Why Won’t They Reply To My Email?
Using the right technologies to communicate with younger volunteers
by Jenny Mitchell
No, they’re not ignoring you. They are living, working and playing through different communication channels. Email—a “communications staple” of our office lives—is much less important to young people. Here’s a nifty list of communications tools that you can use to communicate with youth volunteers “in their space.” Most importantly, don’t forget to ask younger volunteers how they want to be communicated with.
Think of Facebook as a centralized “hub” for your virtual presence: young people use Facebook to check in with people they care about (friends and family), find out about causes that matter to them (charities) and get information about events (social life). Facebook’s sign-on integration—signing up online by entering in your Facebook ID—makes peer-to-peer fundraising, online registration and online shopping faster than ever. If you choose not to become “friends” with your volunteer team, at the very least be sure that they “like” your organization’s Facebook page so you can message them.
Texting and group texting
Texting sends “text” via the instant message system on your smart phone. I use texting to confirm dates or to set up phone calls. For example, I will text in the morning, and ask if 1pm that afternoon works for a phone call. Most young people don’t have voicemail on their phones—it’s a monthly expense they choose not to incur. Instead, they opt for unlimited texting. Most modern phones have the capacity to send pictures as well as text. And unlike email, there is no required “sign-in” for texting—texts show up immediately on the recipient’s phone screen. By including more than one person’s phone number in the “to” section of your text message, you can text multiple people at the same time. If you really are not a “texter,” you can always text them to ask if they have received your lengthy email. Then they can text you back with their thoughts and comments.
140 characters is the perfect amount of characters required to catch a young volunteer’s attention. Building relationships through social media with young people should be a natural extension of your in-person relationships. Twitter is a great way to build richer relationships with your volunteers—their twitter feeds will speak volumes about what really matters to them. If your subject matter is not “public” you can also opt to send them a “direct message.” Direct Messages are only visible to you and your volunteer. Twitter can be set up to go directly to your smart phone text messaging system. Translation: your volunteers will get your tweets right away.
Skype sends voice and video through the internet thanks to a technology called voice over internet protocol (VoIP). Skype calls to other Skype users are free. You will need to set up a user profile so that people can find you in the Skype “phone book.” But what’s really great is that for no extra charge, you can also video conference with people. Skype will allow you to have a virtual “face-to-face” conversation with a volunteer who lives far away or who is on vacation. Skype also has a “premium” option starting at approximately $5 per month which allows you to host group video conferencing.
If you know Google, you probably know gmail, Google’s email service. Google+ (GooglePlus) was launched in June 2011 to “enhance” the gmail experience, creating an overarching social layer which covers many of Google’s online properties (gmail, calendar, chat, images and maps). Google+ Hangouts are super cool: video conferencing with multiple people through Google+ Hangouts is completely free! You can “hangout” via video with your volunteer team. And while you’re in a Google+ Hangout, you can also text and send internet links and documents to your team. You can also use Google Docs to work collectively on documents with volunteer teams so that everyone can edit and make comments.
Go for it!
Feeling inspired? Pick one new technology from this list that you will try this month. If you’re still not feeling confident, host a “test session” with friends and family. Just like Dr. Seuss’ “Sam-I-am” character said in Green Eggs in Ham: “You do not like them. So you say. Try them! Try them! And you may.”
Jenny Mitchell takes big, gnarly, complicated pieces of text and data and gracefully deposits them on the page with imagination, clarity and craft. Her company, Chavender Research Initiatives Inc., provides practical support for today’s not-for-profits. Based out of Ottawa, Jenny finds her niche as a fundraiser who writes. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org