Remember that scene in Jaws where Roy Scheider is at the back of the boat and sees for the first time just how big the great white shark is? He says to the ship’s captain, “You’re going to need a bigger boat.” That’s sort of the way I feel about using the simple email tools – like Gmail and Yahoo.  Sure, these simple tools may be an easy way to get your club’s emails started but you may at some point decide that you need a bigger tool. Why? Because perhaps your club is growing or you’d like to have more integrations with other tools that you use for club communications. When that day comes just know that there are some good tools out there that will give you the functionality you need on whatever budget you may have.

We’ll take a look at some of those tools in this week’s blog. I’m using several factors to gauge these tools:

Cost – is it affordable? I’m assuming that most alumni clubs have no operating budget so email tools on a dime are key.

Complexity – is it hard to use? Some email tools are intended for the hard core email marketer and have lots of features that support that type of work. This factor looks at how easy or hard it is to do the basics (build a template, create an email, start an email list, send an email).

Integrations – can you connect it with other tools you use? Many clubs are required by their universities to use social media or websites to communicate with their alumni. Integrations with those tools can mean one less step you have to take in order to share news and events with your group.

Your University’s Email Tool

Cost: Free (hopefully)

Complexity: Depends on who’s responsible for sending the emails

Integrations: Probably none to little

Most universities will offer some sort of email tool that their alumni clubs can use. This may either be a tool that they use or one that they’ve provided to you. If it’s the former, you may be asked to provide content and they will manage the formatting and mailing for you. This is a great service for small clubs who may communicate with their alumni regularly but not consistently. If your University provides you with an email tool so you can manage your list and content, the tool may likely integrate with the University’s tools but not yours. But never fear, a free tool is better than no tool so ask your University club coordinator to give you some training and then start using it!

Constant Contact

Cost: As little as $20 per month depending on the size of your list. Contact them to qualify for a non-profit discount.

Complexity: Easy to moderate

Integrations: Yes

I used Constant Contact to manage both an alumni club email as well as my small business email marketing. Constant Contact was great for managing my small business. I could create surveys, sell tickets to events, post email content directly to my Facebook page, etc. For my alumni club, it was a little too powerful (if that’s ever really a problem). Setting up my email template was simple enough (and you only have to do it once). Creating and maintaining a list was also easy. Creating and sending emails were pretty straight forward too. Constant Contact gave me away to create a sign up form and attach it to our Facebook page. It was a great tool but when I closed my small business, I couldn’t continue to justify using it. As I was transferring our email list out of Constant Contact they were just adding some social media integration which looked promising. You could post your email on your Facebook and Twitter page and schedule it to repost other times. Pretty clever.


Cost: free for up to the first 2,000 active subscribers on your email list. The prices go up from there.

Complexity: Easy to moderate

Integrations: Yes

I moved our alumni email list to MailChimp when I closed my Constant Contact account. The setup was a little wonky at first but importing my list was not too bad, creating an email template was ok and scheduling an email was straightforward. I only had to import the list and create the template once by the way so the effort was all up front.

What I really like about it is that I can post a link to the email on Facebook and Twitter at the same time that the email goes out.  In the last year I’ve branched out and starting using a tool called Zapier to integrate several tools we use. For example, we give people the ability to sign up for our emails from our website. I’ve created a “zap” to grab their email subscription request and add or update their entry on our MailChimp list. Then it sends an email to our club coordinator asking her to add that person to the University’s email list. Talk about double duty! They are always introducing new features and templates AND they are free forever for up to 2000 subscribers. Score!

Other Email Tools

  • Gmail – you can create an easy distribution list and quickly create simple emails to send to your alumni. The upside is it’s quick and easy. The downside is that 1) you need a Gmail account and email address to send emails this way, 2) many spam filters catch Gmail addresses and your emails may not be seen by the folks on your distribution list and 3) there’s no easy way for your alumni to subscribe or unsubscribe from your list. They have to contact you directly and many won’t. These emails are pretty basic and if you’re not comfortable with an email marketing tool, this is a great alternative.
  • MailerLite – this is an email marketing tool that is free for up to the first 1000 subscribers on your list. It has many of the same features as the tools above and it has some integrations as well. I haven’t personally used it but wanted to make you aware that it is out there as another alternative to the email marketing tools discussed above.
  • VerticalResponse – this is another email tool that allows you to create an email list of up to 300 subscribers and send up to 4,000 emails a month for free. I don’t have experience with it but it seems to be consistent with the other tools mentioned. You can increase the number of subscribers and emails per month by purchasing a subscription ($11 per month) which may be worth it. It comes with some great integrations including Facebook, Twitter and Zapier (and many, many others).

Whatever tool you select, use it! Emails will help to inform your alumni and get them engaged in your activities.

Do you have questions about starting an email list? Would you like to learn more about how to setup an email list in one of these tools? Drop me a line below.


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