Insights
3 min Read
May 10, 2011

Three basic tools for world-class communicators

Big Duck

It’s fun to geek out on the relative merits of, say, Hootsuite and Tumblr.  But ultimately, communicating clearly and effectively only has so much to do with the technology you use. So we’re devoting this month’s Duck Pond to three basic, low-tech tools that will help you communicate better than any fancy apps you’ve got on your mobile device.

1. The auto-responder.
Going on vacation? Offline while traveling, or in meetings? Don’t forget to set up an auto-responder that lets people know that you’re out, when you’ll be back, and whom to contact in your absence. Too often this simple step gets overlooked, but it’s a powerful way to help your donors, colleagues, partners, and the media feel they’re getting what they need from you. Don’t be afraid to use your auto-responder for everyday work-related absences or events, not just vacation. Letting people know that your gala is next week so you’re responding slowly to email this week or offline entirely can be extremely helpful, for instance. Setting them up is easy. If you don’t know how, ask the person who helps with your IT.

Here’s a draft we encourage you to take and make your own:

Subject: Auto-responder/I’m out

Hello! I’m offline until (date) working/vacationing/watching reality television shows. During that time, I’ll be checking email less frequently than usual. Please contact XX at (phone/email) if you need something immediately. Otherwise, I’ll be back and likely to respond to your email the week of XX.

(your email signature)

Injecting a little humor in your auto-responder often gets people to pay closer attention, too. Give it a try!

2. The email signature.
At its simplest, a good email signature helps ensure that folks you want to reach have your correct name, title, organization, and contact information and saves them time tracking down your phone number.

But an email signature can also be a great way to promote your organization’s online presence. Here’s an example of what we Ducks use:

…………………………………………………………………………….
Sarah Durham | Principal

Big Duck | Smart Communications for Nonprofits
t 718 237 9551 ext 12 m 718 344 6027
www.bigducknyc.com

…………………………………………………………………………….
Join me: Blog | Twitter | LinkedIn | AIM: bigducksarah
…………………………………………………………………………….

We prefer a mix of links to help you stay in touch with us individually (LinkedIn, AIM) and to connect people with Big Duck (blog, website). Be sure to stay professional: don’t link to your personal Facebook profile unless you really want all of your work contacts to friend you.

Try using a standard typeface common on most computers (Arial, Helvetica, or Times New Roman, for instance) at a specific size and perhaps a color that relates well to your organization’s visual identity. Better yet, ask the person in charge of your organization’s brand to set up a standard email signature everyone can use so it feels consistent. Avoid using your logo or other elements as attached JPEG files–they often get filtered out on the recipient’s end and can create other problems.

Setting up email signatures is simple in most email programs–look through your “Preferences” menu, or ask your IT person to teach you to set one up.

3. Your voice
Email rocks, but there are times when the phone or face-to-face is simply the smarter way to communicate. Here are two key situations when you should really pick up the phone or get together instead of hitting “reply”:

  • When the message involves bad news or negative information.
    Bad news is best expressed and delivered in a more personal way, so that you can help the recipient understand and process it. Don’t email your program person that the funding for their favorite program just got cut–pick up the phone and call them, or better yet, walk down the hall and meet with them about it face-to-face.
     
  • When the implications are complex or very subtle.
    Irony and complicated ideas are often missed in email. If what you’re communicating really needs to be understood thoroughly, talk about it first. Then use email as a written reminder of what you’ve discussed.

What are your favorite low-tech communications tools?

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