In late February, I posted Aiming to increase newsletter subscribers? We have a plan for that!

In response, Vicki Campbell, from Washington County Extension commented:

Isn’t this the same information collected when someone fills out “Add me to your mailing list”, like on our web page and newsletters? I have never called it RFI but it does add the customer to our newsletter database. If not the same, how is this different?
Vicki Campbell
Washington County Extension

This is a great question and I want to expand on how we can expect an RFI (request for info) form to assist us in our Extension work where a newsletter opt-in (or subscription) may not.

(You’ll recall how in my last post I wrote about what an RFI form is for, but you can click here for a quick review)

It is important to begin by highlighting all the positive qualities of our Extension newsletters. The wide array of newsletters through which we currently serve our respective audiences are an important facet of a program’s or office’s outreach to constituents.

As a means by which to thoughtfully consider all the varied pieces of information and insight—there’s a lot, right?—you and your team can put out into the virtual world, the newsletter format allows you to curate them into a meaningful package. Nothing beats the convenience, low cost (do you recall the costs of printing and then distributing a paper version? What an ordeal!), and reliability of putting out precisely the info that your team considers the most important to provide.

A standard newsletter can (and will) continue to serve our Extension work in this way.

Yet we are also able to envision a future using other means—RFI forms being one—to begin collecting personal contact information of our constituent, then allowing us to follow up with big outreach efforts.

RFI—request for info—forms and our bright future

The main thing to consider is just as soon as we, using our shiny, new Navigator digital tools (more arriving each month!), begin to enable the collection and use of more-and-more specific personal information, then it follows how much more responsive we are able to be.

The goal is to offer constituents precisely what they really want to learn about.

The part of this discussion having to do with overall collection of information is multifaceted and nuanced, so in fact we won’t be able to cover all of it here. For the sake of beginning to talk about the future of our digital outreach, though, we will focus on RFI forms as one of the tools in our toolkit to collect increasingly detailed bits of a person’s information.

For the Navigator initiative, the shift expected of us is to consistently consider the deliverables of our respective programs from the point of view of each of our constituents, considering their needs and interests, above and beyond our perspective of what programmatic content we consider important at that time.

The important work of Extension… and getting even better!

This means our thoughtful consideration of what is/isn’t important information will remain a priority and also we will gain new ways—new tools, new techniques—to match up the breadth of what we can offer with the specific ways an individual can be served at any one point in time.

This is the personalized digital experience for which we have been planning.

Comparison: RFI forms and newsletter opt-ins

At long last… the answer to Vicki’s question about how these two techniques do differ allows us to review the unique strengths of each approach.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that each of these are valid techniques and they are useful for us to meet distinct goals we have in mind as we select between them.

As we explore this, some considerations revolve around the benefits we at Extension stand to receive (which does remain a priority), while others have considerably more to do with the user experience that constituents have as they interact with us virtually. We will evaluate our efforts as “successful” soon as we begin to hear from people how much fun they had navigating through their experience with us!


RFI (request for info) form Opt-in (subscribe) to newsletters
  • using an open text input field, RFIs are an opportunity for the person to speak up about what helpful info they need
  • which can (optionally) lead to a direct engagement with Extension faculty and/or staff
  • provides the means by which to rapidly deliver value to our constituents
  • the submitted info (data) is collected into one system
  • it’s designed to be aware which web page the person is on at the time
    • for example, a person who is actively reading the “2020 Bee School” page when they decide to click the RFI form tells us a bit about their interests… without them having to ever actually type that in
    • this personalized info—person “a” was viewing info from the Bee School—is saved into our system
  • in appropriate cases (events, e.g.) it’s also aware which county’s content the person is viewing at the time
    • upon providing their personal info, we know the county in which they themselves reside
    • then we compare—perhaps that person resides in the same county, perhaps not (maybe the next one over)
    • we gain the ability to intelligently match our promotion efforts for upcoming events to people who have shown interest in events for that county—regardless which county they live in
  • a slowly-evolving concept we can consider is responding to a portion of these inquiries with automated responses (where that’s both applicable and helpful)
  • performing a review of the analytics data is simple and easy as it lives all in one system
  • people can opt out at any time
  • collects just a person’s minimal contact info
  • the next touch point for the person depends on when the next issue goes out
  • Extension faculty and programs are able to curate the info going out to constituents—but is it the info they need most?
  • subscribes a person to one, specific, targeted facet of a program’s outreach efforts, but constrains us to communicate with that person in only that one manner (channel)
  • currently pushes the actual data to varied, disconnected resources from which one Extension office/program can’t acquire value from that of another office/program
  • currently pushes responsibility of performance analytics out to each individual office/program
  • people can opt out at any time


About the Navigator digital engagement team. For months now, many of you have heard from me as I produce a long-term CRM strategy for OSU Extension and non-credit learning. I look forward to talking with you and ensuring the CRM plans are in alignment with the business needs of your unit and the long-term vision of the university. The Navigator team is looking forward to talking with you about how digital engagement is aligned with your work and can provide new benefits.


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2 thoughts on “A reader asked: How do RFI forms differ from newsletter opt-ins? Let’s explore!

  1. Thanks for the post, Mark. Am I understanding correctly?: We could put a “Can’t find what you’re looking for?” button on all pages of our website that would trigger a RFI, which would 1) give us the user’s information so we could contact them directly to get them what they need and 2) would let us know what users think is missing from our website (which we could track to the individual page they were on when they clicked “can’t find what you’re looking for”).

  2. Kristi, thanks for the question. You are describing a completely valid use case for an RFI form, absolutely. In terms of employing positive psychology in a Call-to-action (the button wording, i.e.), I’d be inclined to recommend wordsmithing that to convey the benefits a website visitor can receive from submitting the RFI rather than shine a spotlight on the fact they “can’t find” something. But that said, you’re spot on!

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