The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

9 Email Do’s and Don’ts for the Sender

Anyone who regularly uses email to communicate with co-workers or other professional contacts has probably noticed that, despite its many positives, email can also be incredibly inefficient.

Think about it: How many times have you volleyed a half-dozen messages with a co-worker over the course of two days just to schedule a meeting? How many hours of your life have you wasted trying to decipher messages missing one key word? And how many tasks did you interrupt today alone so you could respond to a note that just arrived in your inbox? When you consider how many issues email can pose – and how many of your nonprofit’s staff members use it to communicate on a daily basis – you can begin to see just how much this tool can actually hinder your organization’s ability to get things done.

The good news is that you can get back to a state of efficiency without giving up email altogether; you just have to get rid of some bad email habits – and convince your co-workers to do the same.

1. Make sure that email is the right communication tool for the job.

Although email can sometimes feel like the ultimate replacement for all other forms of communication, it’s actually more limited than you might initially think.

First of all, email is not synchronous like telephone calls or in-person conversations; in other words, sending a message does not guarantee an immediate response. Also, it can sometimes take more time to write an email than it would to speak to someone directly. Finally, email doesn’t make it easy to convey quick sketches or notes that are nonlinear. If you need an immediate response, think you’ll have a lot of follow-up questions, or need to convey a complex topic using visual aids, email is probably not the best tool for the job.

2. Get to the point right away.

Whenever possible, ask your question – or provide your response – within the first few sentences of your message; you can always give details and explanations later. Tackling the major points up front decreases the chances that you’ll lose your reader’s attention, confuse him, or irritate him by forcing him to spend extra time looking for your point.

Good: Hey, can you send me your TPS report today? I noticed you haven’t filed it yet.

Bad: Hey, I noticed you haven’t filed your TPS report. It’s really important that we get all these reports in every day. Have you done yours yet? I’d like to take a look.

3. When asking a question, be sure to ask the question.

If you need information or have a request, phrase it as a question to ensure that your recipient knows you need a response. Simply making a statement and assuming people will respond is a good way to get ignored.

Good: Do you have time to analyze the failure of the TPS report system and put together a report on it this week? We may have an opportunity to go with a different vendor.

Bad: We need to look into the failures of the TPS report system. A report would be good to have.

4. Specify who should respond.

If you send an email to a list or a group of people, you may not receive a response unless you specify who in that group is responsible for following up. Group emails make it easier for all recipients to assume someone else on the list will handle the request.

Good: Hi, all. Good news: We’ve decided to upgrade the TPS report system based on your feedback. Peter, can you check in with IT to make sure the rollout doesn’t require us to stop production of the reports?

Bad: Hi, all. We’ve decided to upgrade the TPS report system based on your feedback. Can we check in with IT before this happens?

5. Be clear about when you need a response.

If you want the recipient to get back to you by the end of the day, save yourself the frustration of playing the waiting game by setting a deadline for a response. Otherwise, your co-workers might put your message on their to-do list and get back to you whenever it’s convenient for them. Additionally, you may want to bring extra attention to time-sensitive messages by flagging them as high-importance items or noting the deadline in the email’s subject line.

Good: Can you replace the cover sheet on your TPS report with the new cover sheet we’re using now? Also, please re-file it by the end of the day.

Bad: Yeah, I’m going to need you to go ahead and replace the cover sheet on your TPS report with a new one, OK?

6. Provide context to frame your message.

If you’re emailing someone out of the blue, don’t just assume he or she will know what you’re talking about – even if you were just talking about it in person a few minutes ago. People don’t always check their email right away, so they may not recall what you were discussing. Also, some people may want a record of the email thread to look back on days or weeks later.

Good: I agree with what you were just saying in the hall about how TPS reports are a waste of time. I’m not going to do mine anymore.

Bad: You’re right. I’m not doing mine anymore.

7. Don’t forget the rules of grammar and punctuation.

You might think that you’re being hip by forgoing all capitalization and paragraph breaks in your messages, or you might just be trying to save yourself time by never proofreading your outgoing messages. Either way, you’re increasing the chances that your message will be misunderstood, and you’re definitely wasting the recipient’s time by forcing her to decode your cryptic note.

Of course, some variations on style are fine, but remember that grammar and punctuation were invented for a reason. Checking your outgoing messages for spelling, grammar, and punctuation not only helps make your organization’s internal communications more efficient, it will also make you appear more professional to the outside world.

Good: Let’s talk about this in person. I disagree that not doing the reports is the way to handle this. I’ll call you.

Bad: i dont think thats good idea lets talk tomororw. ill call.

8. One message, one topic.

Don’t mix a bunch of unrelated questions or responses into one message. Not only does this increase the chances that some of your questions or responses may get overlooked, but it prevents the recipient from filing messages about different subjects into different folders.

Of course, some email conversations will naturally spawn tangential conversations. In those cases, it’s helpful to change the subject line of your email message to better describe the new topic. This not only lets the recipient know the topic has changed, but also makes it easier to find the message when you’re searching for it later.

Good: What’s this I hear about you not filing your TPS reports?

Bad: Peter, we’re using a new cover sheet for our TPS reports now, so go ahead and file with those. Oh, and I’m going to need you to go ahead and come into work this weekend, OK?

9. Provide a summary when you forward an “FYI” email.

Don’t just forward a message or a whole conversation thread and assume that the recipient will take the time to read it all and figure out what’s going on or that they’ll do so without any misunderstandings. Since you already have a reason for forwarding the message, you can save your recipient time and confusion by jotting down a quick summary of the entire thread. (And if you don’t have a reason in mind or haven’t even taken the time to digest the information you’re about to forward, you probably shouldn’t even send it.)

Good: FYI, I thought the following email thread might add some ammo to your plan for getting rid of TPS repor
ts altogether. If it doesn’t, feel free to ignore it.

Bad: FYI…

Copyright: CompuMentor


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About This Blog

Lisa Bonanno
Vice President of Digital Marketing

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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