“I am out of office until 11/7 and will respond upon my return. Thank you.”

The generic out of office (OOO) email. We’ve all seen them and very possibly used them.

But if you’re not putting a little thought into your OOO message, you’re doing a disservice to both your organization and the sender of the email.

Being on the Receiving End

347 billion emails are sent each day. I’m sure you receive your fair share of OOO emails as part of your Inbox craziness.

As a publisher of a daily enewsletter, I get a LOT of OOO emails. For sure around holidays.

But rather than seeing them as an annoyance, I like getting them. A few reasons:

  • They can tell me about something special going on in that subscriber’s life. If email is about connecting and building relationships, that information is important.
  • No reason for me to send my enews and emails to people who are OOO. Either they’re not looking at them or I feel bad sending them an email while they’re OOO. I don’t want them losing a minute of vacay for my email!
  • When done well, they put a smile on my face (some examples below). And we could all use some more smiles, chuckles and laughs in life.

I’d also like to highlight this one: You may get a reply that mentions that the person you’re trying to reach no longer works for X organization.

That information is critical for you! If you have a relationship with that person, reach out and ask if there’s a new email address where you can connect with them. No reason to lose the person because they’ve moved jobs.

Looking at it from the perspective of your nonprofit, you’re building relationships with supporters. If a supporter is emailing their personal contact at your organization, they need to know

  1. That person is unavailable
  2. Who they can contact at your organization if need be.

The Importance of OOO Emails

It’s December 21. Your organization is neck deep in your year-end campaign. One of the fundraisers on staff is going away for the holidays and won’t be back until January 3. That person’s OOO should direct people to someone else who’s in the office and not on vacation.

Why? I’m a potential donor and had a question related to the campaign. If all I get is the generic OOO response, I may not take the time to go to your website, find the email/number of someone else and contact them.

A lost opportunity!

OOO emails shouldn’t be a throwaway. You should consider and think about its content because you never know who will receive them.

Today I’m going to share with you a few ideas to improve your OOO emails so that they help you engage the sender. Below are examples of OOO emails I’ve received. I’ve removed any and all personal details.

Share What’s Going On

It can be a good idea to let people know why you’re OOO.

➡️ “I am out of the office celebrating the birth of a new grandchild!  I will be checking email but my response may be slower than you are used to from me.  If you need an immediate response, please email X or call X.”

Your next move after reading this email? Send an email/make a phone call/send a present to this person and congratulate them. Build the relationship!

➡️ “Sorry I missed you, I am on vacation in Italy with no access to email. I am finally having the opportunity to be with my extended family after a year and a half. Hopefully we see some sites, share lots of love and laughter and then my cup will be full!”

Wait a few weeks and then email to find out how the vacation was. Your conversations with donors don’t always have to be about dollars. It’s ok to talk about other things!

➡️ “Due to a death in the family, I am out of the office October 10-14, returning October 15.”

Send them a condolence note. Send it by mail and include a handwritten note from your Executive Director or that specific person’s contact.

When I get a message like that, I will email a condolence note to this subscriber. It doesn’t take a lot of time. Life is about a lot more than being a subscriber to your emails.

➡️ “I am serving on a jury for a case that’s expected to last quite a while. I will be able to check email occasionally, but please do not expect a response until after November 15th. If you have an urgent or time-sensitive issue, please contact X at email X or phone number X.”

I don’t think I emailed this person a few weeks later but I was definitely curious about the case!

If this person was a supporter of your organization, the next time you’re with them you could reference their OOO email as a conversation starter.

Have Fun Out There!

Make people smile. Chuckle. Laugh.

If your OOO is humorous and memorable, that helps build the connection.

➡️ “Hello! I am OOO to celebrate Christmas until Tuesday 12/28. If you absolutely need to reach me, I’ll be disguised as a snowman on Mt. Rainier enjoying the winter weather.”

➡️ “Thank you for your email! Unfortunately I enjoyed one too many PSL’s after my last yoga class (that’s Pumpkin Spice Lattes for the uninformed) so I’m sleeping off my sugar crash and binging Gilmore Girls before returning to work on Tuesday. I’ll get back with you then!”

➡️ “Thank you for your message. I am on staycation and only catching up on reading novels instead of my emails until Monday February 8.
If your enquiry is more urgent, please contact X at email X. Otherwise I will get back to you on my return.
With very best wishes,
P.S. If you resend your message with a book recommendation, I will prioritize your response.”

I LOVE all of the above OOO emails! It’s not your run-of-the-mill OOO. We’ve all got so much going on every day. Give people a reason to pause for a second and enjoy.

Holidays and Retreats

You/your audience may not be aware of certain religious or cultural holidays. Use your OOO to let them know why your offices are closed.

➡️ “Thanks for your message. I’m away from my desk in observance of the Yom Kippur holiday. I will reply to your message on Tuesday, September 27.”

➡️ “Thank you for your email. Our office is closed for Passover from Wednesday, March 21 through Monday April 2nd.
I look forward to responding to your email as soon as possible upon my return. Thank you for your understanding and patience.”

People trying to contact you may get frustrated if they try over a few days and no one answers. Your OOO email should give them the necessary details so they know when everyone is back at their desk.

➡️ “Hello and thank you for your email!
Our team will be away from office July 15 to plan and strategize as a team. We will be working hard so that we do the very best work we can for our donors and our institution.
I will be checking email periodically throughout the day. Thank you for understanding if it takes me longer than usual to get back to you.
If you need immediate assistance, please call my personal cell at X.
Thank you and look forward to speaking with you,

Your team’s on a retreat? Make sure everyone who’s participating uses an OOO that explains where everyone is and routes people to the right staff member in case of emergency.

Provide Details the Sender Might Need

One of my favorite nonprofit CEO’s used this OOO alert when she went away.

➡️ REASON | Taking a few days off
RETURNING | Back in office Monday, June 15
RESPONDING | ASAP; first day back for sure!
URGENT? | Resend your message with URGENT in Subject line
REALLY | Great opportunity to get away.  I have an awesome team who can help you.

Have a question re:
Programs/Financial | Contact email X
Communications/Tech | Contact email X
Gifts/Bequests/Events/Fundraising | Contact email X

Everything else? Call number X and you will be routed to the correct person.
Executive Director”

Take a look at this paragraph from an OOO email I received:

➡️ “Thank you for your dedication to help local families move from poverty to possibility. Because of you, local children, families and adults have renewed hope and opportunity for a brighter future.”

They used gratitude as part of their OOO email. Awesome!

Your OOO

Here are a few things to check before setting your OOO email:

  • Make sure your dates are exact and you don’t repeat your OOO from 8 months ago.
  • Let people know who they can reach out to if needed. Provide both an email address and a phone number.
  • Tell people what day you’ll be returning.
  • Make it clear that when you’re back at the office you will respond to their email.

OOO emails aren’t just throwaway emails. They are a chance to engage someone and help them if needed.

They’re also a chance to make people smile, which is why I’m ending with this amazing opening to an OOO email I received:

➡️ “Dear colleagues, friends, team-mates, enemies, spammers, hackers, poet-shamans, superheroes…”

That rocks!

Does your organization want to boost your email efforts? Convert more subscribers into donors? Learn more about how we can work together to upgrade your email fundraising and marketing apparatus.