Kirsty Marrins: How to use Slack for internal communications

This simple communications tool has many uses in charities, writes our columnist

Kirsty Marrins
Kirsty Marrins

Slack is a free, secure and simple-to-use communications tool that describes itself as "team communication for the 21st century". According to Slack, customers see an average of 48 per cent reduction in internal emails, an increase in productivity of 32 per cent and a whopping 80.4 per cent say that it has increased transparency within their team.

The benefits of using Slack is that it is password protected and everything posted, uploaded or shared is only accessible to your Slack team. You can set up channels related to different topics (for example: brand refresh working group) and these channels can be either public, meaning everyone in your team can see it, or private (for example, board meeting minutes) that can only be viewed by a few, invited team members.

Slack is available on desktop, Android and iPhone so is accessible to everyone, anywhere and on any device making it ideal for those who work remotely. An added benefit is that Slack is searchable, meaning it’s easy to find information – unlike trawling through email threads.

So how are those in the sector using Slack for internal comms?

Depression support group Blurt Foundation has been using Slack since 2015. Jayne Hardy, its founder and chief executive, says: "We use Slack for all internal communications. It allows us to organise different topics to different channels, upload information for team use and also to search through historical conversation. We wouldn't be without it. It has made a huge difference to how we communicate and work together as a team. Because we are a remote team, it's super important that we find a replacement for the 'water cooler' chat and so we have a #chewingthecud channel where we make use of the giphy feature."

Leanne Ford, communications and engagement lead at sexual health community interest company SH:24, agrees: "Slack can sometimes make work a bit more fun – we have some of our own custom reaction emojis and have laughed at the way off the mark gifs the Giphy integration serves up most of the time."

Ford warns thought that "you can sometimes use it to the detriment of face-to-face communication, particularly if you’re a remote worker – the temptation to just Slack something can be high when really a chat would be more productive".

As well as bringing remote teams closer together and improving team spirit, it can also be used to increase productivity and can integrate into a number of tools, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Trello, Twitter and more. Robin Fisk, co-founder of Donorfy, says: "At Donorfy, the charity CRM and fundraising database, Slack is our internal communications hub and we've set it up to mirror how Donorfy runs. We are a distributed team, so as well as discussing with each other what's going on, we also have set up a series of bots that let us know what charities are up to on the platform. We get notifications of key activity, like when someone signs up to our platform, creates a direct debit, submits a support request or mentions us on Twitter, so the whole team can be aware of what's going on at any time, no matter where we're working from.’

SH:24 uses their integration features too. Ford says: "We’re really keen on Slack for its integrations. We use Google for Work, so it’s really easy to add and share documents from Drive straight into Slack. We also use it to directly send text from Slack as actions into Trello project management boards. Some of the team have got calendar integrations set-up so that they get reminders about things. Our development channel is connected to developer tool GitHub so the two speak to each other – it gives the team working on that clear oversight of what’s happening at any time."

In addition to being used effectively as an internal communications tool, it’s also useful for managing communications around large projects with many internal and external stakeholders.

As Suzanne Maskrey, deputy chief executive, Brightside explains: "Brightside has been using Slack over the past few months for communicating about the development of our sophisticated and secure online mentoring platform. This platform is the very core of Brightside’s work connecting disadvantaged young people with trained mentors, and is a big complex project with lots of stakeholders – Brightside staff, our external developers and partners such as the universities and businesses that commission our services.

"I’m the project lead and, in terms of project management, Slack is helping me to manage all the people involved in the project. They all have their say and then we collate their thoughts and run through them in detail before giving our development agency clear direction for the project. Everyone working on the project has a voice through Slack – we use it to start internal discussions about features that are crucial to get right for young people. Then we take the important discussions offline. We have multiple ‘channels’ such as general, urgent, and a triage room and as long as everyone knows what each channel is for, it works really well. I always have it open in a window on my desktop to see things develop.

"We also communicate regularly with our external developers using Slack. This enables us to troubleshoot user issues quickly in real-time without having to constantly be on the phone to them. It makes our development team feel like an extension of our own team. Admittedly we struggled to get everyone to use it at first, but now our whole project team use it daily. It can also take time to get people to understand which channel they should be posting in and, if it’s really busy, comments could get overlooked unless you are really diligent at reviewing them.

"We overcome that by having an incredibly diligent head of technology to go through the channels weekly and communicate to me the most pressing issues that are being raised."

Slack has a non-profit programme, Slack for good, where third sector organisations that have 250 team members or less can upgrade to the standard plan for free. If you have more than 250 team members, it will give you an 85 per cent discount.

Kirsty Marrins is a digital communications consultant and a trustee of the Small Charities Coalition

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