Zipcast Episode 35: How Nonprofits Use Texting (ft. Big Brothers Big Sisters)

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Business texting isn’t only for for-profit businesses. Many nonprofits are also reaping the benefits of texting with their constituents. Join us as we speak with Carlee Morgan, the director of recruitment and intake at Big Brothers Big Sisters in Texas. Carlee walks us through how her organization leverages texting in their day-to-day non-profit operations and shares an example of how texting was a critical tool during a recent crisis.

Featuring

Scott Heimes
Chief Marketing Officer, Zipwhip
Keith Hitchcock
Keith Hitchcock
Digital Content Manager, Zipwhip
Carlee Morgan
Director of Recruitment & Intake, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Texas

Scott Heimes:
Welcome to the Zipcast, where we talk about the latest trends in texting for business, customer communication strategies, and technology. I’m your host, Scott Heimes, chief marketing officer at Zipwhip. And thanks for tuning in.

Scott Heimes:
Business texting isn’t only for businesses. Many nonprofits also experience the benefits of texting with their constituents. Today, Zipcast producer Keith Hitchcock speaks with Carlee Morgan, the Director of Recruitment & Intake at Big Brothers Big Sisters in Texas. Carlee walks us through how her organization is leveraging texting in their day-to-day non-profit operations and gives us an example of how texting was a critical tool during a recent crisis. Stick around to learn more.

Keith Hitchcock:
Okay, well Carlee, tell me a little bit about Big Brothers Big Sister Lone Star.

Carlee Morgan:
Yeah. So, Big Brothers Big Sisters, we are a national organization that matches one adult with one child in a staff-supported mentoring relationship. And while we are a nationwide, Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone star really focuses on five key cities throughout Texas. Lone Star, we are the largest affiliate of any national Big Brothers Big Sisters so we serve on average, roughly 3,500 children each year across Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Tarrant and Wichita Falls.

Keith Hitchcock:
Awesome. And tell me about your role at the organization.

Carlee Morgan:
So, I am Director of Recruitment and Intake. My role really is surrounding, having volunteers come to the organization, get educated on how they can get involved as a mentor or a volunteer at our events, how they can best fit with the organization. So, we do have a few different program options. And so, what does that look like? What would fit best with their lifestyle, with their interests? And that’s really my role is an education piece, inviting folks in to come learn more about the mission, and then also matching and assigning them to a little themselves.

Keith Hitchcock:
Got you. And I know that you’re texting. So, what prompted a Big Brother Big Sister Lone Star to adopt texting in the first place?

Carlee Morgan:
So, we were realizing in the environment that we are this digital, often technology at the fingertips. Each person, emails were very much getting lost as it relates to communication. And we weren’t able to reach our volunteers in the way that we may have previously been able to. Not just with open rates, but we’re also seeing faulty email addresses or email addresses that were changing. And so, one piece that was really important for us was this ability to text. You can almost guarantee that a text will be opened. It allowed us to respond in a much faster fashion as well, and then also to be able to customize mass communication. And that was something that we were looking for in a texting platform as well.

Keith Hitchcock:
And what in general are the normal ways that the organization is using texting?

Carlee Morgan:
Let’s see. So, normal looks very different depending on what day, what time when you’re in a nonprofit, but as it stands, particularly on the volunteer side. So, we will reach out to volunteers to first gauge interest. So, we’ll text initially to gauge interest, we’ll text to remind them. As part of our enrollment process, we do an interview. So, we’ll text to remind about interviews the day before, and then the day of. We also text to communicate with our parents. And we’ll gauge that a lot of our parents are bilingual or maybe Spanish as first language, and so, we’re able to store that in their contact information Zipwhip, as a group. And then depending on what their first language is, we’ll be able to text them reminders for their interviews, maybe important information that they need to know for their match or outstanding items that we’ll need. And we’ll be able to communicate that via text, either in English or in Spanish.

Keith Hitchcock:
And how would you say texting benefits the organization?

Carlee Morgan:
Oh, my goodness. Okay. So, texting as a whole, I mean, without sounding corny, the benefits are almost endless. First, for staff time, saving time. For our internal staff, it’s so much more helpful to be able to quickly type out, you think, a 200 character text a lot more casual, a lot faster, as opposed to an email that’s often more formal. It takes a little bit more thought sometimes for staff members to put together and then also needs a beginning, middle, and end, in a way that a text message doesn’t. So, I’d say one of the benefits is staff time and staff efficiency.

