Why Did You Write That Email?

DearHave you written an email to the SCA, one of its officers, or any other nonprofit? Did you ask yourself why you wrote that email before you hit send? More specifically, what were you trying to achieve?

In my post about appreciating people, I suggested that officers acknowledge every email even if it was just with a form response. I got a response to my post that sometimes a form email generates complaints from angry people, who are upset that they didn’t get a personal response. Because of this, some officers stopped using form email acknowledgments. Consequently, they weren’t acknowledging the emails they received at all.

Let’s not look at what the officers are doing. That was the prior post. Let’s look at the complaining people who are making the officers dread their email. Why did those people write? What were they trying to achieve? Odds are good that they didn’t achieve it.

An email exchange is hard to visualize. It’s people sitting behind their keyboards. Let’s visualize it a different way. You are on one side of a bar door. The potential email recipients are already in the bar. You’re about to open that door and look for a conversation. Even if you haven’t walked into in a bar before, you’ve seen it happen in a movie. So open that door and walk inside.

There’s a whole lot of email addresses sitting on those stools and a bartender behind the taps. Where are you going to sit? Ignore your social anxiety – these are emails and not really people. Why are you here? Do you want someone to listen? Are you hoping for sympathy, an argument or help fixing a problem? Do you want a meaningful relationship or a flirtation? If you aren’t clear on what you want, then how are you going to pick the right bar stool or the right email address?

A nonprofit usually has a number of email addresses that you can use. Options may include a general email address, an issue specific one, or the people who work/volunteer for it. Maybe you think any of those email addresses should get you the response you want because a well run organization should answer every email and tend to every member’s needs. You are assuming a world full of large budgets and ample staffing, which doesn’t exist. Email is easy and cheap to write, so organizations may receive an overwhelming amount, especially if something controversial is happening. There isn’t time to answer all of them.

Writing to a general email address is like trying to talk to the bartender on a busy Saturday night. Expect a nod and your drink, in other words a form email response. That’s all there’s time for him to do. Maybe if you just want to have your voice counted that is enough.

Suppose you want to create change? You have an idea to suggest or a problem that needs solving. Then you are looking for a meaningful relationship. How do you do that? Write emails to specific people. Ask questions so you learn about them and the organization. Listen as well as talk. Don’t yell. Maybe those people won’t have time to write to you, but maybe they will. You just need to find that one person or several people to start the process.

If what you want is to vent and get sympathy, then let’s face the hard facts. If you yell, you may not get the response you want no matter what email address you use. If you yelled at a person sitting on a bar stool, would you expect them to continue to listen and answer you reasonably? No. If the organization has ample funds and good member services, then you might get a personal, reasonable answer. However, remember that those well funded organizations are rare in the nonprofit world.

So ask these questions before you hit send on that email. Why am I sending this email? What do I hope to achieve? Picking the right bar stool and opening line won’t guarantee the answer you want, but it will increase your odds.

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