Online AIDS Activism – A training from CHAMP Academy

by Lei Chou

MARCH 2007 • Issue 3

As an AIDS activist, your grassroots power can be amplified dramatically via the Internet. Developing an email list and releasing action alerts—asking people on your list to take a certain action on a political issue—can help you build a strong network of activists. People in the U.S. can respond to calls from activists around the world, strengthening and harnessing the power of our international solidarity. Here are some tips for putting together effective email lists and action alerts.

Guerrilla tactics for collecting email addresses:

• Attend community events and ask people to fill sign-in sheets with their contact information
• Volunteer as an advocate at a local AIDS service organization
• Join a community advisory board
• Search online databases:
National Prevention Information Network, U.S. Centers for Disease Control
National Minority AIDS Council list of community-based organizations’s state-by-state list of organizations
Your state department of health

Maintaining your email list:

• Remember that email addresses are temporary in nature, because it is so easy to change them.
• Expect a lot of people to unsubscribe from your list. You’ll need to continually find new people.

Keep up to date so that you can be a solid, reliable source of information:

Kaiser HIV/AIDS Daily Report: the top AIDS new stories summarized and emailed to you every
Google News Alerts: tell Google what kind of news you need to know, and they will find it for you

Provide a service:

• Send out reminders for conferences and scholarship opportunities.
• Help collect organizational and individual signatures for sign-on letters.
• With a global issue, bring the voices of international activists into your message and tell your readers
how it relates to communities here. Give national issues a local spin by saying how the issue directly
affects people in your area.
• Send timely action alerts—make sure that your readers can make an impact.

Take extra care in crafting your email messages:

• The subject line must grab people’s attention.
• The body of the email should be short and to the point. For longer pieces, create a link that people can click on to read the whole thing.
• Be considerate about the volume of email you send out.


• Don’t beat people over the head.
• Don’t guilt-trip people—be positive and proactive.
• Don’t take rejections personally.
• Don’t send attachments.
• Don’t get discouraged.

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

• Will readers know who sent the action alert?
Clearly identify your organization as the source of the action alert.

• Will readers know how to contact your organization?
Include complete contact information: email address, postal address, web site address, phone
number and fax number. Whenever possible, include the name, title, and phone number of the
person to contact with questions.

• Will readers know if the action alert is timely?
Always include the date that your action alert is distributed and the date by which action is
requested. (And don’t forget to include the year!)

• Will readers be compelled to read the action alert?
Communicate a sense of urgency with a provocative or compelling subject line, so readers will
open the alert and take action. Never leave the subject line blank.

• Will readers understand why action is important?
Include clear, concise background information, pointers to Web sites with more information, and the key points to communicate. Avoid jargon and keep the format simple with short paragraphs, section headings, and horizontal lines. Don’t assume the reader is familiar with the issue.

• Will readers know what action to take?
Be specific about what you want the reader to do. Include the postal address, fax number or phone number if you are asking readers to write letters, send faxes or make phone calls. Include a pointer to online information to help readers locate their elected representatives.

• Are you sure of the facts?
Electronic action alerts can circulate around the world in minutes. Since you won’t know exactly
who sees your alert, factual errors aren’t easily corrected. Verify facts by checking with a trusted
organization or individual before you hit the “send” key.

• Are you building your base of support?
Always include information on how readers can join your organization, volunteer to help, subscribe to (or unsubscribe from) the action alert list.

Highly recommended reading:
Comprehensive guide for online activism by NetAction

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