Carlee Morgan:
A second benefit is what I spoke to previously in terms of the open rate. We can almost guarantee that, that open rate for both volunteers and parent guardians that we need to communicate with is going to be a 100%. And so, that is a huge benefit to us. It’s also much more convenient and a preferred method for communication amongst our volunteers and our parent guardians, that they check their text messages more frequently than they check their emails. And so, that gets into some of this real-time communication, which is a huge benefit. As well as, we use a lot of, let’s see, electronic forms that can be done really quickly on your phone, and so, it’s a really nice synergy between texting in the electronic forms as well.

Keith Hitchcock:
Got you. And you’re already getting at a lot of my next question, but if there’s anything else to say about it, feel free to fill in the gaps, but how you say that texting compares to email and phone calls and what does texting do that email and phone just can’t?

Carlee Morgan:
Yeah. So, what I will say is that texting is almost like the cherry on top for a lot of our communication. It is a lot faster to use, like I had mentioned before. But because it’s faster to use, we often use it in conjunction with email and phone call in a way that we wouldn’t use one or the other outside of that. So, we might text and say, “Hey, we sent an email yesterday. It has three things just for you to look through, do you mind reviewing that? Or do you have questions about it?” And we’ll send that in a text and we see a much faster response rate.

Carlee Morgan:
In addition, we also will use it as a warning, we’ll say, “Hey, we’re going to give you a call in an hour. It’s going to come from phone number 111-222-3333. It’s just going to be me and I want to let you know, before we give you a phone call.” And that’s very helpful because people nowadays don’t answer their phone if they don’t know who’s calling. And so, if they have a prompt or if they know what to look for, we see that allow for a greater response in communication as well.

Keith Hitchcock:
So, shifting gears a little bit. This was an interesting year for Texas to experienced the big freeze. So, tell us about the big freeze and how did that affect the organization and those you serve.

Carlee Morgan:
Yes. So, being a transplant to Texas, one of the benefits of Texas weather is it very rarely gets under 50 degrees. So, I do not usually need a raincoat. I do not usually need a parka, however, this February we saw what we call a great freeze, and it was just this huge gust of cold weather that came in. And Texans being happy go lucky and really taking full advantage of our great weather, did not expect what came to be because of the great freeze. One of those implications was we had frozen pipes. A lot of folks didn’t know how to prepare for a freeze or didn’t cover their pipes, didn’t make sure that there was dripping water, and pipes froze and then exploded, and then drywall got wet. And the implications spawn further and further and further.

Carlee Morgan:
What we noticed internally at Big Brothers Big Sisters was this also meant that our bigs and our parents were impacted equally during this disaster. So, it was the frozen pipes, it was the burst pipes. We also lost electricity. Most people lost running water, myself included lost running water. And this didn’t just happen for a day or two days, we were impacted for about six, seven days, some of us without electricity and without water across Texas.

Keith Hitchcock:
That’s definitely a big deal in Texas history and just for anyone’s life to live through that. We’ve been talking about texting. How did texting help the organization during the great freeze?

Carlee Morgan:
So, part of what was impacted during the great freeze was internet access because a lot of folks’ power was out that also meant that internet access was down. However, folks were able to text. And so, really, Zipwhip was instrumental in our ability to reach out both to our bigs and our parent guardians, first as wellness checks and then as resource provision in order to understand what was needed, because people were not able to access their emails because internet was down. We had to leverage texting communication.

Keith Hitchcock:
From my vantage point, it seems like the organization went above and beyond during the great freeze. Why was it important for Big Brothers Big Sister to stay in touch with this constituents during the crisis?

Carlee Morgan:
So, when we talk about serving our community, it’s not just serving our community through mentorship, it’s through creating healthy relationships. And what is at the essence of every healthy relationship is one healthy person who is interacting with another healthy person. And so, the health of our community was so vital to the core of our mission. And in a circumstance like the great freeze, where people’s immediate health ability to have clean water, ability to have a warm space, when that was impacted we really needed to reach out to our constituents, bigs and parent guardians and staff members. Frankly, we leveraged Zipwhip with our staff members as well, to ensure that folks were healthy. If they were not, we needed to be able to provide resources for them to get them to a healthy spot.

Keith Hitchcock:
Got you. I know that it’s hard to plan for anything like this, but I’m curious if the organization did have a plan in place for something like this and if texting was already thought of to be part of the plan.

