Most of us use either snail-mail and/or email to keep people up-to-date back home. I think everyone on my team, for example, writes an update somewhere between once a week and once a quarter. While blogging is changing this dynamic some what, I can still say things in an email to my friends and supporters that I won't write in a blog entry.
To that end, what are the best practices for using email for updating your supporters? I'm going to riff on this DownloadSquad post on mailing list etiquette and suggest a few tips.
A. Use a list-server. A "list server" is a computer on the Internet that keeps all of your email address for you. When I want to write an email to everyone on my list I send an email to a single address and then the list server sends it out to everyone on the list. Here are the advantages:
- This is a safe and secure way to keep all your email addresses handy. I've known a number of missionaries who have had to rebuild their entire contact list one-by-one because their computer died. Can a list-server go down and lose your data? Sure, but you're more likely to have a camel sit on your laptop, or in the case of one friend, have termites eat your hard-drive, than a modern data center lose your data. Plus you can easily download the list as a text file for backup.
- You send one email to one address...period. More and more services are putting limits on the number of addresses one can send "to" at a given time. The number varies, but I know a number of people who have to send out their updates in batches, 10 addresses at a time. This takes a lot of time and makes it harder for to send out updates. When its difficult to send out updates you simply don't do them as often.
B. Send an introduction when you add someone to your list. It's good practice to confirm with them that they were added. It's also a nice touch to let them know from the beginning how they can "un-subscribe" to your newsletter. It may be another few weeks or a month before you send your next update; don't keep them wondering.
C. Add a subject prefix. This is a great idea and suggested on the DLS post. On the subject line use a common subject for all of your updates like <kornball> Kosovo Konnection: January </kornball>. That way when people see your newsletter in their inbox they'll immediately know its from you and they can quickly sort it or read it.
D. Make it easy to un-subscribe. How does your best friend from 15 years ago tell you politely that your dumb newsletters are plugging up his inbox and that he no longer cares to hear news about East-Krasnaland or the lost people groups there-of? I usually add a footer to give people instruction for unsubscribing from the list server. This is another advantage of using a list server to do your mailing for you. They can unsubscribe and you'll never be the wiser. Most list-servers have settings that will allow you to know if your Aunt Grace dumped your missive, but sometimes its easier to be oblivious.
E. On a non-technical note, BE YOURSELF. Every once in a while I read a prayer letter that sounds like its been snatched from A.W. Tozer or Oswald Chambers. Guess what, you're probably not him! Just be yourself (praise God & hallelujah). When you're having a tough time (but resting in the arms of Jesus and trusting in his steadfast love) just say so. In other words, cut the crap. You don't have to bleed all over people to get your point across, but you don't have to smother them with a lot of psuedo-spiritual lingo either.
F. Keep them short, but keep them regular. When I'm on the field I try to write briefly but regularly, every two weeks or so. I want them to be frequent enough that people know what's going on without overwhelming people. If you're only writing every quarter you'll be forgotten by everyone but your relatives. If you're scheduling a big outreach for Friday, shoot your list a note Thursday (deepening on your time-zone) and then a quick note on Saturday morning.
Check out the DownLoadSquad post for a few more. It's really geared for mailing lists for hobbyists and special interest groups, but it has some good information for those of us who rely on email to communicate with the folks back home.