Communication is probably one of the hardest things to get right when running a small voluntary charity. This is especially true when you only meet physically a couple of times a week during group sessions involving members and there never seems to be the time to discuss the admin tasks or organising the next event.
While making time for face to face meetings are vital and we try to do it often we’ve found that we’ve been able to plug a lot of past communication gaps by using Whatapp groups. While I’m never going to say we have solved our all of our communication challenges it’s certainly helped to bring our team together, organise events, share knowledge and bridged the gap between sessions.
So why WhatsApp? Honestly it was mainly because our volunteers were already using it. There’s many communication tools out there: Slack, Teams, Facebook Messenger, Discord etc, but anything that meant that people didn’t have to install yet another app onto their phones was a massive bonus to us especially as it meant they were already familiar with it. That it allows multiple groups of chats in realtime has really lead to our adoption of it. We can view who has seen an important message and spilt the conversations into groups targeted towards different groups of volunteers.
Currently we have the following groups:
- Important Information: Just the important announcements with little chatter from most people. If you don’t want to be overloaded with messages this is the only one we ask you to follow.
- Gateway Leaders Hangout: General chat and banter. Somedays this is gathering ideas for an upcoming trip, somedays its a job posting board with vacancies in the local town or training courses that we’ve seen advertised, somedays its consoling people when exam results haven’t gone people’s way and sometimes its reviewing the latest film or Netflix series. Although it can seem a noisy stream it’s actually the glue that develops relationships and holds us together as a team. Here’s where the mentoring, counselling and cheerleading happens.
- Peer Leaders: General chat for our volunteers aged under 18 and also includes our Leader in Charges. Gives our younger volunteers a space to talk when they may not have the confidence to chat in the Leaders group though they are welcome to be members of both.
- Gang up on Jackie: Yes they really called it that :) This used to be our two Leader in Charges and me (the Chairperson of the charity) and its where more the more admin type conversations take place — getting quotes for bus hire, booking training courses or coordinating who is responding to an email to our Info email address. It’s since widened out to a couple more of our volunteers who help to run the charity but the name has remained.
- Gateway — IT Helpdesk: Everything around running our website and social media, helps to keep the conversations out of the Leaders group and only for people interested in that side of the charity.
- Fundraising: Similar to IT in that its for those interested in helping us fundraise. Posts around grant openings, or the reporting of grants we were successful in obtaining.
- Just Transactions: Finance group where we list our spending for quick reference when we are trying to find out what we paid for something 6 months ago. No conversation just posts regarding spend.
Although this sounds like a lot of groups most people are only involved in the Important Information and Leaders Hangout, with the Important Information group receiving about a tenth of the activity of the general group. For the specialist groups around Fundraising or IT they go through bursts of activity around a topic then fall silent again ready for the next time.
It’s the ebb and flow of constant conversation that helps to drive the group and keeps us connected — ultimately making us stronger and quicker to respond to the real time events that comes with running a charity.