General Question

mdy's avatar

When I write a business letter to one party "through" another, can I send copies to both parties at the same time? Or am I obligated to send to the "through" party and wait for him/her to decide if the letter is worth endorsing to the ultimate addressee?

Asked by mdy (1137 points ) December 8th, 2009

I need to write a letter to the board of my company. Was advised by a friend to address the letter to the board, but include a “through” addressee that’s my boss.

So the letter structure is:

[date]

[board]
[board address]

through

[boss]
[boss address]

[salutation]

[body of letter]

[closing]
[my name]

Supposedly, this shows more respect for hierarchy, as opposed to simply addressing the letter to the board and cc:ing my boss.

The thing is—if I only send a copy to my boss, she’ll have a chance to just sit on the letter and not forward it to the board.

I’m hoping standard business letter-writing etiquette will say that it’s okay for me to just send the letter to both parties at the same time.

Tried searching for an answer online but most of the “letter writing tips” I’ve found do not tackle this specific case.

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11 Answers

trailsillustrated's avatar

you send the letter to the board and copy everyone else. the cc list should be at the foot of the letter.

missingbite's avatar

@mdy I’m curious if you have permission to send “through?” If you are going above someone in your business then CC. If you are sending with permission to the company “through” your boss, send “through.”

I read your question again and I think what you need to do is send it to your boss and let them forward it. Sit on it a while and if she doesn’t forward it, send it up with a CC. Sending “through” makes it sound like she signed off on it when she may not have.

sndfreQ's avatar

Also depending on the content or intent of the letter, you may want to ask HR or some other authority about the proper “chain of command” and protocol for your work.

marinelife's avatar

My question is more basic. Why do you feel you have an issue for the board to address that you do not take to your boss?

There are serious ramifications to your career from blindsiding your boss with a cc, which if you are just copying her on it is what you are doing whether you address it as a :through” or not.

fireside's avatar

I agree with sndfreQ and Marina.

The first thing that the Board will do is to check with the boss to see about the merit of the letter. If your boss feels as though it is not an issue worth addressing right away, then it is their right to sit on it. Sometimes there is more going on in a company than someone can see when they are not the boss.

What kind of issue is it that needs to be sent to the board?

mdy's avatar

Hope you feel up to reading a somewhat convoluted story…

My organization is officially composed of departments, each of which focuses on a specific area of specialization. It is a requirement of the organization that every employee belong to at least one department (i.e., we’re expected to be specialists in at least one area).

In addition to departments, the organization has divisions which are very similar to cross-functional teams working on long-term (3 to 5 year) projects. So people from various departments are seconded to the division on a long-term basis.

Despite being seconded to the division, however, we’re all still required to belong to at least one official department. Membership in a department comes with obligations to attend mandatory departmental meetings (where we really have no role to play because we are focused on the division’s work for as long as we’re seconded to a division) and it is held against you if you fail to keep up with those obligations.

My letter is a proposal to the board to consider granting our division a status similar to that of a department, so that individuals seconded to a division will, for the period they’re seconded, be relieved of their departmental obligations. Failing that, I’ll be just as happy if the board were to at least waive the requirement to be a member of a department while someone is seconded to a division.

Protocol dictates that letters sent to the board are sent through the COO (whom I referred to as my boss at the opening of this question). Technically speaking, she is not my boss because my division doesn’t report to her. The division reports to an oversight committee on the board.

If my proposal is accepted by the board, the COO will lose a couple of dozen members across multiple departments, so I expect her to object strongly to this idea. If I send a copy of the letter only to her, I expect her to find all sorts of reasons not to send it up to the board.

I know this sounds a lot like a power grab on my part (believe me, it’s not). People working in my division are unhappy about having two masters (the division and their “home” department) and it’s getting to the point where their productivity is being compromised by all these departmental obligations which in reality are just administrivia. One person has already left the organization because of this situation, and I expect more exits unless the issue is addressed.

Under other circumstances, I would just simply write a letter to the oversight committee since the division reports to them, but it’s not the way things are done here (and I am cringing as I write that line because it sounds so much like a cop out). Letters to the board have to go through the COO.

So I’m hoping that there’s a guideline in an etiquette text somewhere that says it’s okay to directly send copies of a letter to all addressees, even if the letter is addressed to an primary party through a secondary party. If I can find something like that, I can send my letter and point to that etiquette text as my basis.

Does this additional context help…?

marinelife's avatar

No. What you want to do is end around the gatekeeper. It just isn’t done. At best, you could address it to the COO and members of the board and send it to all of them at the same time, but expect the COO to be angry.

The structure that you have described does not seem to make much sense. It is possibly designed so that member s of the same department share advances from their project work with each other, but that is all I can possibly see for why it is done this way.

Since your division reports to the oversight committee of the board, why can you not bring this up in a meeting of the oversight committee? You could say it is a personnel problem, lay out your concerns, and then ask the oversight committee to bring the issue about restructuring to the whole board.

fireside's avatar

I’m sure it is an issue that has already come up during executive discussions and there may be reasons why this is still in place. Most likely it is to keep department members up to date so that when they are no longer seconded to a division they will not be out of the loop with the department.

It seems like a convoluted attempt to cross train, but expect that this will likely not change if the COO can come up with a good reason for why it is still in place.

I agree that you may get away with sending it to all members at the same time, but most likely you will be on the outside of any discussion that results. If you bring this up during a meeting with the oversight committee, as Marina suggests, then you can get around the issue of all letters to the board needing to go through the COO.

Have you asked the COO why this obligation is in place? Maybe you are better off having verbal discussions about this until you learn the reasons why it was implemented initially.

mdy's avatar

Thank you so much for your responses. I appreciate how you’ve really taken the time to think about this.

I especially appreciate these two suggestions:

1. Trying the verbal discussion route with the COO first.

2. Bringing it up to the oversight committee as a personnel issue

After sleeping on this a couple of nights, I think I’ll try item 1 (the verbal route with the COO) first. If that doesn’t work out, then I’ll try item #2.

At the end of the day, the personnel issue affects not just the division but the departments as well. When someone quits the organization, they’re not just quitting the division but the department too. Perhaps approaching the COO from that angle may be the most productive tack to take.

Will let you know how it goes.

Thank you again for such insightful suggestions! Really appreciate it.

mdy's avatar

So… I rewrote the letter to de-emphasize the part asking that “the division be recognized as a department” and asked instead that we relax the meeting attendance requirement for folks who are seconded to a division on a long-term basis. Brought the letter to the COO and talked it through with her as a personnel issue. She agreed and endorsed it!

Letter has now been sent up to the Board. Due to the holidays it won’t actually be discussed until next year, but I’m happy with the outcome so far.

Thank you again for such great advice!

marinelife's avatar

@mdy Congratulations! You did it the right way, and it worked out for you!

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