Using the Internet for Outreach and Organizing

Table of Contents

Traditional versus Internet Communications [1]

Communication Method Traditional Techniques Internet Techniques
Press release distribution Mail, fax Email, web pages, electronic wire services
Press contacts Newspapers, TV, radio, wire services Online media (e.g., CNet, Salon)
Newsletters Print Email, web pages
Rallies Hold rallies Virtual online town halls
House parties Hold house parties Chat rooms
Visits to legislators Conduct visits Web comment forms
Tabling Conduct tabling Web sign-up sheets
Phone trees Phoning Pass along e-mail ("Pass on to 5 Friends") emails)
Letters to legislators Mail, fax Online fax servers
Letters to non-legislative policymakers Mail, fax Email
Letters to the editor Mail, fax Email
Op-Ed pieces Mail, fax Email
Faxes Traditional fax machine Online faxing
Postcards Mail Electronic images emailed online
Petitions Paper Web pages
Action alerts Printed notices on bulletin boards, mail, fax, phone tree Email, web pages
Organizing around a specific interest Support groups, neighborhood groups News groups

Getting Started with Email Activism

Virtually all of the written materials that your organization produces can be adapted for electronic distribution via email, the Web, or both. Here are some tips to help you get started:

Is Your Action Alert Ready to Circulate in Cyberspace?
A NetAction Checklist

What Makes This An Effective Action Alert?

What's Wrong With This Action Alert?

Is It Outreach, or Is It Spam?
NetActionís Tips for Virtual Activists

In the hands of an experienced organizer or activist, email can be a powerful tool for outreach. Even inexperienced users of the Internet can make effective use of email for outreach and organizing on a global scale. A simple keystroke or a single click of the mouse, and you reach thousands of people, almost instantaneously. But is it outreach, or is it spam? As more activists go online, more complaints about unsolicited email, or spam, are sure to arise. Here are some tips that should help you avoid being "flamed" with angry replies.

First, some tips on making your email outreach effective:

Now, some things to avoid:

Tips for Effective Online Media

Email is an excellent tool for communicating with media. It is a cost-effective way to quickly distribute press releases and newsletters, and is also useful for submitting letters to the editor or opinion articles. Electronic press releases and newsletters can also be posted to your Web site. NetAction offers the following suggestions for communicating online.

Tips for Effective Online Media:

How to Create a "Bcc" Email List

The simplest way to create an email list for Internet activism is to use your regular email software. The most common products you might use are Qualcomm's Eudora, Microsoft Outlook, or Netscape Mail. [3] To create your own email activism list, you will need to be familiar with two features of your email software: the address book and the "Bcc" field.

Using Your Email Address Book

Most email software programs have a feature that lets you set up an address book where you can store the email addresses of friends, relatives, and business associates. Most email address books will let you store hundreds or even thousands of names, making it a useful tool for creating a simple announcement-only email list that you can use to send out action alerts, press releases or email newsletters.

For example, if your organization occasionally sends out press releases, you can set up an address book entry labeled "Media" to store the email addresses of reporters and editors so you wonít have to send individual messages to each of them. In the example below, we created a distribution list labeled "Alert List Sample" in Outlook.

Using the "Bcc" Field

When the email addresses have been entered in the address book, your list is ready to use. But youíll want to send messages to the list without disclosing any of the recipients' addresses. So if you haven't already been introduced to the "Bcc" field, it's time to get acquainted.

When you open a "New Message" window in your email software, the message form will usually include a header that looks something like this:


(Note: In some email software, "Bcc" is not included in the default setting of the header display. If you don't see it, try looking for a "Preferences" or "Options" menu, or check the "Help" file or the User Manual that came with the software, or contact the software company's support service by phone or email.)

Using the "Alert List Example" in the previous illustration, here is how you can send a message without revealing the recipientsí email addresses: Type "Alert List Example" in the "Bcc" field of the message header (instead of in the "To" field) and type your own email address in the "To" field. When the message is sent, it will appear to have been sent from and received by you, and will look something like this:

Subject: 	Action Alert: Paratransit service threatened

Always use the "Bcc" field if you send email to a list youíve created in your address book!

