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Email Charter Tips for Improving Your Email Communications

Kimberley Rudd

Nonprofits need the best and that’s why we turn to Neon One’s ecosystem of partners for expert advice. Today we’re hearing from Kimberley Rudd, whose specialization is public relations and annual reports.

If you’re like me, then you have a complicated relationship with email. Beyond sending and receiving emails, you do so much more: file them, flag them, move them to folders and color code them. You wince at some and wait anxiously for others; you miss a few that are marked as spam, and opening others that should have been “junked”. You search for them, delete them, recall them and, sometimes, print them.

If your email box were a living being, you’d surely blame it for a few of your gray hairs.

To help, consider employing an email charter within your organization – an agreement to employ steps to simplify your email responsibilities. The points below, curated from EmailCharter.org, are a great start. If you can get the people who work most closely with you to agree to use an email charter for 30 days, it will change the way you engage with email.

  • Be Truthful in Subject Lines.

    • Use the “Subject” line accurately to “tease” the message content. Avoid allowing “old Subjects” to linger around for “new topics.” When possible, express the desired action; “Time Sensitive,” “Review by Monday” or “Approval Needed Today” are helpful directives.
  • Embrace Email Acronyms.

    • Weave these two acronyms into your digital vocabulary: EOM and NNTR. If your message can be expressed in a half-dozen words, just put it in the subject line followed by EOM (End of Message). The recipient doesn’t even have to open the message. Ending a note with NNTR (No Need to Respond) is a wonderful act of generosity.
  • Embrace Short/Slow Responses.

    • Given the email load we face, let it be OK in your office culture if replies take a day or so to arrive, or if the response is short & simple (e.g., “Acknowledging your message” or “Got it; will respond thoughtfully later”). In other words, don’t take short or slow responses personally.
  • Reply Smart (Part 1).

    • Do not “Reply All” unless everyone in the message absolutely needs to receive your response. If you need a recipient (of the original email) to know that you’re moving a conversation along without them, then keep them in the loop by moving them to the “BCC” field; add a note at the top of the email saying so, e.g., “I’m moving Karen to BCC to be kind to her e-mailbox”. That way, your targeted recipient is aware that Karen’s seeing the note, but Karen is subsequently removed from the email exchange.
  • Reply Smart (Part 2).

    • When sending a message to a large group, consider putting your address in the “To” field, and putting everyone else’s addresses in the “BCC” field; then, if someone in the group hits “Reply All,” you are the only person to receive the response. Using BCC should generally be used to provide cover to the recipients, not to let readers lurk in hiding, so be mindful of proper BCC etiquette.
  • Close Open-Ended Questions.

    • Have you ever ended a long email with the question, “Thoughts?”. Instead, ask for what you need, e.g., “Please review and let me know if you agree by Thursday.” Have you ever answered an email asking “How can I help?”. Instead, get specific, e.g., “Can I help best by calling, drafting a letter or attending the meeting?”
  • Cut Content-less Responses.

    • You don’t need to reply to every email, especially not those that are themselves clear responses. An email saying “Thanks for your note. I’m in,” does not need you to reply “Great,” because that begets another response, like “OK” and it can go on and on….
  • Draft & Deliberate.

    • Before you send that external email, consider it a draft. Ask a colleague to review it to be sure it is error-free. Wait a while to see for any new developments that might change the content of the message. Draft and deliberate, then send.
  • Tighten Threads.

    • Focus your emails on solutions if your email thread extends to more than three messages. End the thread, delete what’s no longer relevant or stop messaging and have a conversation instead.
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