Many free email providers, including Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail, allow you to send a message (usually only through their web-based interfaces) to one (or just a few) recipients. In fact, these free email providers have safeguards in place to prevent spammers from abusing their services. Unfortunately, the bad guys have ruined it for everyone, and it makes it difficult for you to send that prayer request or church newsletter to your congregation.
These free services were never designed for sending bulk email. When you do send from these free services to multiple recipients, you'll usually get delivered directly to the recipient's spam folder, or not delivered at all--or worse, you'll have your email account suspended for abuse-- even if your email was legit (sometimes it only takes one complaint from a recipient). Additionally, many countries have laws that govern who you can send "bulk" email to, plus steps that have to be followed to stay within the law.
To help you send email successfully, we provide several alternatives to using a free email provider. If possible, we recommend that you send email from your own, purchased domain (like yourchurchname.org). When you do this, there are methods that allow you to send to mutliple recipients by "signing" or validating that the email is from you (or from your domain). However, even this doesn't resolve all deliverability issues. In our experience, providers like AOL, Hotmail, and others make it extremely difficult on the sender of emails by refusing to even deliver messages unless the sender is in the recipient's address book.
Some third-party services are able to assist with email delivery, especially when sending from your own domain. Companies like MailChimp, Mandrill, or Amazon SES (see instructions in the section below) are able to provide higher deliverability rates than you'll be able to get by sending the email on your own. Often, these services also provide additional services, like tracking, which enable you to see how many emails were opened, how many bounced, were marked as spam, etc.
If you have a MailChimp account, we now offer the ability to export names and email address from your ChurchTrac Online account to a MailChimp list. This allows you to manage and update your MailChimp lists from your ChurchTrac Online account. MailChimp offers a free service tier which should work great for most small or medium size churches.
There are several options for sending email from your ChurchTrac Online account. Administrators can access the Email Settings window by clicking Home, then Settings, then Administrator Settings, then Email Settings. The selected options will apply to any user who sends email from your ChurchTrac Online account.
This option is still offered for backward compatibility. To ensure email deliverability, we recommend that you use one of the other options (below). When using the SMTP option, you can enter your provider's SMTP settings, and we will route your outgoing emails through that server. Unfortunately, this option does not work with every email provider (and it does not work with any free email providers, like Gmail and Yahoo). This option will have the most issues with deliverability, as it works the same as sending an email to multiple recipients from your email application (most emails with multiple recipients are automatically marked as 'Spam' or not delivered).
This option allows you to manually send an email using your own provider or your provider's interface. You can also use an email application, like Outlook or Thunderbird. However, we don't recommend using this option, as it does not provide a high deliverability rate, especially when you're sending a message to more than just a few recipients.
Mandrill previously offered a free option, allowing churches a cost-effective way to sending email to multiple recipients. Due to changes in Mandrill's business model, they now only offer this option as an add-on to paid MailChimp accounts. If you have a paid MailChimp account, then you can enter your Mandrill credentials here, and we will route your outgoing messages through the Mandrill service.
Amazon SES (or Simple Email Service) is a low-cost solution that we recommend. In order to send email through Amazon SES, you'll need to create an account and validate your domain name. Additionally, you'll probably want to update your domain's DNS records to "sign" the messages from Amazon SES, which helps to increase the deliverability rate (unsigned messages will likely not be delivered, or delivered to the recipient's spam folder).
You now have the capability of selecting a Smart List on the People screen (or manually checking multiple names) and exporting their email addresses to a list in your MailChimp account. This option is located on the Messaging window on the People screen. To use this option, you must have a MailChimp account. MailChimp offers a basic free account, as well as paid accounts which extend the capability of their features. Once you have a MailChimp account, you can set up mailing lists and add people to those lists directly from ChurchTrac Online. Whenever you need to update a MailChimp list, or create a new list, go to the People screen and select a SmartList, or manually select the names you want to include. Next, click Messaging on the People screen's toolbar, then select the Export to MailChimp option.