How Organ.org Created a Successful Volunteer Program

“Our website, word of mouth and community booths are our 3 biggest channels of recruitment to the program.”

 

Introduction

Gaggle Mail, the makers of your favourite group email tool, help people build better communities by giving them access to software tools that enhance member engagement. However, building strong communities isn’t accomplished through technology alone. A lot of creative thinking, planning, strategizing and socializing go on behind the scenes to help communities grow.

For this reason, Gaggle Mail is on a mission to bring you educational stories that are sure to inspire community leaders to build bigger and stronger groups.

Today, Gaggle Mail was fortunate enough to chat with Nicole Volesky, the Community Engagement and Events Specialist over at Southwest Transplant Alliance (Organ.org).

Let’s jump into the interview below.

The Interview

Hi and thank you for joining us today to chat with our readers about the management of your volunteer program. Many of our readers manage small to large communities, so it will be great to chat with you today about how you manage yours! Can you kick off the interview by telling us a little bit more about what STA (organ.org) does and how your volunteer program ties into that?

Southwest Transplant Alliance is one of 58 federally designated organ procurement organizations in the United States that acts as a bridge between those who would like to donate their organs, and those who are in need of a life saving transplant. OPO’s also oversee community education, and donor family after care within their service area, and that is where the volunteers come in. Our volunteers will help us put together donor family care packages to send to families after their family member has become an organ donor, our volunteers also are pivotal in community education about organ donation. Many, if not all, of our volunteers have some sort of personal connection to organ donation—whether their loved one was an organ donor, one of their family members received a transplant, or they themselves have received a live saving transplant, they are an incredibly passionate group of people that simply want to educate the community about organ donation and get more people signed up to the registry to potentially be organ donors.

 

Can you tell us a little bit more about the early days of your volunteer program? What were some of your biggest obstacles or mistakes early on and how did you overcome them?

The early days of the program started out with a small group of dedicated people that just wanted to give their time to this organization and a cause that they cared about. Our first volunteer coordinator came from another OPO with a volunteer program, so she started to lay the structure, communicate and put in place a volunteer management system.
Some of the early obstacles were that we didn’t gather quite enough volunteer feedback as to how the structure would run best, for example, our service area is quite disjointed, and when splitting out the areas, our first volunteer coordinator split the areas into regions that weren’t as easy for the volunteers to work within as she thought they would be. We also put in place a volunteer management system, but it didn’t quite have the necessary functionality that would work best for our volunteers needs, and wasn’t very user friendly for our volunteers so if they wanted to volunteer they typically would have to reach out to us directly instead of signing themselves up on the management software. Our team was only one person back then, and they were the one to set up most of the volunteer activities within our service area. However, because our service area touches nearly every corner of Texas, and our headquarters is just in Dallas, we could have benefitted from relying on the volunteers more to engage in their specific regions. We simply didn’t have the same visibility into those areas that they did.
When I took over the program, we were finding that not many of our volunteers utilized the volunteer management software. They were not very engaged, as many of the opportunities were just in Dallas, and we weren’t doing much in the way of appreciation or engagement activities. Similarly, they weren’t the stakeholders in the program like they should be, so we could barely find volunteers to cover the activities we were putting out there. To overcome some of these things, I decided to overhaul most of the program, and am still in the midst of many of those changes. First, I put in a user-friendly volunteer management software in place, which has an easy to use app which our volunteers have been able to access and sign up for activities on.
Then I started to develop a volunteer leadership structure to help us engage in the regions. We are still in the testing stages of this, but so far have seen a lot of interest. We started with a Team Lead, that oversees the volunteers in their region, an Engagement Lead, who scouts and schedules activities for our volunteers to be apart of, and a Social Media Advocate, for those with health restrictions that prevent them from working events in the community. These volunteers can be ones to create content like blogs, videos and social media posts to educate the public in organ donation.
I also started quarterly volunteer engagement opportunities where all our volunteers can come together, meet each other, and volunteer on a big group activity together. Our volunteers have been incredibly excited about these changes and we are working towards increasing engagement quite significantly.
We are also putting our volunteer training online for each of the volunteer leadership roles, as well as new volunteer orientation so that we can onboard new volunteers much quicker, and so our seasoned volunteers can take refresher courses on new information about organ donation to engage the community with.

