How To Write Emails Your Volunteers Will Actually Read

We didn’t know about that!

What do you mean, I emailed you guys 3 times about it!” you say.

Have you ever felt like your emails were falling on deaf ears? They might be now, but that can change. And all it takes is a little clearer communication on your end.

When I look at our ministry teams I see a handful of ministry junkies. They read everything. They want more info and more details…but they are probably in the minority. Not everyone wants a jam packed inbox.

Last spring, Tony Morgan (The Unstuck Group) recommended we do a communication audit. So we saved every piece of communication our church sent to our guest, regular attenders and members. We taped it all to the wall and it was mind blowing. We sent a lot.

I can’t even imagine what the word count was. Too many, no matter how you count it.

It isn’t a surprise that with the mountain of email our volunteers get that some would fall on deaf ears. So what can we do about it?

1. Send Less Email

I know what you’re thinking, you only send them what they need. But this is one area where less is more. Pack more value into each email, and send less. Make your emails worth reading (in one sitting, not several).

2. Summarize

I know it sounds odd to give your email a table of content, but it works. Tell your volunteers what the email is about. Tease them.


3. Make It Scannable

This is as simple as bolding important sentences and turning lists into bullet points.

Maybe you’re a leadership junkie and you’ve read every word of this post, or maybe you’ve got a lot to do today so the first thing you did was read the bold words and scanned the numbered list. You’re human…so is your volunteer team.

4. If Possible, Use Images

When you already produce graphics for upcoming events, use the same images in your emails. Create anchor points for your church that they can visually tie together.

The communication you send to your volunteers is for their benefit, not yours.
— Steven J Barker

In reality, the communication you send to your volunteers is for their benefit, not yours. Your job is to give them the info they need to make a measurable impact. As volunteer managers, we aren’t bosses, we are assistants. It’s our job to give them the resources they need (and want).

Question of the day: How have you seen communication change in the last few years?

Should You Stop Using Email?

There is something special that happens every night in my home. Shortly after my wife has headed to bed I get a text message, “Can you bring me an ice water?” It wasn’t that many years ago that we made fun of couples that texted each other just being rooms apart. But this has become a regular part of our evening routine. My family now regularly communicates with tools we would have never thought of 10 years ago. We FaceTime family living in other countries, we Facebook friends from 20 years ago, we text our dentist to book our next appointment, we email everyone.

Communication has changed. 

Yet we still feel a little unsure as to how to deal with. 

We book face to face meetings, when a phone call or email will be more time honoring. 

We restrict our kid’s “screen time”. 

We try to fight technology with sermons telling us to get our face out of our phones. 

Though David & Paul Watson were speaking in more general terms, I love how they addressed this in their book “Contagious Disciple Making” (link):

“A word of caution: Too many people get married to their tactics and forget that tactics serve the strategy. Consequently, they don’t know what to do when their tactic isn’t working. They may get angry or defensive when people try to suggest different tactics. Keep tactics in perspective."

Communication in the world around us is changing. Does that mean you should stop using email? Email isn’t going away, text is here to stay, mobile Facebook is a daily staple, so why fight it? 

And here’s the secret, it isn’t about the tool. 

It’s about:

1. Relationships

All communication, no matter who it’s two is in the context of a relationship. It may be to someone you’ve never met before (marketing), it may be to someone you know a little, or someone you know well. Remember that every communication tool functions in that context, so know your audience. 

2. Honoring 

There is nothing more annoying then having to attend a meeting that turned into an information dump. There are so many more free, time honoring methods to deliver that information. An audience is ALWAYS asking, what’s in it for me (WIIFM). They want to know how they can contribute, how they are playing their part, even how this is helping them accomplish their own goals and deliverables. Keep this in mind when you write, tweet, text or record. Help your recipient see why it’s important that they participate. 

3. Acknowledge  

I'm a huge fan of short to the point emails. 3 sentences or less is right up my alley. The problem is I don’t always acknowledge the fact that I’m listening or that I got what I needed. Respond to important emails, texts or messages with an acknowledgement and a response clarifying what you intend to do with the information. 


Final Question…What new communication tools are you finding success with? Share it in the comments or on Twitter

How To Inform & Inspire Your Volunteer Team

Effective volunteers are informed and inspired. This is easier said than done. The larger a volunteer team grows the harder it is to share stories, updates and vision. Unfortunately if you don't have a plan for communication, only a small handful of team members will have the luxury of staying in the know. 

In fact, I guarantee you that a portion of your team feels valued when you share information with them. Even if it's basic, sharing information makes your team feel involved and informed. 

There are a number of great tools out there to help you with this. Today I want to share with you the tool I use with my team. It's called Mailchimp. I've included a 12 minute walk through in setting up your first account below, plus 6 important elements to include in your next campaign.


Here are some important elements to include in your emails/campaigns:

  1. Stories - even if these are just a sentence or two, share quotes, email responses, etc. Anything that highlights the real people you are serving. 
  2. Make it personal - include a note to your team. Use your natural voice, not something formal or "polished". 
  3. Highlights - talk about what went well. Highlight what you want to reinforce. 
  4. Improvements - be honest about what you (as a team) are working on improving. 
  5. Updates - did your team set goals? Include a scoreboard. Help you team to keep track of progress. 
  6. Important Dates - you'd be surprised how overlooked this one is. I guarantee you, someone on your team will love you for including this. 

The most important thing is that you make sure you deliver value every week. Mailchimp will show you your open rates (how many people open your email every week). Challenge yourself to always be improving. Add value, keep the content interesting, informative and inspiring and you'll be building a solid, effective and cared for volunteer team. 

Get started by setting you our account here:  Mailchimp.