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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Olan Mills and Church Directories

The church where Nathan is employed is in the process of making a new church directory, complete with photos of those who belong to or attend the church. Olan Mills is taking all the photographs and has been calling us for weeks in an attempt to get us to schedule an appointment for a photo session.

Last night I sent the following email to the generic church email address:

Dear staff members at [church name],

I am writing to express my concern at the way contact information of church attendees has been shared with Olan Mills. Tonight marked the sixth phone call to our home phone during dinner hours.

I find it problematic for the church to give out our personal contact information to any company soliciting our time and business.

Thank you for your understanding,
[my full name]

(This was considerably toned down from my first draft, incidentally, which included words like "outrageous" and "unacceptable" and phrases like "I have told them on several occasions and in no uncertain terms that, had I wished to schedule an appointment, I would have done so.")

There's no way I'm the only person who finds this approach irritating, right? Right? But I got a reply from the church which essentially said, not, "We're so sorry we gave out your contact information to a solicitor and you've experienced this irritating situation," but instead (and I paraphrase), "We're sorry you have a problem with it, but we have no idea why, since church directories are THE BEST THINGS EVER and EVERYONE SHOULD WANT TO BE IN THEM."

Part of the email read,

"Olan Mills is only making calls to either confirm appointments or to schedule appointments so that our entire church family can participate in the new directory."

Right. I KNOW. That's what my email was about, their numerous calls to try to make me schedule an appointment. Why are you reiterating the problem as though it's a solution or explanation?

The announcements in the church bulletin every week for the past two months, and the announcements made from the pulpit in Sunday mornings have all made it clear to me that a directory is being made. Six phone calls crosses the line from nice "church family on Sunday morning" stuff to harassment. I get enough sales calls in the evenings without having to worry about having a church give out my personal contact information.

Seriously, am I the only person who finds this outrageous?


  1. You are most certainly not the only one who finds it upsetting. I am not sure I would have been able to tone down my letter that much. Good job!

  2. I would find the situation irritating too. However, I also had to laugh out loud when I read this post--sorry! Did the email you received back actually include all caps?

  3. I think it's actually illegal for any organization to distribute your personal information without your consent. Did you, at some point, consent in writing that your church has the right to distribute your information to 3rd parties? Because if not, then they are breaking the law. You could, theoretically, file a class action lawsuit on behalf of your entire congregation! Although I am sure that you don't want to sue your church (hehehe, that's a funny thought!), you might what to double check the laws in your area, and send a cease and desist letter to your church administrator. Especially since they have been so rude! :)

  4. Anonymous4:55 PM


    This is Olan from Olan Mills. We just wanted to be sure you remember to schedule your photo session for your church photo directory. Church photo directories are the best things ever!!!

    I'll talk to you soon. (What time are you having dinner tonight?)

    Thank you,

    Olan M.

  5. Anonymous5:00 PM

    Hi Sarah,

    This is Olan again. I see you have a picture of yourself and Favorite Boy up in the corner there, which means maybe you already have a camera. That's great! If so, you can take your own church directory photo, but you need to do it with a sort of cloudy blue background. Just send us the photo and we'll start calling you soon about which photo package you'd like to order.

    I'll talk to you soon.

    Your friend,

    Olan M.

  6. Anonymous5:21 PM

    Hi Sarah,

    It's Olan again. Can you believe it? I hope I'm not being any bother.

    But, I wanted to be sure you know that even if for some psychotic reason you want to make the baby Jesus cry by not appearing in your church's photo directory, you will still have the opportunity to buy a photo directory at no cost to your church! Owning a church directory is a great way to learn what all the good people in your church look like smiling awkwardly before a cloudy blue background. Seriously, I own thousands of church directories, and I look at them all the time.

    So, I'll be contacting you soon about purchasing your church directory. Perhaps you'll want two - one for the home and one for the car. Please tell me your email address so that I can also conveniently contact you in that way. Also, we know where you live.


    Olan M.

  7. Six phone calls most certainly crosses the line. I assume you've told them "no, we're not interested"? I also agree with Becks - I don't think it is legal for your church to give out information for solicitation, even if it is connected with the church's plans. Our church directory (ironically!) has a note printed in it that no information in it may be used for solicitation purposes.

    And whoever the anonymouse Olan M. commentor is, he/she is hilarious. :)

  8. Hi, Sarah!

    As irritating as your experience with the Big O-M has been, you haven't even scratched the surface of this snarky organization.

    If you did submit a photo you had taken for inclusion in the Church Directory, they would not normally place your photo in proper alphabetical order. Rather, O-M would include that photo on a special page. The page is especially designed to scream:

    "Hey! The losers on this page were too cheap (or thought they were too special) to have our professional photographer take their photo. Rather, they submitted this childishly poor amateur photo. We don't want you to think for one moment that we took this lousy photo. So, we're putting on a special page. This, of course, will help guarantee that these folks will be overlooked by the majority of those using the Church Directory. And, (we hope) subject them to sufficient ridicule that they will never again dare not to have us take their photo."

    The other really annoying thing that O-M does: they copyright each photo. That's right. Oh, yes, it is a photo of you. But, O-M holds the copyright. And, they have a whole department at their headquarters who tries to track down any cases of their photos being used in print media without obtaining (for a relatively significant fee) permission.

    Don't you just love 'em?