 

Today, what are your top three channels for onboarding new volunteers (website, paid ads, word of mouth etc)? How do most people find out about your volunteer program?

Our website, word of mouth and community booths are our 3 biggest channels of recruitment to the program. Many people come to the program having some connection to the organ donation world, so they know about our organization from receiving a transplant through STA, or their family member being a donor, and are passionate about it from the start. But we have also seen many people come up to booths we have in the community about organ donation, and really be interested in the work we do and want to get involved. Then also, we are involved in Voly.org that puts volunteer opportunities out into the community for people who would like to volunteer to sign up, and have seen some interest from there as well.

 

What advice would you give to other startup organizations looking to drive awareness to their volunteer program?

I find that most people aren’t as interested in the work you do as they are in why you do it, and this is one thing I believe our volunteers have mastered. The primary way we tell them to educate the community about organ donation is through their personal stories and connections to it. As I mentioned, many of our volunteers have a connection to this mission already, and when a person in the community with no connection to organ donation hears a personal story about how a life was saved through someone’s incredible gift of life through organ donation, something touches their heart and they want to be involved. Look for relevant places that you can set up an informational booth about your organization and tell the community why you do what you do–it’s all about the why!

 

How much thought and effort goes into planning the volunteer experience?

I’m sure ensuring volunteers enjoy their time with you is important. Tell us a bit more about what’s involved in experience planning.
A lot of thought! I try to ask questions about what our volunteers enjoy and how they like to serve the most and create activities and programs that allow them to serve in that way. I also do my best to make sure they know they are appreciated. Recently I sent out a small gift to every volunteer who participated with us this last year. it was a simple sunflower cube pot where they could grow their own sunflower, with a little engraving on the side that said “Thank you for your commitment and dedication to helping us grow!” We have a smaller volunteer program so I was able to do that within my budget, but I have also worked for volunteer programs where the budget is significantly smaller and I’ve served 3 times the amount of volunteers. With those organizations, I would simply look at the resources available to me and go on YouTube or Pinterest to find a cute little token of my appreciation that didn’t cost much. For example, I had a large amount of colored paper going unused, so I found a YouTube video showing me how to create a small gift bag from a piece of paper. I simply printed on the paper “You Are Worth More than Gold to us!”, folded it into the small little gift bag and filled it with Rolo candies as the “gold,” then held a little potluck where they could all get together, bring their favorite dish, share fun stories and we could give them a little gift of thanks. These small little touches mean a lot to volunteers and you can often find something to do for cheap if you have a smaller budget to work with.

 

Can you tell us a little bit more about how you go about planning volunteer activities / work? How much work is it behind the scenes to run a successful volunteer program?

Our volunteer team is small, it’s often just me as the primary volunteer coordinator, and I have two other co-workers that help where needed, so I do my best to delegate anything I can to my volunteers. I came from working at Girl Scouts so luckily I had a rich background of how to run a volunteer program with limited resources, and learned what was feasible to delegate. That is why the volunteer leadership structure is so important. We have legacy events that we are a part of nearly every year, but for our regions, I am working to depend a lot more on our volunteers to find and suggest events that we can be involved in, and then take the lead on putting those together. Our service area covers Texarkana, El Paso, Wichita Falls, Corpus Christi, Galveston and Beaumont, a large swaths of cities in between those, with headquarters in Dallas, so we have a lot of outlying areas that are dependent on local knowledge of the activities in those areas where we can be involved. Our volunteer leadership structure also increases engagement as the volunteers become automatic stakeholders in the program, as they are the ones creating opportunities for themselves in these areas, and they are more engaged because of that ownership. The work behind the scenes for me is really upkeep and training. I have a volunteer newsletter that I send out bi-weekly with opportunities and updates, as well as pictures of our volunteers in action, and I manage moving our volunteers through the onboarding process and the backend of the volunteer management system, as well as a co-worker that assists in finding activities in the community for us to be involved in. I try to keep a culture of openness with our volunteers where they know that their voice matters and is heard, and they are very willing to offer suggestions and support, and have an understanding that they have the ability to make this program what they want it to be. For example, we have processes for requesting events in their areas, and even a letter on our letterhead they can submit to a business to request to have a table or booth outside their business or at their event.

