This documentation relates to CiviCRM version 3.1. It's not maintained anymore.
Current version of documentation.

What's the difference between 'ON HOLD' and 'Do Not E-mail' ?

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This page refers to outdated version of CiviCRM. Check current version of documentation.

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Make sure to check out Understanding CiviCRM as well! You can also support this project by ordering a hard copy.

'ON HOLD' means "This e-mail address definitely doesn't work." It's set automatically by CiviMail when a message bounces due to an Invalid Address error. If you get a working address, you're free to contact this person.

'Do Not E-mail' means "This person has asked to not be contacted by e-mail as a matter of privacy." This might be set my a human administrator. You're not necessarily violating the federal CAN-SPAM act if you e-mail this person; you're probably just annoying them.

There's also a third field: 'User Opt-Out' which means "This person has intentionally used an online process to be excluded from all Mailing Groups." Usually a human administrator should not set or unset this box. If you bulk e-mail this person without their explicit permission, you're almost definitely violating CAN-SPAM. The system won't ever let you do this accidentally.

This information should only be used as a guideline. If you have questions about the CAN-SPAM act, you should speak with an attorney.

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