I know it can be hard to think about adding new tools to your digital toolbox, but some new tools are worth it. At this point, I encourage any nonprofit team that wants to run a well-connected team to include direct messaging in their toolbox. Here’s a quick summary of why and some tools to consider. And my number one pick: Slack.
What’s special about direct messaging?
Remember nonprofit life before email? I barely do, but we did used to get things done without email. Then for a while, when email was new, some folks still resisted, except even they had to admit it was faster than using the phone, faxing(!) or printed mail.
Now, it’s time to admit that email is slow and inefficient when compared to direct messaging. A busy nonprofit needs to make the most of communications among team members, with quick and transparent communications.
1- Direct messaging can declutter your email inbox by removing most of your internal emails. This is especially useful for short, time-sensitive internal email messages.
2- Direct messaging allows for “on-demand” online collaboration/conversation with multiple team members without having to be in the same room. You can switch from a chat to a call or video call seamlessly whenever you need to.
3- Direct messages do more with “less” than email. Every email has a to/from, subject lines and often signatures in addition to the message. You generally see an individual message header in the context of your inbox, which contains many messages from all sorts of sources (even if you use Gmail’s Priority Inbox). Direct messaging is automatically sorted and you interact with the message in a related conversation. It’s designed to streamline the experience of high-volume communicators.
Direct messaging has seen strong adoption in the for-profit world (I was first able to grasp its power and usefulness while working at a marketing agency) but the nonprofit world is still coming around. Direct messaging is here to stay. Don’t waste your time trying to squeeze more efficiency out of email, when direct messaging tools are out there.
What are your options for direct messaging apps?
Here’s a quick rundown of the leading tools to consider for your nonprofit’s team internal communications.
Slack: The trailblazer in the direct messaging world, it allows for an unlimited number of conversation possibilities. It’s got a strong searching capability, integrations with other online tools you use for work and a great user interface for mobile devices and your computer. This is my top pick for direct messaging (more below) and it would be even if nonprofits had to pay for it. But, you probably don’t even have to pay for your 501c3 nonprofit to have a Slack.
Google Hangouts: Part of the G Suite application world, so available to your users if you already use Google Docs and Google Suite email for your domain. It features easy-to-use video and screensharing. But there’s limited “threading” of messaging, few useful integrations (unless you set them all up yourself using a third-party service) and limits to searching and message history. But the speed is there.
Microsoft Teams: If your organization is using Outlook products instead of G Suite, then it could make sense to use this direct message app, which is similar to Slack. It’s intended to integrate well with the Outlook suite and with other common apps. Here’s a detailed review of Teams comparing it to Slack.
Facebook Workplace: If your team members are already on Facebook for work and you need fewer integrations, then this solution could work for you. They integrate with common workplace tools, but nowhere near what you’ll see in terms of integrations with Slack (unless you build your own). I’m not a big fan, but in some settings, it could make sense.
All of these options are proprietary products owned and hosted by for-profit companies. Although I generally prefer open-source software, I can’t recommend any particular open source direct messaging product over Slack, given my positive experience with it.
Some organizations will have security concerns and want to host their own direct messaging platform rather than trust a third-party company with all your internal conversations. But consider that all of these companies’ server security infrastructures are exponentially more robust than the security your nonprofit could build on your own.
Why Slack is my top pick for direct messaging
Slack is my number one pick because it lends itself so well to organizing and archiving your conversations and internal resources. Slack speeds up internal communication and makes it easier to find what you need for internal collaboration. I have participated in quite a few Slacks with clients and have found it hard to match its efficiency.
It’s as fast as a direct message option such as Chatting via Google Hangouts (which is also faster than email) but allows you to group and thread these communications using Channels or Direct Messages.
Slack’s user interface is built for efficiency. Unlike email, you don’t have to interact with each and every message — you can just look at messages and they are marked as complete. Or you can star or save them. Dragging URLs and files for sharing is easy. Mac users can use Skitch for quick screenshot sharing.
Slack’s integrations are seemingly endless. Because of Slack’s widespread use, virtually any other online service you use can send notifications to Slack.
My next post will be on tips for setting up your nonprofit on Slack well. If you’re ready for a longer intro right away, Cyberchimps (a WordPress theme shop) has done a great 101 piece to explain more about what Slack is.
See you on Slack!