 

What advice would you give to other organizations thinking about starting a volunteer program?  What are some of the most common oversights that organizations make early in their programs and how can these mistakes be avoided?

I would say the best thing you can do for your program is listen to your volunteers and their wants/needs and establish a consistent communication platform. Create opportunities for them to take ownership in the program, because when they are the stakeholders it makes your job a lot easier and keeps them a lot happier and engaged as everyone loves to know their voice is heard, especially when you are giving your time to this organization. Had we started off really asking the volunteers what they think might work and building our program around that, it may have been better than deciding on a plan that we thought might work but failed in practice.
Also having a consistent place for communication is critical and something I’m honestly still reigning in in my own program as, in the beginning, we had a couple different modes of communication: Facebook group, emails and some volunteers that would only respond to a personal phone call. This has made my job a bit harder as I’m having to post the same message in a couple different formats, whereas, had we started the volunteer newsletter in the beginning and got them used to that as the primary mode of communication, then we would be able to get our message out consistently and wouldn’t have to repeat ourselves so many times. I would also suggest, if you are able to implement volunteer leadership, that this is something you can delegate and train your volunteers on. Have one person in that region that you can communicate to, and they are in charge of making sure the volunteers in their area are in the know, whether they communicate through text, phone or an app like Gaggle Mail, they can adjust it to what the volunteers in their area prefer.

 

Tell us a little bit more about your volunteer engagement strategy. How do you keep people engaged and excited to remain part of your community? What specific communication processes do you have in place to ensure everyone is on the same page all of the time?

I’ve kind of mentioned this a couple times, and maybe because it is such a big part of the success of our program, but volunteer leadership—allowing our volunteers to take ownership of this program really ups engagement. Also, getting them together for events, having them meet each other and share stories is incredibly engaging for them, and of course, making sure they know they are appreciated through tokens of appreciation like the little sunflowers boxes we had sent out. We also depend on the volunteer newsletter, and our announcements in our Facebook Group and Volunteer Impact landing page to communicate anything pressing or pertinent.

 

Specifically, what email communication strategies to do you use to help your volunteers stay “in the know”. Do you send monthly newsletters or other forms of emails that are designed around a specific purpose? If so, what are the primary objectives of those emails?

I send a bi-weekly newsletter to our active volunteers with a small update at the top with a theme. I just sent one yesterday and our theme was “Advocating for Organ Donation in the Era of COVID-19” and we gave them ways they could still advocate for organ donation and educate their communities from their couch. Then I will include a list of active upcoming activities that they can volunteer for in Volunteer Impact, which is the primary reason for the email, so if they are not getting into the volunteer software regularly, they still know what events are posted that they can be involved in. Another objective of this email is to motivate and encourage them in their volunteer service, so we add pictures of volunteers out in the community serving with us, sometimes we’ll add encouraging stories and we also include current numbers of those on the organ transplant waiting list (so they can see the scale of need for this work) and the current number of Texans that are signed up as organ donors (so they can see how they are making an impact).

 

Can you tell us a little bit more about your volunteer onboarding process? From the first time a potential volunteer finds out about you to the first time they begin volunteering, what onboarding or training processes do you have in place to make the process as streamlined and efficient as possible?