Using the example above, if you had typed "Alert List Sample" in the "To" or "Cc" field, all of the recipientsí addresses would have been displayed when they opened the message. There are two problems with this. First, some people prefer not to disclose their email address. Also, if the address list is long, the header will be long. This is annoying to some people because they have to scroll through screens full of addresses before they see the message. If your list contains several hundred addresses, just imagine how annoying it will be to scroll through all those screens! Here is an example of an email message from someone who neglected to use the "Bcc" field:

From: 	"Jane Doe" <>
To: 	James King <>, Alan Williams <>,
	Dave Garrison  <>, "Jennifer Reilly" <>,
       	"George Kelly" <>, "Thomas Jones" <>,
        Gina Rogers <>, Dan Stevens <>,
        Vincent Davis <>, Ron Butler <>,
        "Marc Smith" <>, Tony Altura <,
        "Jeffrey Carr" <>, "Michael Milton" <>,
        Peter Boyd <>, "Susan Smith" <>

In the illustrations that follow, we show the steps involved in setting up a distribution list in Outlook, and then generating a "Bcc" email message.

Step 1: Click to open the address book. In the "Select Names" window, click "New." In the "New Entry" window, click "New Distribution List."

Step 2: In the Distribution List window, type in a name for the list. In the "Add New Member" list, type in a new name and email address to add contacts that are not already in your contact list.

Step 3: To add names that are already in your contact list, click "Select Members," highlight the name you want to add, and click "Members."

Step 4: To send a message to the distribution list, click on the "Address Book," select the distribution list from the "Select Names" window, and click the "Bcc" button. Use your own address in the "To" field of the message.


NetActionís Cyber Security Checklist

Use this checklist of computer security basics to assess and improve your computer security practices:

Online Resources for Email Activism

Guides to Using Technology for Organizing

NetAction's Virtual Activist Training Guide -
A step-by-step guide to using the Internet as an activist tool.

Organizersí Collaborative -
Technology resources for grassroots organizations

One/Northwestís Activist Tool Kit -
Comprehensive information and "how to" guides on Internet activism.

The eNonprofit: A Guide to ASPs, Internet Services and Online Software -

Tech Soup -
General resources for nonprofits using technology.

Benton Foundation Best Practices -
List of resources to help nonprofit organizations use technology effectively.

Designing Effective Action Alerts for the Internet -
UCLA professor Phil Agre provides advice on how to design an effective online action alert.

Against Chain-Letter Petitions on the Internet -
Professor Agre discusses the problems with chain email petitions.

Online Political and Legislative Resources

Project Vote Smart -
Comprehensive information on federal, state and local candidates and elected officials.

California Voter Foundation -
Bipartisan online electoral information and voter guides.

Thomas -
U.S. Congress web site with links to legislation and representativesí offices.


Google Groups locates news groups -

Publicly accessible mailing lists -

Bay Area Progressive Directory & Events Calendar -

Craigslist announcement mailing lists for Bay Area events, jobs, etc. -

Newstrawler searches for news on the Internet -

Online Media Advocacy Resources

Media Advocacy Guides and Tool Kits

Managing the Media, A Guide for Activists -

"Raising Our Voices," A Tool Kit for Activists -

ConsumerNet's "How To Work With the Press" Guide -

ConsumerNet's "Nonprofit Publicity" Guide -

NetAction Notes 20 on Media Activism -

NetAction Notes 47 on Media Activism -

Online Media and News Services

Institute for Global Communications -
Links to hundreds of progressive organizations.

Media Alliance Links to Media Organizations -

Thousands of General Media Links -

Ascribe Public Interest News Wire -

Working Assets Long Distance Alerts and News -

Links for Progressives and Media Activists -

Salon Magazine -

AlterNet -

Common Dreams Newswire -

One World Network -

NewsBytes News Service -

Online Resources for Cyber Security

The CERT Coordination Center has comprehensive information on all aspects of computer security:

Stay Safe Online features more consumer-oriented security information:

Counterpane Internet Security has more technically-oriented information:

NetAction Notes No. 76 on Cyber Security:

Background information on firewalls is available at:

Additional information on DDoS attacks is available at:

Symantic and McAffee have virus alert warnings on their websites:

For detailed information on how to configure email lists, see:

For detailed information on using encryption software, see:


1. This chart was created for an Email Activism Workshop sponsored by the California Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (CARAL) and is used with permission.

2. See the Pew Internet Project at: for reports on the demographics of Internet users.

3. Most Internet viruses and worms are created to target the widely used Outlook and Outlook Express. NetAction recommends Eudora ( as a better alternative.