Helping the Special Olympics Stay on a Winning Track

Get Insights from Special Olympics Maryland, Prince George's County

Hear Karen Reznek, who has been managing LISTSERV lists for more than two decades, share how to keep a community engaged and informed. In this interview, the focus is on a group of Special Olympics athletes, parents and coaches. The email tips and best practices Karen – a management team member (tech support) and swim team manager for SOMDPG – discusses are applicable to almost any group.

Q: What does SOMDPG do?

It provides valuable experiences for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as the health benefits of exercise for an often-neglected population.

Q: How did you join SOMDPG?

My daughter had wanted to join the swim team for several years, but I was unable to find a contact who would respond. I resolved to make it much easier for families to find SOMDPG. I joined the management team and offered my services to get the information out there, with contacts who would respond. Eventually, people realized how much easier it was to get information out to team members without coaches having to maintain their own lists of email addresses.

Q: In essence, what does LISTSERV do for you?

It has been extremely useful to have a means of getting information out to our team families. With LISTSERV, it is possible to both send individual team messages, as well as get messages out to the entire local Special Olympics community. Communications are mostly information-based – practice dates, qualifications, requirements, etc., and some are for support as families face challenges or something really good happens to an athlete.

Under normal circumstances, the lists share information on training and competition. Sadly, during the pandemic, they have also been used to share the loss of some of our members. On the upside, they have enabled teammates to keep in touch with each other when in-person training was not possible.

Q: What are the results you enjoy most?

"It helps me to stay informed on events and connect with our sports family."

– Sharilyn, Parent of a SOMDPG Athlete and List Subscriber

It has been easier to reach people and get information to them. Searchable archives are a huge plus for those who join later in the season or have lost an email with important information. The ability for subscribers to control their subscriptions, the ability to moderate and the master/sub-list option.

Q: Can social media replace your LISTSERV communications?

No. Given Facebook's tendency to curate what is seen on a feed, too much important information would be missed to use it.

Q: How do you organize your LISTSERV lists?

Using one overall list, with the individual lists as sub-lists under that, makes it possible to send general information, fundraising appeals and anything important for the entire community through the top list. Subscribers receive only one copy, instead of one from each team they might be part of.

Basically, there is one master list, so anyone subscribed to a team list will receive posts sent from that list. Under it are lists for each team, including the management team. When a person signs up to do a sport, they or a family member is subscribed to the related list.

LISTSERV Super-Lists and Sub-Lists

Lists are set to reply to sender, and everyone other than the coaches and anyone who needs to get information out quickly is moderated. This prevents the lists from being overwhelmed by people asking the same questions, sending thank you posts, and anything that does not need to be seen by every single subscriber.

Q: Are there any challenges?

Resistance from people who did not understand how helpful email lists – and particularly LISTSERV lists – could be. For example, after my daughter had been on the team for a few years, I changed email addresses. I repeatedly notified the person sending the group emails of this change, to no avail. Because of this, my daughter ended up missing the first few weeks of the next season's practices because they continued to use my old address, and the bounces were ignored. A subscriber being able to change their address themselves, which LISTSERV makes easy, is so much better.

Q: Can communities benefit from email communications today?

I think that email lists are absolutely necessary. Back in the old days, it was necessary for a coach or volunteer to spend hours contacting participants if there was a change that had to go out before the next practice. With an email list, needed information can be distributed in minutes.

Semi-real-time discussions can also take place as long as people regularly check their email. If there are concerns, they can be addressed promptly.

Fundraising – it is very easy to send out appeals to everyone who is subscribed to a team list, making email lists invaluable for non-profits.

Inspired? Explore SOMDPG coaching and other volunteer openings:

Five Ways that LISTSERV Makes Communicating Easier + Better

  • Saves time so volunteers and staff can focus on their core responsibilities
  • Makes it easy to share information with subscribers from a single email list address – no need to manage individual email addresses manually
  • Ensures the right information goes to the right people with super-lists and sub-lists to keep them connected without unnecessary email volume
  • Boosts fundraising campaign outreach, making it easy to inform group members about ongoing activities
  • Builds community through the sharing of challenges and successes by keeping in touch remotely

L-Soft supports Special Olympics Maryland, Prince George's County, with a donation of LISTSERV software since 2011.

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