Email Management Lets Nonprofits Stay on Task
By Russell Greenwald

Russell Greenwald
Russell Greenwald
Nonprofits, always constrained by resources, increasingly are finding that their scarcest resource of all—time—continues to be consumed by ever growing volumes of email. Better email management is essential because it frees up time to let you focus on more important matters.

If you have unread emails over two months old, or have flagged emails that you meant to reply to a year ago, or fear emptying your Deleted Items folder, it’s time to get serious about email management. The following will help:

Become an Inbox Processing Machine

Treat your email inbox like your physical mailbox at home or the office. Do you leave your mail in the mailbox or do you take it inside the house and open, sort, act on it? Do you leave birthday cards unopened, checks un-cashed, bills unpaid? Probably not. You should apply these same practices to your email inbox.

Attend to Easy Emails First

Every time you check your email, act on the easy emails first. By easy, this means emails that take no more than five seconds to process. Anything longer is not easy. Some examples of acting on them are accepting or declining a calendar invite, giving authority to a request, acknowledging that you received a task request (then documenting the request in a task system), deleting junk email, forwarding email to relevant parties, or reading email and then archiving it for posterity.

Emails that are not easy—those that demand more than five seconds of your time—should be moved into a folder called "To Review" or "Emails to Review", etc. These types of email might be ones that are long and take time to read and understand, emails that require a thoughtful or lengthly reply, emails that contain multiple to-do's, or a combination of the above.

Great, you say, but what if I have 10,000 items in my inbox, and I am not going to sift through them all? What do I do?
  • Create a new folder or label called inbox-archive or inbox-(date), etc.
  • Take all emails over a month, or two or three months, old and move them there. If you have not dealt with them yet, you probably won't start until you have good habits. You need a clean inbox to start good habits. Now go through the email under one month old and deal with them.

Archiving refers to moving an email to a relevant folder or label. I use archives for permanently storing information. In this age of GMAIL we should expect our IT systems to support large mailboxes and the concept of cleaning out email is costly. It is far cheaper to increase mailbox space than force users to sift through old emails and determine what can be deleted, hoping it is not something you’ll need at a future date.

That being said, emails in the Deleted Items folder are trash. This folder is only for items you can live without. If you can not live without them, they don’t belong there. They need to be archived.

Create a System to Track Your Tasks

Your email is a task management system. Like your mailbox, it is a system for sending, receiving, and storing information. It confuses the purpose and reduces efficiency to make it both. A task management system's purpose is to intake tasks, allow you to easily refer to them as guidance, and cross them off when completed. You may want to track tasks on a notepad, a Word document called “Tasks,” or a task management software (, Remember the Milk, OmniFocus, Outlook's Tasks, or Google's Task Features)

The task management software allows you to categorize tasks, associate dates, etc. At the beginning and end of every day you can quickly refer to the tasks, re-prioritize, and set your schedule.

Russell Greenwald is manager of the IT Consulting Division at Insource Services, Inc., which provides finance, human resource, and technology services to nonprofit and for-profit organizations. He can be reached at or 781-235-1490.