From storms to terrorism, there’s been no shortage of high-profile crisis situations in the news of late. Many nonprofits are either shopping for a group messaging service or evaluating the one they currently use. As a veteran of the communication industry, I often get asked whether or not there is really much difference between one service and another. Don’t they all send multiple messages simultaneously (or nearly so)? Yes…. And no. Let me clarify. Yes, they do, but there are not-so-subtle differences as well. And the differences can be stark and important, especially for use by nonprofit organizations. Read on for some of the differentiating factors that are important to nonprofits in particular.
Multiple message delivery methods.
For nonprofits, particularly churches, this is one of the most critical elements to consider. Most congregations, communities and organizations are made up of multiple generations with varying levels of technical expertise. It’s important that your communication platform enables you to reach all of them, without duplicating messages on multiple channels. Whether your members and staff prefer email, voice calls, text messages or social media, the messaging platform you use should cover them all. Text messaging is great, but not if you don’t have a cell phone. Voice calls are just annoying to the youth in your organization. Meet everyone’s needs with a service that covers them all.
No rocket science required.
It shouldn’t require hours of time and a team of IT experts to set-up and maintain a group messaging system. Members should be able to update their own information on-line using simple forms. They shouldn’t have to send or receive multiple messages to opt-in to receive text messages. Make sure the interface is simple, intuitive and doesn’t require Silicon Valley experience to navigate.
Anticipate all the ways you might use the service before committing to one.
The right group messaging service will be versatile, with features that make it ideal for use in a number of different situations. Consider your need for recruiting volunteers or staff. Some notification systems handle this task very well with features that enable it to call contacts one at a time and allow them to respond to the question/request with a keypad response before calling the next person on the list. This alleviates the problem of getting TOO many affirmative responses and having to return calls and say “thanks, but no thanks”, a situation that costs time and goodwill, and never bodes well for future recruiting efforts.
A powerful notification feature many organizations aren’t even aware of is the ability for the call recipient to transfer from the call they receive to a live person, all with a tap of their key pad. This is particularly useful in situations where questions might be generated from the call. Event or meeting reminders is a good example. If a contact has a question, they can press “1” on their phone and the call automatically transfers to the appropriate person for questions.
When shopping for a messaging service, make sure you carefully compare message lengths for voice calls. You may not think there’s much difference between a 30- and a 60-second message until you try to convey a volunteer or donor recruitment request in 30 seconds. It’s tough to do! Many providers let the caller/sender continue on, no matter how long they continue to talk, and they charge for 30 additional seconds if the call goes even one second over the 30 second limit. This is an important point of comparison between vendors. What might look like a less expensive service may end up being twice as much, depending on the allotted message length.
Don’t reinvent the wheel – or the message – every time.
No one really likes recording a message that will be heard (potentially) by tens or hundreds. It’s typical to worry when typing one as well. Will I misspell a word? Miss a comma? Emergency or urgent situations increase the pressure ten-fold. Make sure the notification service you choose allows you the opportunity to save and re-use your messages. A library of messages already on-hand can save time and ease the worry of creating a message that is in some way incorrect or incomplete.
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Some group messaging services only allow you to designate a single individual as a “messenger”, meaning they are the only one who can create and send messages. This is a real burden for one individual and detrimental in organizations where there are departments or small groups/ministries that need to be able to send messages to just their own group. Choose a service that allows you to set up as many messengers as you need, using security features to give them access to only their group as appropriate. Sharing a log-in is NEVER a good solution!
Notification systems can play a key role in a good overall communication plan for nonprofit organizations. If they’re versatile enough they can handle a range of communications needs, from emergency to routine. But there are differences between the services, and it’s important to consider all the potential uses as you evaluate the options. Then, whether you are dealing with a tornado warning or a meeting reminder, your communication needs are covered.