Editors note: Effective Church Communications is thrilled and honored to announce that Gayle Hilligoss, founder of Success Systems, Inc., a training and development firm providing resources to church office professionals, and a personal hero of mine and role model to me, has graciously agreed to share her wisdom with us in a series of articles on church office basics.
For many years Gayle taught seminars to thousands of church office professionals and her newsletter PROfile was a continual training tool and inspiration to many. Here is the the first of many articles that will equip and encourage you to do your work as a professional as you serve our Lord. Her first article is on email basics, something we often think we know well, but often make mistakes in that do not reflect the quality our Lord and church deserve.
but often make mistakes in that do not reflect the quality our Lord and church deserve.
Business Email 101
Everyone knows at least one—a coworker who copies emails to everyone, a friend who forwards every email crossing her screen, an acquaintance who writes in all caps, another who uses a signature with a slow-loading graphic, a neighbor who packs every message with smileys and LOLs.
The frustration of dealing with these kinds of big-time senders often makes us give more thought to the premise that all communication has rules for proper usage. Could we use email more effectively ourselves?
Some email essentials to consider:
Realize email is not private.
Never put anything in an email that you wouldn’t want passed along (probably numerous times) with your name attached. It could happen. Absolutely avoid sarcasm, criticism, rants. Email can last virtually forever.
Follow writing protocol.
Business email shouldn’t look like a teen’s text messages. Spelling and grammar are important. Keep your messages brief and to the point; stick to the subject. Make messages more readable by breaking text into paragraphs; leave a line between each of those paragraphs. Short, bulleted lists are effective for making points.
Use proper upper and lowercase.
ALL CAPS is shouting; all lowercase looks dismissive. For emphasis use boldface, italics, or asterisks before and after the word you want to stress.
Fill in the subject field.
Say what the email is about—not just “Hi” or your name. If you need a reply, note it: Reply Please. Keep the subject line short and specific.
Choose the appropriate form of reply.
Explore CC, BCC, Reply, Reply All; know how and when to use each option. Send mail to the person you want to read and respond to your message. Send copies only to others who need to know. The names of those who get CCs are seen by the others; those who get BCCs are not visible to other recipients.
Use “Reply All” only when all in the group need your input.
Someone sends you and 20 others a question—what size T-shirt do you want for the fundraiser? Reply to the sender only; no one else cares about your size; getting the mail only clutters their mail boxes.
Reply in a timely manner.
Business email requires some sort of reply generally within a day. Not to reply, however briefly, is simply rude. Copy the relevant part of the incoming message in your reply; by the time the sender gets your “I agree,” he may have forgotten what he asked.
Know when email is not appropriate.
Very important or complex matters are best conveyed by phone, visit, or handwritten note.
Avoid “cute” fonts, multi-colors, and graphics attached to your regular email.
Some programs don’t handle these well and they often slow down downloading. Likewise, use a formal email address for business communication; firstname.lastname@example.org will serve you better than jollyjane.
Be courteous about forwarding mail to groups.
Ask recipients before adding them to any list you regularly forward to. Many choose not to receive miscellaneous messages—political, inspirational or informational alerts and the like.
If you forward an email that was itself forwarded to you, highlight and forward ONLY the message you want to pass along.
Otherwise you will be sending along addresses, personal notes, and probably several copies of the pictures and message in the original email. Don’t feel you must forward every message that tells you to do so. Much of this email is pure hoax.
When addressing email to a group, use BBCs (blind courtesy copies) and not the To or CC function.
Not only is it impolite to broadcast email addresses, but few recipients enjoy wading through a list of addresses to get to the message—especially if the message requires printing. By using BBC, each recipient sees only two addresses—her own and yours.
Get acquainted with Snopes.com.
If you feel you must forward a “startling fact,” check it out before passing it along—and do the checking yourself. Often e-mails falsely say they’ve been verified as true; you don’t want to send along misinformation.
Avoid attachments if at all possible.
In most cases it is possible to include all the information in the body of the email. Because many people choose not to open attachments, if you must send one—especially a large one—it is best to ask first. Formats and firewall issues can be time wasting factors.
Use a signature.
For business mail include contact information: address, phone, hours. Generally, don’t attach photos or excessive extras: logos, mottos, verses, etc.
Re-read before sending.
Readers don’t have the benefit of seeing facial expressions or hearing the inflections of your voice. It is very easy for messages, especially those written in haste, to convey a meaning not intended. By the way, remember this when reading email from others; if their words come across unexplainably out of character, take another look. Perhaps you are simply misinterpreting the message.
And finally, never address an email until the message is composed and proofread.
Establishing this habit will save you from accidently sending mail before it’s really ready to go. I can imagine each of us could tell a story about the message that got away before its time.
Email is a wonderful tool. Using it well is a skill every professional can and should master.