Guest Email List and Utilities for Tracking Guests and Former Members

The latest software updates were produced in response to a request to support having a separate email list for staying in touch with guests who are not yet members. You can also use it to keep tabs on former members you hope will return someday. This is part of the the integration with the Mailman mailing list utility. The Guests/Former Members tracking screen has also been updated to allow you to add those individuals to the list.

In addition, I’ve made it easier to manage one routine administrative task: approving or deleting messages that have been held for moderation.

The options below will appear on your Toastmasters settings screen if you are running an independent website. If you have one of the free toastmost.org accounts, I have to manually set it up for you (in which case I’d ask you to consider making a donation to the cause).

Guest email list option on the settings screen.

Simplifying Mailman

Mailman is an open source Linux utility that has been around for years. Once you have recorded your password, the WordPress software will log into Mailman on your behalf to perform routine functions like adding the email addresses of new members to your members email list. The link to the Mailman administration page, along with the password, are also displayed on the dashboard in the section only visible to site managers (officers) and administrators.

This kind of mailing list allows you to write to a single address and have your message distributed to everyone on the list. It includes some basic unsubscribe functionality, and you as the list administrator can also add and drop list members.

As an alternative, the RSVPMaker plugin included as part of WordPress for Toastmasters, supports integration with the MailChimp marketing email service. However, forwarding a message via the Mailman email list is a lot quicker and easier than setting up a MailChimp campaign.

Before distributing a message, Mailman checks to make sure the message was sent by either a member of the list, an administrator, or another email account that has been specifically whitelisted as an approved address. If not, the message will be held for “moderation,” meaning a list administrator has to approve it. This is helpful for preventing spam, but it does add a certain amount of hassle and gives you another password to remember.

The Mailman user interface for that task is not the most user friendly.

Mailman pending messages user interface.

Now, when you get the notification about one of these pending messages you can approve it from within the Mailman Mailing List screen in WordPress (under the Users menu, next to Guests/Former Members).

Where to find the Mailman screen.

This screen also allows you to view who is currently on each of the 3 supported lists (members, officers, guests) and to add or unsubscribe list members.

Under the Pending Messages section, you will see the email addresses of any unauthorized members who have written to the list, along with the subject line of the message or messages they sent. For each email, you can choose to Always Approve messages (whitelist), Approve Once (just this time), or Blacklist the message. If you approved the message, it will be transmitted. If you choose Blacklist, the message will be deleted and any further messages from that address will be blocked.

You can also click on the message to read its content before deciding, although currently that does require you to log into Mailman directly. Often, it’s pretty obvious from the subject line and the email address, for example if a member is writing from a different email address than the one on the list or if a district officer is trying to write to your club.

The Mailman Mailing Lists screen in WordPress

Adding Email from RSVPs and Guests/Former Members List

The Guests/Former Members screen automatically tracks information about people who used to be club members (and users of the website) but aren’t anymore. You can also manually add information about guests and former members who you want to stay in touch with. You now have the option of checking off emails from the Guests/Former members list that should be added to your guest email list in Mailman.

If you use RSVPMaker to register guests online, you can also pull in the email addresses people who have visited but not joined your club from those registrations. This is relevant to the online club I helped found, Online Presenters, where we have people register to get the link to the video conference.

Here is a quick video demo of how that works.

Email List Integration for Your Toastmasters Club

WordPress for Toastmasters supports several options for sending email to your membership, particularly for the purpose of collaborating to fill openings on the agenda. This article specifically discusses integration with Mailman, an open source mailing list management utility often included with web hosting accounts. When you add member accounts to the website, the email addresses will automatically be added to the mailing list. Email addresses will automatically be removed from the list when user accounts are deleted.

This allows you to write to an address such as members@mytmclub.org and have your message automatically sent to all club members without the need to look up their individual email addresses. I find it particularly useful for forwarding on information received from the district level, such as details about upcoming conferences, contests, or training events. Optionally, you can also establish a second email list just for officers.

Here is an example of a message sent this way, with the club name added to the subject line in brackets and a footer added to the body of the message with mailing list info.

Sample mailing list message.
Sample mailing list message.

Note: This feature is not enabled by default with the free websites I have been offering on the toastmost.org domain because I haven’t found a good way to automatically provision these accounts. The section of the administrator’s Toastmasters settings screen related to mailing list setup features is not even displayed on your accounts for that reason. However, I can set it up for you upon request.

