When You Can’t Name Names

[Here’s this week’s post from Tessa, our word nerd-erific intern. You can find all her posts here.]

Yesterday, I was attempting to reduce the large quantities of e-mail I get from companies and organizations in the Seattle area. (I’m moving to San Francisco soon, so many will no longer be relevant to me). After requesting to be removed from a particularly large and well-known organization’s e-mail list for the Pacific Northwest (I won’t name names), I was surprised at the message I got. It started out well, taking me to a place where I could manage my e-mail subscriptions. (Only want to hear about international issues? Great, we can do that!).  So far, I was impressed. And then I hit unsubscribe for the Pacific Northwest List. It

Dear Constituent

took me to a page saying they were sorry to see me go, I could sign up again at any point, etc. And it was addressed “Dear Constituent”. Dear Constituent.

The coldness of this word may not have hit me so hard if I wasn’t a donor to the organization. But as such, it made me feel disconnected, unappreciated and just another “constituent”. Granted, I know they probably don’t have a system to determine which of their e-mail subscribers and donors and which aren’t. And maybe I didn’t enter my name when I signed up. That’s all okay. You can make everyone feel included and welcome, whether or not they have given you money or their name. Here are some alternatives to starting with “Dear Constituent”:

Dear Friend,
Dear Valued Supporter,
Dear Ally,
Sorry to see you go!

Here are some alternatives not to use:

Dear Recipient,
Dear Stakeholder, (More on why ‘stakeholder’ is such a bad word here.)
To Whom it May Concern,

How do you refer to someone in your messages when you don’t have his or her name?

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?