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Feature

Matt Sumera and Mike Peluso outside Morrill Hall

Matt Sumera, University Relations (left), and Mike Peluso, University Foundation, cooperated to create a central, bulk e-mail system for the U that will be offered free to all units.

Delivering on the promise of e-mail

Improvement spotlight of the month

By Meredith Fox

From Brief, July 27, 2005;
updated August 3, 2005

For the University Foundation, e-mail messages to thousands of alumni and friends are a regular part of doing business. Fundraising appeals have been sent to as many as 110,000 at a time.

Using a regular personal computer to send a message of that magnitude would tie up a typical e-mail system for days. Until recently, the Foundation used an outside vendor to do the job, but it cost two-and-a-half cents per e-mail address per message. The price was increasingly hard to accept.

"The more successful we were in terms of expanding our network of potential donors, the more expensive it became," says Mike Peluso, associate director of communications for the Foundation. "We needed to find a better, more cost-effective solution."

Now a team of University communicators and technologists, including Peluso, has created a centrally managed bulk e-mail system that is significantly decreasing the cost to units and increasing the quality of the messages. Work is under way to make the system available at no cost to all University units as early as fall 2005.

The Foundation wasn't alone. At least six units on the Twin Cities campus were spending tens of thousands of dollars a year on an outside vendor to manage their mass e-mail communication needs, reports Matt Sumera, outgoing director of electronic communications at University Relations, Twin Cities.

"Recycle that paper...we're going digital"

The advent of e-mail promised savings of time, money, paper, and ink. University units historically used printing services, envelopes, and postage to keep various constituencies up to date, promote events, and raise funds through newsletters, appeals, and other messages. With 65,000 students and 17,000 faculty and staff systemwide--plus alumni, donors, friends, and prospective students numbering in the hundreds of thousands--that added up to a lot for the University.

"Delivering information in print means there is a time lag in the information to account for printing and mailing," says Mike Nelson, incoming director of electronic communications and a seasoned technology expert at University Relations. "Now people are demanding immediate, up-to-date information today. And as budgets get tighter, we find it's way less costly to deliver our message electronically rather than printing and mailing pieces."

For units sending a message to a couple hundred people once or twice in a year, e-mail is a simple solution. But for many colleges and administrative offices, it's much more complicated and requires a sophisticated solution.

A better way--from cost to credibility

Four of the biggest University users of bulk e-mail decided that there must be a better way. They pooled their resources, purchased a software package called Lyris ListManager, and worked with experts at the Office of Information Technology to develop an in-house bulk e-mail solution.

The original collaborators paid minimal up-front costs. OIT provided critical project management and hardware; it also took on operation and ongoing support of the Lyris system. Participating units are now saving significant resources, and the University as a whole will save more when Lyris is offered free to all units.

The system also raises the standard for bulk e-mail messages received from University offices and departments.

"The public just sees that they received an e-mail from the University of Minnesota, not college X or unit Y," says Hill. The system enables the U to present a good, coherent image.

"Bulk e-mail is not always the answer," says Peluso. "But when it is, this effort increases people's ability to present something that has a consistent and professional look and feel."

Furthermore, the system allows U e-mail messages to be scheduled so that alumni and donors don't receive a barrage of e-mails from many University units in one day.

The system is also sophisticated enough that it can target certain subsets of the University's constituents and stakeholders.

"It used to be that we had one flyer and sent it to our whole list," says Nelson. "Now people are so inundated with information that we have to target our audience much more strategically, and we can use this tool to do that."

Peluso sees yet another benefit in the University's increased control over appropriate use of bulk e-mail messages.

"When units were using an outside vendor to send mass e-mail, the University was at the mercy of the behavior of a vendor's other clients--many that were not University units and did not follow the strict bulk e-mail standards in place at the University of Minnesota." If one of those customers sent spam from a machine that also sent e-mail on behalf of the University, recipients' e-mail systems might block a legitimate message from a University unit. Using an in-house solution gives significantly more control over security issues of this type.

Jennifer Herold manages the distribution of marketing e-mail for the College of Continuing Education. She recently sent her first message using the system and couldn't be happier.

"We would have just continued on our way," paying an outside vendor, Herold says. "We really appreciate that central administration offered us this tool. Everyone here is excited about the possibilities offered by the system."

For more information

To learn more about the University bulk e-mail system, contact:

Mike Nelson
E-communications director
University Relations, Twin Cities
mnelson@umn.edu
612-624-0818

Do you have an improvement success story to tell? E-mail Meredith Fox at mefox@umn.edu.


Meredith Fox is community relations coordinator for the Office of Service and Continuous Improvement.

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