If you are using the WordPress for Toastmasters software on your own hosting, check to see if your host supports Mailman. For example, if your web host uses the Cpanel utility for site management, the Cpanel mailing list function will take you to this setup page for creating a Mailman list.

Mailman list setup in Cpanel
Mailman list setup in Cpanel

After creating the list, click on the Manage link to go to the Mailman administrator’s dashboard. From here, you can further customize your list settings.

How Mailman Works

By default, any list member can send messages to the whole list. Any message received from an email address not on the list will be held for moderation. This helps prevent the list becoming a more efficient way of sending spam. However, you can designate a list of email addresses not on the list from which messages should be accepted.

You can designate multiple list administrators and list moderators with the authority to approve messages that are held for moderation.

Moderation tends to be an issue with members who have multiple email addresses, for example a personal email address, a work email address, and an address assigned by the Toastmasters district organization (for example, to an Area Director). If the list receives a message from one of those valid email addresses, you can approve it and add it to the “Accepts” list (messages from this address should be accepted in the future) at the same time.

Here is what that looks like:

Approving a message and adding the sender to the "Accepts" list (email address is checked and "Accepts" radio button selected).
Approving a message and adding the sender to the “Accepts” list (email address is checked and “Accepts” radio button selected).

Setup for Automatic Sync with Mailman

To keep the membership list consistent with the Mailman mailing list, want to record a few key settings on the Toastmasters settings screen in WordPress.

WordPress will post updates to the list almost exactly as a user would. For example, in my example of a list hosted at toastmost.org, the url for general options is …
https://toastmost.org/mailman/admin/voice_toastmost.org/general

… and the url for viewing the member list is …
https://toastmost.org/mailman/admin/voice_toastmost.org/members

What we’re going to record on the settings screen is the first part of that address, before the words “general” and “member”

Copying the root url for Mailman
Copying the root url for Mailman

We then record that info on the Toastmasters settings screen, along with the mailing list email address and the account password.

Mailman entries in Toastmasters settings.
Mailman entries in Toastmasters settings.

Once you have saved this information, you should be able to click on “Add current members to mailing list” to make the program sync for the first time with the email addresses of your organization’s members. Check the Members screen in Mailman to verify that it worked.

In addition to being used behind the scenes to keep the lists in sync, the account password information will be displayed to logged in members who have officers rights on the WordPress dashboard. This allows them to log in and make administrative changes manually, such as adding and removing email addresses not handled by the automated process.

Recommended Mailman Settings

You may have to experiment to find the settings that work for your club, but here are some that have worked for me.

General Settings

Add any additional list administrator / list moderator addresses. It helps to give more than one person this authority.

Prefix for subject line of postings

[Club Voice] in the example above. Defaults to the list name, so voice@toastmost.org would be just [Voice] by default

Where are replies to list messages directed?

“This list” if you want replies to automatically go to everyone. Otherwise, “Sender” so replies only go to the sender (unless the recipient clicks “Reply All”)

Send monthly password reminders:

No

Send welcome message to newly subscribed members

No (or if Yes, be sure to customize the message)

Send mail to poster when their posting is held for approval? 

Yes

Maximum length in kilobytes (KB) of a message body. Use 0 for no limit. 

0

Privacy section -> Sender Filters

List of non-member addresses whose postings should be automatically accepted. 

This is where you can enter a list of alternate email addresses for members, such as a work email for someone who is on the member list under their personal email address.

Content Filtering

Should Mailman filter the content of list traffic according to the settings below?

<p”>No (unless you have trouble with inappropriate content being sent, you probably want to allow members to send file attachments and other content this might interfere with)

A Note on Security

Mailman is a separate piece of software, very established but not terribly sexy. It gets the job done. You should understand I have a limited ability to customize it. The integration method I’m using is very basic and posts the application password with each transaction. The risk of posting to a url on the same server may not be all that great, but ideally you should be posting to an encrypted version of the url (https rather than http).

Setting up encryption on your website is less complicated and expensive than it used to be, thanks to the Let’s Encrypt project to distribute free SSL digital security certificates. If your host uses Cpanel, check to see if Let’s Encrypt is enabled for your account or ask your host if it can be turned on for your account.

I actually used this feature unencrypted on the website for my home club for years and never had a problem, but your mileage may vary.