once you notice it.

 

Other Alternatives

If your list will be used only for sending out announcements, you might want to consider an email newsletter service instead.  Newsletter services like Constant Contact, MailChimp, and Vertical Response let you send out professional-looking newsletters and often offer discounts to nonprofit organizations.  (NTLP uses Vertical Response, which is free for nonprofits up to a certain number of messages per month.)

If your organization is a 501(c)(3) and uses email for its members, you might consider converting your email to Google Apps and using its Groups feature.  Google Apps is free for nonprofit and educational organizations.  (There is a charge for other organizations.)   It includes enterprise-level versions of GMail, Groups, Drive (formerly knows as Docs) and YouTube.   Your mailing list under Google Apps Groups could have an address like my-group @my-domain.com.  (The email lists NTLP maintains are currently Groups under NTLP's Google Apps account.)

If you host your own server and don't mind handling server administration tasks, you could install Mailman or Majordomo, both open source mailing list managers.  PHPList is an open source email newsletter manager.