How to Create E-mail Messages that Get Attention

Help. It’s getting worse and worse. I was innundated over the weekend. So this morning, when I opened my email, I had to download over 300 email messages.

Like a lot of people, I’m impatient to get to those messages that are important. I know that sometimes I delete something I should be reading, just because the subject line doesn’t tell me that.

Here are a few ways to ensure your nonprofit’s email messages get attention.

  • Do I recognize the sender and is he/she important?

It’s no secret that readers are most likely to open an e-mail from someone they know well, either real world or virtually. The mistake we make as communicators is assuming that your colleagues and e-news readers know the names of all staff members in your organization. The reality is that most readers don’t even know your executive director, must less staff members.

Solution–For an individual-to-individual email, if your recipient doesn’t know you,  make your subject line very clear. For a mass email (such as an e-newsletter), introduce the sender in the welcome email, and reinforce it in every issue.

  • Does the subject line demonstrate the value of opening the message to the reader?

Your subject line needs to grab readers’ attention to persuade them to invest time in reading your message. Use your e-mail subject line to summarize, not describe the content of your message:

  • Not effective: Aspen Philanthropy Letter
  • Effective: [Aspen Philanthropy Letter] Buffett Gift to Gates Foundation Likely to Increase Scrutiny of Nonprofit Sector

Remember to keep the core part of the subject line under 50 characters to ensure that key messages display in readers’ inboxes. A recent study done by email monitoring company Return Path showed that, “subject lines with 49 or fewer characters had open rates 12.5 percent higher than for those with 50 or more,” and that, “click-through rates for subject lines with 49 or fewer characters were 75 percent higher than for those with 50 or more.”

  • Do the first five to ten lines make it clear how this information pertains to your readers?

Make your opening paragraph count. State the purpose of your message, and any action steps,right from the start. Keep in mind that many email recipients use the “preview pane” (a one to two-inch window) to evaluate email before opening. So the more quickly you state your purpose, the more likely you’ll capture your reader’s attention.

  • Is the rest of the message easy to read?

Nothing loses readers’ attention faster than an e-mail novella. Help readers get through your message as quickly as possible by keeping it short (no more than two pages scrolled) and succinct (one topic with no more than one to two main points is ideal for message absorption).

More ways to ensure your email messages get attention:

Inspired by Davis & Company

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Nancy Schwartz on February 5, 2007 in Email and E-Newsletters, Nonprofit Communications | 6 comments
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