What We've Found
For as long as telephones have been around, we still have things to learn about etiquette and maximizing their use. As more people gain access to electronic mail (e-mail), its importance as a communication tool grows exponentially. Because they are both relatively inexpensive and easy, it is tempting to overuse them. However, if used appropriately – with a definite purpose, sparingly, professionally – these tools can increase people’s awareness and sense of involvement, improve credibility, and strengthen relationships among a community.

Just the Facts
There are two primary purposes behind telephone calls and e-mail notes: to give information or to get information.

Giving information may include invitations to events and meetings or reminders such as asking the recipient to follow-up on a task or complete and return a survey. E-mail might be used for the same purposes and also to announce updates on a website, to send an attached document such as background information or a newsletter, or to inform about the availability of new publications or reports and where to get copies.

Telephones and e-mail can also be used to gather information such as a brief, simple opinion survey to learn the degrees of support for, or opposition to, a particular project or action. If speaking to a person, the questions need to be yes/no or rated on a scale; open-ended questions cannot be included. They can be included if the survey is done on e-mail.

When considering using either telephones or e-mail for communication, keep in mind the following:
  • Ask people directly if it is okay to phone them. When conducting a phone survey or solicitation, if people ask to be removed from your list, do it. Many states require this by law; regardless, it damages organizational credibility if requests are ignored. When collecting information from individuals, find out if they prefer you to call their home phone, work phone, or cell phone. On a signup sheet, next to where people will enter their phone numbers, include a box that they can check indicating the best number to reach them.
  • Be mindful that not everyone has access to e-mail. It is important that people not feel they are missing out on information coming via e-mail. Be sure to send the same information by regular mail that is sent electronically. If possible, plan the distribution: send regular mail a day or two before sending e-mail so that everyone receives it at the same time.
  • For people who have e-mail at work, be sure to check if it permissible to send information to that address. Many companies do not want employees using e-mail for personal reasons, so they may monitor messages.


How To Do It

1. Determine the purpose
What is the goal of the telephone call or e-mail? What will be accomplished? How does this fit into the project’s overall public involvement plan? If requesting information, know exactly how the data will be used. People will want to see evidence that the time they took to complete an opinion survey, no matter how brief, was taken into account.

2. Get your list
Most likely this will be a targeted group of people with whom you want to regularly communicate such as a task force or an advisory committee. Collect phone numbers and e-mail addresses at public meetings and events, on surveys, on websites, by referrals, and other outreach methods.

3. Write a draft
Before calling, write down a few key points. Reading a script will result in an unnatural conversation, but it can be helpful to know exactly what needs to be covered. Always begin a conversation by identifying yourself and the organization and asking if it is a convenient time to talk. If the response is no, ask for a time when you can call back or give your number. Speak clearly and be enthusiastic – if you smile, it comes through in your voice. For e-mail, most importantly, check spelling before sending! Succinctly summarize the e-mail’s purpose in the subject line and include all relevant contact information at the end of your message: your full name, organization, e-mail address, and telephone number(s). Keep in mind that e-mails can take on a life of their own: they can be forwarded, printed and saved, and even used in a court of law.

4. Handle no responses
When leaving a message on an answering machine or voice-mail box, give your name, a succinct summary of the purpose of your call, and your phone number repeated twice. Unless someone has specifically requested a full explanation of why you are calling, avoid the temptation to leave lengthy messages. For e-mail, keep in mind that not everyone checks e-mail daily. Many mail programs have a function called "return receipt" which will automatically notify you when your message is opened. Also consider calling and letting the recipient know he or she has an e-mail message from you.

Means of soliciting information from and communicating with people

Use It If...
You want to keep people up-to-date.
You need to get a sampling of public opinion to determine the degree of support or opposition for a project or action.
You have just launched a new or enhanced website.
You are looking for ways to increase exposure, build support, and get folks involved. A personal call or message from a high-profile individual can bring significant results.
You lack a purpose for the communication. If people know messages from you include information they need or are interested in, you can better guarantee that they will consistently give your communications the necessary attention.
You want to rely solely on e-mail but are not sure if everyone in the target audience has access to it. Do not make assumptions, and be wary of creating a two-tier communication system between the haves and have-nots.

Timing is Everything
Using the telephone and e-mail will happen throughout a project.

E-Newsletter- D6 - Item No. 6-17

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