Carlee Morgan:
Yes. So, texting has been part of our disaster response plan for staff members previously. Now, that was done a lot through our personal cell phones and it was done through a disaster phone tree, preparedness there. What we did not plan for was how we were going to connect with our parent guardians and our bigs. So, when it came time for this great freeze, we really had to think on our feet. The way that we implemented communication was we divided by region. So, Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star, as I had mentioned, serves Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Tarrant. We broke out communication by regions, and then from there we had one representative from each of those specific areas, text all our bigs and all our parent guardians. Luckily, we already had them as groups saved in our Zipwhip account. And so, then all we needed to do from there was do the mass texts for resources and checks.

Keith Hitchcock:
Wow, it’s great you already had a plan in place like that. So, I would love to hear about some of the texting success stories that happened during this time.

Carlee Morgan:
Wow. I’ll speak for Houston, that’s where I’m based out of. And so, I have most of my anecdotal pieces from the freeze are from Houston. I’ll speak to a few stories here. So, there was one, a mom who actually her kids were just matched in our program a month previously, a month before the great freeze. And when we had done our wellness check on her, asked for any resources that she need, she was without water for four days at this point. And so, her large need was, she just needed clean water for her family. And another component of the great freeze that I should say is most people could not leave their homes. So, we, well, there were resources that were able to be provided. Roads were in a great spot, cars weren’t prepared or driving on icy streets, things of this nature.

Carlee Morgan:
And so, we really had to identify first where she was, and we realized that we had a staff member who was about five miles away who had some extra water. So, through communicating or mass communication via Zipwhip, we were then able to connect her with our staff member who then provided clean water for her and her family of four to her house, literally drove it directly to her house. So, when we talk about it takes a village for our kiddos, it really takes a village, and sometimes we just need to be that connector for our people. Another story that comes to mind when we talk about the successes of texting, as I had texted for just little checks for our parent guardians and our bigs, we had a big who really needed to get to their parents’ house, hadn’t been able to check on their parents, and had texted us, “I’m okay. My little is okay, but I can’t get ahold of my parent.”

Carlee Morgan:
And so, we were able to work with her to be able to reach out in texts, actually through Zipwhip to make sure that her parents were okay in their home, just North of Houston. The last one that I’ll talk about is an after effect of the great freeze. And we had a constituent who, after the great freeze had an eviction notice. One week after the freeze, I did a check in to see, how are you doing? How are your walls? How are your pipes? And she had shared that she had an eviction notice and didn’t know what she was going to do. So, from that, we were able to get her some resources, that is a little bit outside of our scope of mentoring and community service. But we were able to get her in touch with resources that she needed so she would not have to leave her home, which is so important. And again, all of that was done through Zipwhip.

Keith Hitchcock:
Wow, that’s fantastic. How many folks or maybe percentage wise too, do you feel like you ended up helping out with during this great freeze?

Carlee Morgan:
Yes. So, again, I’ll speak to Houston, specifically in Houston, we reached out to roughly 2,600 people. We have 1300 matches so we reached out to both bigs and parent guardians. And from there, we were able to provide resources. There was only an ask resources by 42 people, but we were able to provide resources for all 42 of those people.

Keith Hitchcock:
That’s great. That’s a great story. I’m curious, what those successes meant to your constituents.

Carlee Morgan:
I mean, I think I’m a numbers person, Keith, I very often want to quantify what something like that means. And I think what’s more important here to consider is when we text, it is this real time communication, how can we help in this very moment. And so, I think if there’s one great takeaway that our constituents we’re able to see and the value that it was with Big Brothers Big Sisters is checking on us. They care about us, not just as mentors or not just as mentees, but as important members of our community who are there to serve and there to help. And so, I think even more than anything else, it’s this understanding that we are here for our constituents and that we will always be of service. That doesn’t mean we can provide that service, but we will make sure that we connect them with someone who can.

Keith Hitchcock:
This is kind of along the same line, but what would you say in the aftermath of all this, what would you say is the value of being prepared with the right communication tools when the unexpected happens?

Carlee Morgan:
I mean, invaluable is the answer to that. If we were not able to text, there was no real way that we were able to communicate at this point. And so, when we talk about disaster preparedness in disaster, reaching out and recovery, we need to start using and considering texting as a primary tool in our toolbox for something like this. Again, that real time communication is so vital when we’re talking about a disaster. It can be seconds or minutes that we have to act and texting is something that allows us to respond in that varied time.

Keith Hitchcock:
Well, since we’re on the topic of disasters, let’s talk pandemic. I’m curious about what has changed for your organization during the pandemic or what specific challenges have come up for you?