Great question, this is something I am working on at this very moment! When I came on staff with STA I put in place a new volunteer software that completely changed the way we onboarded to make it MUCH more efficient. Before, you would send in your application, we would have to email you a paper background check that you would have to print and send it to us, which then we would deliver to our HR dept to run the background check and get back to us (usually taking about a week), then we would let you know about our upcoming orientations which was a live webinar held typically on a Tuesday evening once a month.
This was NOT efficient, and it was something I made sure to look into when I was searching for a new volunteer management software. Now, with Volunteer Impact, you are simply sent a link (or click the one posted on our website) to our volunteer application, where you are prompted to create a username and password in our volunteer management system, then asked to fill out the application to volunteer for our organization. After you submit this application, it automatically sends the volunteer an email thanking them for their application submission, and asks them to please fill out a background check with Sterling Volunteers, via the link provided in that email. I get a notification when an application comes in, and if I don’t get a notification from Sterling Volunteers with confirmation that a volunteer has completed their background check within a couple days (they sometimes take only a day to complete a background check for us if a volunteer fills it out right away), then I will remind the volunteer to complete the background check. If the background check comes back “Consider” I may ask that volunteer for additional information, but if it comes back “Clear,” I will email that volunteer to ask them to attend our new volunteer orientation webinar. Currently they are live webinars held once a month, but as of April 1st, I should have a new volunteer orientation video recorded and posted online, and I will be able to automatically assign that course to anyone in our system, which they can then take at their leisure. When they’ve completed orientation I send them a follow up email with our media release and confidentiality form which they can print out, sign, take a picture and send to me, and I set them to “active” in our system, so they are able to see all of the volunteer opportunities available for them to sign up for in our volunteer management system.

 

Lastly, if you could go back in time and start your volunteer program over again, what are three things you would do differently and why?

If I had been the one to start it, I think the first thing I would do is hold brainstorming sessions with our volunteers, to really understand how best they can engage their communities. I would then ask for feedback on what they would like in a volunteer management system, and search for a product that worked best for their needs, and not one that simply worked for our purposes. I would also have put in place the volunteer leadership structure from the beginning so there was a culture of ownership and each felt like stakeholders in the incredible work that we are accomplishing together.

 

Thank you for taking the time to chat with Gaggle Mail today! The Organ.org story is truly inspiring and I’m sure our readers will have taken many actionable insights away from this interview. To our blog readers, if you’d like to learn more about Organ.org you can follow them on Twitter or head over to their website here.

 

 

Going Professional

Since launching almost five years ago, Gaggle Mail has always been a paid-for service. We introduced a free plan last summer but this functions more of an indefinite trial for small groups to get a feel for the product.

Even though we’ve always been a paid service, we’ve only ever really had one price point – until now!

Starting this week, alongside the standard service (now called Personal) we’ve introduced a new Professional plan. The idea for this started a long time ago when we noticed more businesses and professional organisations using our service. Instead of the usual consumer groups (book clubs, church groups, sports groups, friends & family), we were seeing; companies, corporations, and professional bodies using Gaggle Mail to interact and communicate with their customers and members.

We wanted to serve these new professional customers better but at the same time, we didn’t want to price-out consumer groups which might not have a need for more advances feature.

professional-plan

So that is how our Professional plan was born. Currently, the Professional plan has two new features exclusive it. They are, the ability to use your own branding group and the ability to host your email domain with us. Both these features are aimed squarely at businesses who want to use Gaggle Mail but control how their group appears to their members.

If you have any questions about our pricing or anything else to do with Gaggle Mail, please let us know.

Book Club Case Study: £15,000 in Monthly Recurring Revenue in 57 Months

“We’re really focused on just making the membership experience as good as possible by engaging people more around the themes and making it easy for them to connect with each other and explore their curiosities. We’re already seeing lots of spin-off groups: writers, entrepreneurs, stoics, brunch crew and more.”

Introduction

Gaggle Mail, the makers of your favourite group email tool, help people build better communities by giving them access to software tools that enhance member engagement. However, building strong communities isn’t accomplished through technology alone. A lot of creative thinking, planning, strategizing and socializing go on behind the scenes to help communities grow.

For this reason, Gaggle Mail is on a mission to bring you educational stories that are sure to inspire community leaders to build bigger and stronger groups.

Today, Gaggle Mail was fortunate enough to chat with the founders of Rebel Book Club about their experience scaling their club to over 850 paying members with Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) of over £15,000 / month in only 57 months. A wildly profitable book club. Imagine that!

Let’s jump into the interview below.

 

The Interview


Hello and thanks for chatting with
Gaggle Mail blog readers today about Rebel Book Club. Many of the users of our software manage their own book clubs, so I’m sure being able to plug into how you manage things over at Rebel will be a huge inspiration to them. Your club has been around now for over four years. Why don’t you kick things off by telling our readers a little bit more about your journey so far? 

