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Email: don’t abuse messaging by email

Too many emailsEmail has become like our physical mailboxes – we can quickly sort through what is junk (and thus never open it) and what is most important, the formal messages from bills, work, family, and friends. Everything else, once abused, doesn’t get opened.

We do the same with email, which means when you abuse an email relationship, the recipient could miss an important message from you when it is most needed.

  • It’s important for us to understand that email has changed – younger generations hardly use it, we need it less for personal messages, and if we interrupt someone too much with our church or business messages, they will not return.
  • Let’s look at email from two perspectives – sending mass messages from the church (organization) and personal emails.


Best practices for mass messages

  • Email mass messages (enewsletters) only at consistent times (once a week on the same day of the week at roughly the same time of the day).
  • If you forget something or have a follow up message at a time other than your consistent day, it’s best to put extra messages on Facebook, Twitter, blog or website – then people can read it if they want to, on their time.
  • Consider having several newsletter lists that members can subscribe to – the weekly newsletter, council or committee updates/minutes, children, youth, Sunday School leaders, breaking news (only used in emergency situations), inclement weather, etc.
  • Church newsletters: should you email the pdf of the print newsletter or use an email service?
    • You need to consider who are you MOST reaching or need to reach (audience)? How are they viewing it – desktop or mobile phone (Pdfs are a killer on mobile devices)?  How can they interact later (do they need to register or share the news, do they need to keep it to remember something)? Why is the design important – could you save time with a less attractive design? How much time do you have to give to it? Can you do both?
    • Ultimately, if you want to reach the majority of your members, you will need to have an email service.
    • You will have to find appropriate and patient ways to accommodate those who do not receive email. For a time, you may need to do both. Hopefully, though, you can do one publication on an email service and print it out for those members who cannot receive it this way.
    • Email services:
      Constant contact – most well-known; up to 500 addresses: $15/mth, up to 2500 addresses: $30/mth. Great templates, mostly user-friendly. While they didn’t start in the mobile age, they are doing a good job of adding features as needed. It now allows for you to send out a tweet & Facebook status update when the email is sent. You can also track opens and clicks and cleaning up mailing lists is easy. They offer additional features as well.MailChimp – new and free (up to 2000 addresses); because they launched after social media and mobile was popular, they are ahead of the curve with both of these features. It also has great RSS feed functions meaning it can pull from a blog and fill in a template instantly. But you do need to have some basic html knowledge occasionally for some of the extra features. It will also send out tweet and Facebook status updates when email is sent and track statistics. And the contacts can connect with social media profiles. It will also allow you to test out two different subject lines and which ever one starts to get more opens, it will make the rest of the emails sent all have the more popular subject line.

      Here’s a great article for getting started with an email campaign.
  • On your Facebook Page and your website, be sure to include a link or icon for users to subscribe to your newsletter lists.
  • A few days or a week after the email is sent, take time to look at your open stats. Look at who is opening and what they click on. Keep in mind that industry standard for business email is a 13% open rate and around 20% for non-profits.
  • Use surveys to get feedback on how you are communicating. Define the answers in the survey (for example, instead of allowing “excellent, moderate, or poor,” you could say “the best event I’ve ever attended, it was a good day, I did not have a good time”). Be sure to share the (anonymous) results later. Surveymonkey allows for free survies with up to 10 questions and provides excellent analysis results.
  • Set up an automated response welcome letter when people first subscribe. Inform them of what the email will include and when you will be sending it (remember, same day of the week, same time of the day). Include a  giving option in the welcome.
  • In addition to the announcements, prayer lists, upcoming sermon/worship information all church newsletters include, add some extra content. You could ask a leading question for the upcoming sermon. Include a topic discussion (serious, cultural or humorous) for Sunday School with a link to an article or resource. Share stories – of events that have happened, testimonies, mission needs, etc. Include photos of church members. If you’ve started a blog, include an intro paragraph with a link to the blog.
  • Determine a regular time of the month to clean up your contact list – remove bounces, make sure there are easy ways for contacts to update their information when it changes, and ask for new subscribers through Facebook, Twitter, blog, website and in your print publications.
  • When using email for communication during a transition (i.e. building campaign, pastor search, etc), emails should be limited to regular releases to refrain from overwhelming inboxes. One suggestion would be to set up a separate news list that members can choose to subscribe to for information regarding the transition.


Best practices for personal email

  • Set a church (and staff) policy that email will only be used for non-emotional communication. Email should not be a place to express a concern or bring up a critique. Allow staff the protect to respond to such an email with, “Due to our church policy, I do not want to respond to your email with another email. Let’s meet in person or talk on the phone to discuss your concerns.” Do not allow staff to communicate to one another in this fashion.
  • Keep your emails brief. Write what needs to be said in 5 sentences (which are usually 8-10 words) or less. Include these messages at the bottom of your emails so others understand your purpose: “Offended that my email is too brief? Here’s why: http://emailcharter.org. Here’s another reason why: http://five.sentenc.es/.”
    • If what you need to say is longer than 5 sentences, consider a few options:
    • Turn the bulk of your message into a Word document or a Google doc and attach. Ask for responses in the “track changes” option.
    • If you have more than one topic or question, send separate emails. Change the subject line for each. Tailor subject lines so they are easy to identify later (what is the one, or few, key word(s) that the email is about).
    • Call the person directly or Skype or video conference.
  • We all still struggle with the shift of formal to informal messages. Use your best judgement of when you still need to say “Dear Mr. Sss…Sincerely.”  However, if you have an opportunity early in the communication, ask if it is ok that your emails become more casual.
  • Respond to emails within 48 hours. Always. Even if all you say is that the email was received, and you will respond more later.
  • If you are going to be away from email for more than 48 hours, set up an auto responder message that lets the sender know you will not respond for a few days. You do not need to tell them why.
  • Keep your inbox clean. Use a file system to archive what is finished. Leave messages you still need to respond to in your inbox so you won’t miss them later. Mark them as unread if needed.
  • Use filters to label your emails when they come in. For example, every time you get an email bank statement, the label says “bills” so you easily know it’s not something you need to deal with now. You could even send it straight into a folder marked “bills.” This is especially helpful if you get a lot of email newsletters that you want to read later, but which often take over your inbox. Instead, filter them into a folder marked “leisurely reading or sermon resources” where they will instantly go, unopened. When you have some down time, then you can go through that folder and delete or file into another folder for “to use or later.”
  • If you use your mobile phone to respond to emails, be sure you have a signature that says you are doing so. This allows for more grace if the email is even briefer than normal or if it includes spelling or grammar errors.
  • If someone does not reply to you within 48 hours, send them a polite, but BRIEF, email by forwarding the original email and including a short statement at the top like “just checking on when I should expect a response to this issue.”
  • Do not send an email to a list of people without blind copying (bcc) them unless it is a group who would already have everyone’s email addresses. In other words, an email sent to 15 staff members with everyone’s email address showing is fine. An email sent to the participants of your recent VBS who were visitors thanking them for attending should be blind copied. It is impolite to reveal someone’s email address to someone who would not have had it before your email was sent. If in doubt, use bcc.
  • Protect yourself against spam and hacking. Educate yourself on your options. Two great places to start: Hacked! and How Apple and Amazon security flaws lead to my epic hacking.


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