GuideStar: The Consequences of Bad Bounce Processing

GuideStar, a highly respected non-profit organization whose work is to collect information about and provide resources to other non-profit organizations, is still sending email to an email address that almost certainly did request that email — sometime in the late 1990s. The email address was closed and disabled in 2004, however, and was not re-enabled as a spamtrap until 2008. Four years of 500-level SMTP rejections failed to get it removed from GuideStar’s list. How much of that list now consists of old, dead email addresses? How much of it now consists of spamtraps? The ESP is fortunately Lyris, which actually cares about good list management and should be able to help GuideStar fix this problem.

I mention this not because I consider GuideStar a spammer (I do not), but because this is such a common problem especially among non-profit organizations. I see bulk email sent to email addresses that have been closed for over a decade by local churches/synagogues/mosques (yes, a couple of those), small charities, local affiliates of large charities, activist groups, and political organizations. Some of these organizations spam non-opted-in email addresses intentionally, but many do not. They simply do not manage bounces or handle list hygiene with the same professional care that most companies have learned that they must.

Many non-profit organizations do not realize that their CAN-SPAM exemption in the United States, similar legal exemptions elsewhere, and the reality that most large blacklists and spam filters treat them with a degree of sympathy and deference does not mean that they’re exempt from the normal rules of proper bulk email management on the Internet. Constant delivery attempts to dead email addresses and loads of unwanted email to moribund email addresses or even role addresses do eventually get noticed, even when a cause is good. ISPs and companies that see enough spam even from a good group are likely to drop their sending IPs in the local router table so that they won’t have to deal with the mess.

GuideStar, after you get your list cleaned up, perhaps you could consider writing an article about the need for proper management of bulk email lists and posting it on your site, as a resource for all of the other non-profits you serve?

Sending IP: 208.66.204.232

Spam Sample:

Actual Headers:

Received: from mail39.elabs6.com (mail39.elabs6.com [208.66.204.232])
        by <xxx> (Postfix) with ESMTP id <xxx>
        for <xxx>; Tue,  1 Nov 2011 07:xx:xx -0500 (CDT)
Received: from [10.0.<xxx>.<xxx>] ([10.0.<xxx>.<xxx>:<xxx>] helo=<xxx>)
        by <xxx>.lyris.net (envelope-from <xxx>)
        (ecelerity 2.2.2.45 r(<xxx>)) with ESMTP
        id <xxx>; Tue, 01 Nov 2011 05:xx:xx -0700
To: <xxx>
Subject: Your Chance To Win $5,000 Starts Now
Date: Tue, 01 Nov 2011 05:xx:xx -0700
DKIM-Signature: <xxx>
DomainKey-Signature: <xxx>
X-Delivery: Level <xxx>
Reply-To: messages@guidestar.org
List-Unsubscribe: <mailto:unsubscribe-<xxx>@elabs6.com?subject=<xxx>>
Content-description: <xxx>
X-Complaints-To: abuse@elabs6.com
Message-Id: <<xxx>@elabs6.com>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: multipart/alternative;
        boundary="=<xxx>"
From: "GuideStar" <messages@guidestar.org>

Readable Email:

From: GuideStar <messages@guidestar.org>
To: <spamtrap>
Subject: Your Chance To Win $5,000 Starts Now
Reply-To: messages@guidestar.org

Joining The GuideStar Exchange Could Earn You $5,000

Learn more about the contest:
http://messages.guidestar.org/ct.html?<xxx>

Dear valued nonprofit,

GuideStar and KIMBIA have teamed up for the 2011 giving season to offer you a chance to win $5,000. The contest runs from today through December 31, but you MUST be a GuideStar Exchange Seal holder to enter!

<removed>

GuideStar

1730 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington DC 20006
Website: http://messages.guidestar.org/ct.html?<xxx>

<removed>

Please do not reply to this email address. If you would like to contact GuideStar, please send an email message to: products@guidestar.org for Product Services, nposervices@guidestar.org for NonProfit Services, webinars@guidestar.org for Webinars, or info@guidestar.org for all general information or all other inquiries.

We do not sell, rent, or lend the e-mail addresses of our subscribers. Click here to view GuideStar’s Privacy Policy:
http://messages.guidestar.org/ct.html?<xxx>

If you no longer wish to receive e-mails from GuideStar, including newsletters, webinars, training events, and product updates, send an email to: unsubscribe-<xxx>@elabs6.com

To limit the types of e-mail messages being sent to your account,
click here to update your GuideStar e-mail preferences.

GuideStar is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Copyright 2011, GuideStar USA, Inc. All rights reserved.

One Response to GuideStar: The Consequences of Bad Bounce Processing

  1. GuideStar spammed the same email address again, almost a month after I blogged about this issue. GuideStar contacted me out-of-band earlier, but I haven’t heard back from them after the first couple of emails. It doesn’t appear as if they fixed the problem with old/closed email addresses on their lists, although they might have started honoring bounces properly now.

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