We wanted to finish more non-fiction books and extract real tangible value from what we read. The Japanese call the pile of never-finished books on your bedside table: Tsundouku, and we were suffering under its curse! We thought it’d be cool to read the same book at the same time with other curious minds. We tested the idea pretty quickly and thought it had enough legs to charge a monthly £15 subscription fee which covers:

  • x 1 non-fiction book
  • x 1 inspiring meetup
  • x 1 custom cocktail inspired by the book, served at the meetup by our friends at Mix & Muddle

We launched in May 2015 and had 24 paying members, a number of whom I consider good friends now! Each month Ben & I put in a little time to keep things ticking over and the community grew organically month on month. A year later we had 104 paying members and enough leverage to reach out to some bigger authors… and actually get a response.

Amazing! Let’s talk more about your club and some of your early challenges. What were some of the main obstacles that you encountered in recruiting your first members, and how did you get past those first roadblocks?

In truth, we didn’t have the bandwidth to invest heaps of time into the project but we kept the formula simple and whilst it was small, we continued to grow month on month via word of mouth with zero marketing spend. After running a couple of workshops at festivals on ‘how to get maximum value from badass books’ we were asked to talk at a TEDx event.

Things were starting to feel pretty legit.

Our usual distribution channel was via Amazon vouchers giving members the freedom to redeem Kindle or Paperback versions of our monthly book but we were drawn to distributing physical books a few times — partly because we had enough scale to negotiate wholesale prices directly with publishers and partly because we thought a physical book turning up in a branded envelope could take the member experience to the next level. We learnt quickly that physical distribution for us was increasingly time-consuming and added a heap of customer service challenges if the book didn’t arrive as intended. Part of me still thinks one day we may revert back to this method and get it right but for now, we decided to leave it to Bezos and the pro’s.

On your website, I see that you try to keep RBC members as active and engaged as possible. You have weekly emails, monthly meetings, and you also provide networking events so members can get to know each other. How do you manage to stay abreast with everyone and everything? How challenging is it to keep members connected in five different cities?

We’re just starting to focus on that now.

So far London has been 80% of our membership (700 / 850) current subscribing members.

But we’re now linking up members more online and creating opportunities for ‘power hour’ mini meets IRL for members to do some in-person reading accountability.

850 members! First of all, congratulations! What engagement strategies have you found to be the most valuable so far in allowing you to reach this number? Do you perform A/B testing in terms of engaging people, and if so, how do you do it?

We’ve kept it super simple.

1. Regular updates, with the same monthly rhythm – 1 book, 1 meet, 1 cocktail.

2. We’ve made an effort to connect our members as much as possible and share what we’re all learning.

3. We’ve responded quickly to applications, new member signups and, as importantly, requests to cancel so people move-on feeling good about the RBC experience.

I noticed that you have a link on your website that lets people apply to contribute in setting up a Rebel Book Club in their city. How do you go about vetting the forms that come through here? What are the main factors that can improve the chances of a successful application?

We only reject those who don’t put effort into the 2 minute application. We want to know if they’re motivated to read more and are open to new books and ideas. If they have that mindset they’ll get a lot out of RBC.

It’s truly inspiring to know that your book club has grown to five different cities in just four years. You bring your members to meet with one another and travel to amazing places around the globe. How far do you want your club to go in terms of membership? What plans do you have in store for RBC in the next couple of years?

We’re really focused on just making the membership experience as good as possible by engaging people more around the themes and making it easy for them to connect with each other and explore their curiosities. We’re already seeing lots of spin-off groups: writers, entrepreneurs, stoics, brunch crew and more.

One of your writers mentioned in a blog that the RBC community has changed and isn’t as tight-knit as it was several years back. But they also said that micro-groups have formed and the intimacy and bond between members are still there. What steps do you take to motivate your members to continue supporting one another?

The reading accountability helps bring everyone back to the same page. Sorry! We’re all reading the same book at the same time, so that connects us. Beyond that it’s simply about giving members the opportunities to connect with each other as much as they’d like. This month, for example, we’re doing this.

In 2018, you recorded an MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue) of £5,250 with approximately 350 paying members in your club. How long did it take for you to reach this amount? What does your MRR look like today?

