Let me tell you a little secret: I collect out-of-office email messages. In fact, I have special folders in my inbox for them: the good, the bad and the downright ugly. And, do you know what? A full 95% of out-of-office messages fall into the downright ugly category.

Scene 1: it’s 4 pm on Christmas Eve and you’re *finally* wrapping up your work at the office. You start to put your coat on and then you remember that you forgot to put your out-of-office message on your computer. So, with one sleeve on and one sleeve off, your head already halfway into that night’s family gathering, you type something like this:

Thanks for your message. I’m on vaction until January 5th. Please contact Larry in my abscence.

Scene 2: That donor you’ve been cultivating for the last 10 months is ready to transfer $25,000 worth of shares to your charity. It’s December 28th and he’s just sent you an email asking what he needs to do to make sure it happens  before year-end. But wait… what? Larry? Who’s Larry? What’s his phone number? And, hold on… is that a typo… or two? Oh, forget it, too much trouble.

Here are a few more real life examples (names have been changed to protect the innocent): “i will be away till jan 13th  if there is an need please contact  Jane Doe.” Seriously. Seriously?

Or this, “I am sorry to have missed you.  I am at an offsite and then traveling to Ottawa for the National Conbfernce.  I will return on Tuesday, August 7 following our Canadian long weekend.  I will have access to e mail and however will be delayed in my response.  If this is urgent feel free to call xxx-xxx-xxxx and am certain Jane will be able to help.” I don’t know where to start with that one. First of all, what the heck is an offsite? I’ve never been able to figure that out. Second, Conbfernce? Seriously?)

And this, “I am away from the college on PD from June 5-8.” Gah! I need a glossary and acronym decoder for out-of-office messages.

And that’s just a small sample. Spelling and grammatical errors are rampant; I’m constantly told to contact so-and-so without any idea what their contact information is; and if one more person says “if your matter is urgent, please…” I’m going to gag. Guess what, the $25,000 donation of securities I was going to make isn’t all that urgent to me… I’ll just try another charity.

Come on folks, we can do better. We are fundraisers, hear us roar! We’re all about building relationships, encouraging compassion and caring in our cause. Let’s shake it up. At the very least, with the holidays coming up and, more important, the YEAR END TAX DEADLINE just weeks away, can we at least agree to include information on how to make a year-end donation in our out-of-office message, or, even better, have a real person monitoring our email while we’re away so they can immediately get back to people (and put that information in your out-of-office message).

Now I know what some of you are going to say: “but our organization has a really strict format for out-of-office messages. Pffft! I think you can make the argument that you’re missing some revenue opportunities.

Ready for some examples of great out-of-office messages? Here we go:

Hi and thanks for emailing me.  Please read this, it’s not the normal out of office you get from people.

I am travelling a lot over the next few weeks, a bit of work in America and then Europe, followed by a holiday.  I will be back 22 August, just in time for the AUSTRALASIAN FUNDRAISING FORUM which will be held in Sydney 30 and 31 August.  If you are an Australian or New Zealand fundraiser then I hope to see you there.


[The message goes on to describe the program]

Thanks for reading this far.  If you are a client, thanks for everything.  If not, but you are a charity person, please contact janedoe@blahblahblah.com  about how we may be able to help you.

If you still need me, SMS me and I will get back to you as soon as I can.  +xx xxx xxxxxx

LOVE IT! I feel like I’m getting to know you a bit better, and that conference sounds awesome. I’m also going to give Jane a call because you sound like a fun group of people to work with.

Thank you for contacting the Humber Fundraising Management Program.

Ken Wyman is on sabbatical until August 2013.

PLEASE CONTACT Interim Program Coordinator Graham Hill, MA, CFRE at Graham.Hill@Humber.ca 

NEED STUDENT HELP? For information about class projects and summer 2013 Internships contact Prof. Hill.

APPLYING for Sept. 2013? Contact Karen.Barnard@humber.ca. There is no January start-up.

PART-TIME courses contact Prof. Hill.


WEB www.humber.ca/fundraising

FACEBOOK http://tinyurl.com/FacebookHumberFundraising

TWITTER www.twitter.com/FundraiseHumber

PERSONAL MESSAGES can be sent to Ken_Wyman@yahoo.ca

Thanks, Ken! This is so helpful. I know exactly what to do next.

And from the lovely Jen Love, a wonderful out-of-office message from the day after Maurice Sendak passed away (subject line was “Where the wild things are”… I love it!)

While I’m trading a wolf suit for a bathing suit, and I’ll be with Mason and not Max, I will, like the brilliant Maurice Sendak wrote in “Where The Wild Things Are” be “making mischief of one kind or another” on a short vacation with my kids.

If your matter is urgent, you can connect with Agent John at john@… or Agent Holly at holly@…. I will respond to your email when I return on Friday, May 11th.

Over and Out,
Agent Jen

Over and out, indeed. Let’s turn this thing on its head!


This article originally appeared at Hilborn: the leading provider of information to Canada’s nonprofit sector.