Crafting the ideal, attention-grabbing but not off-putting email to a stranger is a daunting task. It is the “cold call” of the 21st century and there are email graveyards full of bad examples. Whether you are seeking a job, financing for a project or donations for a non-profit, three things are key in crafting an effective email to a stranger: tone, brevity, and a confident closing.


How many of us have actually stared at a screen and backspaced repeatedly between “Dear” and “Hi.” Is “Dear” too formal? Is “Hi” to casual? Does “Hello” make me sound like a robot?  That first word can set the tone for the entire email.  If you have any connection to the recipient, even a fledgling one by way of your neighbor’s aunt’s podiatrist, go with “Hi.” Launch right in with a tone of familiarity and quickly establish that you received the recipient’s contact information through a mutual connection.

From there, keep the tone light and upbeat but not too casual. Avoid abbreviations and colloquialisms. Sound like the “you” who has just met someone at a cocktail party, not the “you” who is meeting that person for post-yoga Bánhmì six months later. Do not be tempted to pepper your email with ANYTHING resembling a LOL. And (repeat this to yourself if necessary) “No emojis.” This is not text.

Remember and apply the basics you learned from your high school English teacher: use complete sentences and proper punctuation and grammar. And, if for any reason you aren’t using spell check, please join the modern age and embrace it. True, it’s making us dumber in the long run, but it will make you look smarter for the sake of the email.

A note of caution: spell check and auto correct features are still no replacement for human eyes. Read and re-read and re-read the email before sending. Better still, ask someone else to read it and offer feedback! (Just be wary of the email chain danger zone, which could find you sending a version to your intended recipient that includes your cousin’s reply, which reads something along the lines of “Totes slayed it, cuz. Emoji. Emoji. Emoji.”)


Get to the point and get there quickly. After you have written the first draft of your email, try to cut out one-third of the words. Consider the amount of junk mail in the recipient’s inbox and do yourself a favor: keep it short to avoid the trash bin. Some words are completely unnecessary and the easiest ones to cut out right off the bat are “My name is….”

Why are so many people compelled to begin this way? Your NAME appeared in this person’s inbox. Or, if you have a generic email address using only your company name (e.g. you still have an opportunity to identify yourself with your signature line. Jump right in and get to the point: you don’t need to introduce yourself.

Hi, Dave,

I would like to introduce myself. My name is Anna Smith and I am writing to you today to tell you about an amazing opportunity for your wonderful organization to support my…..

Dave is now ASLEEP. Or hitting delete.

Hi, Dave,

Our mutual friend Jim Cole suggested I contact you. I am seeking donations for Paws for a Cause’s annual fund-raiser to benefit our local animal shelter.

Dave now knows exactly why you are contacting him. Now it’s time to convince him in as few words as possible.

Last year’s fund-raiser was supported by 17 local businesses that were prominently featured on our website, programs, event signage, slideshow, and gift bags. We expect more than 1,000 attendees at this year’s event…..

This is the “what’s in it for Dave” part. Sure, you want to pull at his heartstrings and write a long and tear-jerking essay about the mission of Paws for a Cause, but Dave can read the mission on your website. Hyperlink it!

Tugging at heartstrings isn’t entirely bad, but it needs to be kept in check. We’ll get to that in the closing.

Finish out your informative yet brief description telling Dave exactly what you need from him.

We are asking Dave’s Donuts to donate 10 of its famous “Donut Dessert Towers” for our event on March 1, 2018. A representative from Paws for a Cause can pick them up anytime before noon that day.

A Confident Closing

Although you have drafted this email with the fear that it may never be read (or read and dismissed entirely), close the email with the confidence of someone who knows the answer will be yes.

I hope to hear from you soon.

No. This is not the end of an awkward first date. Instead, try a definitive statement to move the conversation forward.

I will call you later this week to discuss the sponsorship in more detail.

Now for the tugging of heartstrings, which can be used effectively without going overboard. You’ve done your research and you know that Dave owns a dachshund.

I’ll be sending you two complimentary tickets to the event as well. The shelter manager tells me she’ll be bringing a few dachshunds, in case your Eloise is in the market for a new friend!

You may be tempted to insert a cute little doggy paw after the last sentence but don’t. Just don’t. Six months from now when you and Dave are taking your four-legged friends to the local dog park you can respond with all the paws in the world, but for now, you need to be taken seriously.

Deep breath. Hit send. Good luck.

I will call you later this week to see if Dave replied.

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