Carlee Morgan:
Yes. So, for us, I think Brothers Big Sisters, I mean, what we do is connect people in the community. And at the very beginning of the pandemic, the message very much was social distance, don’t connect, stay in your homes, and really trying to form relationships that way. And so, the way that we served had to change very quickly in regards to what is safe, what is responsible, what is healthy for our constituents. And so, as it relates to coronavirus, I mean, we really had to pivot and we had to pivot quickly. Part of what we did to leverage that is through texting, we disseminated match activities, so activities that a mentor and a mentee could do together that were virtual.

Carlee Morgan:
So, we would send out virtual cooking classes, or we did a art class. I don’t know, have you heard of painted rocks? So, we did a guided, a painted rock activity because that was items that most people had in their homes. And so, we were able to do some of this and disseminate this information through texting, as well as some of our standards. And as most companies have, we have had to revise our standards and pivot our standards quite a bit during the pandemic. And so, whether that meant that we had to tell our matches, “You have to meet virtually right now.” And then it became, “You have to meet outdoors with a mask with six feet away.” And then it became, “How do we help get our constituents facts we needed? And at that point, what does that look like for connection?” And so, all of that is facilitated through email, but also in conjunction with texting because that’s how people access information now.

Keith Hitchcock:
Yeah. Well, we’ve been talking about some present and past disasters and let’s hope we don’t have more, but thinking of the future and what’s to come, are there other ways that Big Brothers Big Sisters is considering using texting?

Carlee Morgan:
Yes. So, I mean, the answer to that, Keith, is I think the possibilities are endless. Now, we have expanded. At first, when we are talking about using texting, it was just on the volunteer side and it was very much on the front end of our agency at the beginning of our pipeline, if you will. And then, it expanded to each of our departments. Now, it’s expanding to board contacts, so reaching out to our board members, engaging them, stewarding them through texting. And then, finally, now we’re at a place where we’re looking into our donor management and working with texts to pay and expanding that so that it really can be very helpful and easy for folks to donate and engage with us in that way, if that’s how they would like to support the mission.

Keith Hitchcock:
That’s great. You’re doing so many things right from my perspective with using texting. What can other nonprofits, from your perspective, learn from your organization and how you’re using texting?

Carlee Morgan:
I mean, I think if I was to sit down with another nonprofit and say, this is what you should know, I think it’s just what I said before, possibilities are endless. When we think of the trifecta for any nonprofit, which is volunteers, donors, board members, there are ways to engage each of our stakeholders in a way that is creative, that is efficient for our staff, and that’s engaging for our constituents. And I think that those three things are so important to leverage at a nonprofit. I would encourage nonprofits to look into the resources that are currently being spent, not just monetary resources, but also staff time. And then identify, what could we save through customized mass texting? Because I think the answer will be, and what we found at Lone Star, we’ve essentially saved a full-time staff member through the time that we’ve saved here at mass texting and communicating with our volunteers in this way.

Keith Hitchcock:
That’s great. I think you’ve pretty much covered it, but for those people at organizations that are considering texting, any other advice?

Carlee Morgan:
I would just look at what your constituents need and how they want to interact and how they want to communicate. And I think it’s something really important to evaluate, always, we call it, putting the carrot in the horses mouth. How do you help to encourage behavior and encourage action for your constituents in a way that’s easy and pleasing to them? And I think very much if we put our feet in the shoes of consumers, it’s going to be something that is always attached to our hands, which is our phone and is texting, something that’s convenient and quick and with the times.

Keith Hitchcock:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s great. Carlee, those are all the questions that I had. Do you feel like I’ve left anything out? Is there anything more to say?

Carlee Morgan:
No. I mean, I just, and this might be a personal aside, Keith, but we’ve just been so happy with Zipwhip. I mentioned before that we’ve saved just about in terms of staff hours, just about a full-time employee with all of the follow-up that we used to be doing with the need for forms that were signed or communication that was needed, and then the ability mass texts, and then customize those mass texts to constituents. I mean, I just can’t share how invaluable that has been. We really use it in every facet of our organization at this point. And I think sometimes look back and say, what were we doing a year and a half ago? Because it was not efficient and not effective previously.

Keith Hitchcock:
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to discuss texting at Big Brothers Big Sister Lone Star.

Carlee Morgan:
Absolutely. My pleasure. Thank you.

Scott Heimes:
Thanks for joining us. Hey, since you just listened to a podcast about Texting for Business, you might be interested in checking out a webinar, e-book, or video about Texting for Business. Zipwhip’s recently redesigned Resource Center has nearly 100 different digital resources at your disposal. Check them out at zipwhip.com/resource. And make sure you subscribe to the Zipcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen, so you get the latest episodes. Feel free to text us with topics you’d like to hear about or other feedback for the show. Just send a text to (347) 772-3529. Until next time.

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