There was a nice feature story in the Washington Post metro section on neighborhood listservs — Offering Both the Nice and the Nasty, E-Mail Lists Surge in Usage. The reporter cited Pew studies which have found that more than half of all Internet users are subscribed to one or more lists, up from just about a third in 2001. The reporter also noted that listservs were displacing traditional communications vehicles such as the home owner association newsletter and the community center bulletin board.
These findings didn’t surprise us here at Beaconfire, we play close attention to how nonprofit professionals use listservs. What did catch our eye was the size of some of the neighborhood lists. More than 2,000 subscribed to the Chevy Chase listserv, more than 5,000 subscribed to the Cleveland Park listserv. Those are big numbers!
OK, these are affluent neighborhoods in the nation’s capital — but you can bet that similar lists have popped up all across the country.
The thing about listservs is that they attract the outspoken and engaged residents of the neighborhood. For any nonprofit sufficiently local to legitimately participate in the lists, they offer rich opportunities to engage the community in the organization’s work, dispel rumors, and promote events and services. They also offer an opportunity for an overzealous staffer to make a pest out of themselves or inadvertanly brand a good cause as an unwelcome spammer in the eyes of the community.
Local homeless shelters, foodbanks, thrift stores, and park watchdogs should sign up immediately!