We’re now at 850 members, MRR of around £15,000. Its taken 57 months but growth is going the right way!

We recently crowdfunded so that has helped, although the investment into marketing only started this week… see our stats here.

With so many individuals taking part in your club nowadays, how do you keep things under control? What system do you employ to help you in managing your membership?

So far, pretty calm. We’re fairly light touch – regular online comms + monthly meets.

Our new team, as of last week, includes part-time membership manager, cities & meetups manager and growth marketing. Exciting times!

The Rebel Book Club has been active in the last four years, and I assume you’ve seen your share of ups and downs. If you had the opportunity to sit down and give advice to someone planning to start a book club, what tips would you share with them to help their book club get started on the right foot?

1. Read the same book each month, prompts during the month to get it done.
2. Share your learnings/insights as you go.
3. Make it fun, varied and surprising.
4. Use simple no code tools to operate it.
5. It takes time, don’t expect it to grow quickly!

Thank you for taking the time to chat with Gaggle Mail today! The Rebel Book Club story is truly inspiring and I’m sure our readers will have taken many actionable insights away from this interview. To our blog readers, if you’d like to learn more about Rebel Book Club you can follow them on Twitter or head over to their website here.

 

Improved Message Archive

Being able to search your entire message archive has always been a key feature of Gaggle Mail which is why we’re delighted to have been able to spend some time over the last few months improving how it looks and how it works. We now allow you to select and view messages while still seeing your message list. We’ve also got rid of the paging of messages and just show all of them in a continuously scrolling list.

message-archive-with-side-panel

Being able to quickly click between messages and see entire message threads from one view really makes the message archive more interactive and helps you to quickly catch up with what’s going on. In the header for each message we also show you the key details from the delivery report (how many messages delivered/bounced etc) so, at a glance, you can see if your messages are getting through.

message-header-delivery-count

When viewing messages we show them cleaned up with all previous replies hidden so you can easily see what each person said. You can always switch to see a message in its original form by selecting “Show Raw Message”

message-options

We’re really pleased with these changes and think they further improve the utility of the messages archive. If you have any feedback on this or anything else on Gaggle Mail, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Facebook Groups Alternative

Facebook is a huge platform with lots of great products, one of which is Facebook Groups. Facebook Groups has been part of Facebook from almost the beginning and is used by clubs, companies and organisations to communicate, share documents, plan events in either open or closed groups.
 
Being part of Facebook means to use or participate in a Facebook Group you need to be “on” Facebook. With Facebook’s near ubiquity this isn’t such a big deal but more and more people are becoming aware of how companies such as Facebook use and share their data and so are looking for less intrusive alternatives.
 
Group email discussion lists, or listservs (as they’re sometimes known) are a great way for groups of people to communicate and share ideas. For a start, you don’t need to be part of a social network to participate – you just need an email address and everyone has one of those. Since it’s all done over email it’s very familiar too, you use whatever email program you prefer on whatever device you prefer.  Sharing files is simple too, just attach them to your email and send it to your group. Read and reply to message while you’re off-line? Sure, it’s email after all.
 
Getting started with group email couldn’t be simpler with Gaggle Mail. Get your group up and running in seconds, then add the people you want and start sending messages, it’s that easy.
 
Give Gaggle Mail a try with a 14-day free trial and enjoy simple, reliable group email communication which you and your group will love.

Zapier Integrations

We’ve just started to add Zapier integrations to Gaggle Mail.

Zapier allows you to connect different apps together to allow data to flow between them.  For example, you might want to add a new member to your group every time someone completes a Google Form or you might want to log something to AirTable every time someone sends a message via your group.  Zapier integrations can help will all of these things.

Our integrations are private at the moment but if you’d like an invite to use them please let us know.

Members Dashboard Refresh

We’ve recently made substantial changes to the Members area of the group dashboard. The main focus of these changes has been to improve the efficiency with how you can manage members in your group especially when you have multiple groups.

Group Email Member List

As you can see we’ve switched to a card based layout rather than rows, the main driver for this was to be able to show more members on screen. Each member card shows how many groups that member is in and whether they receive the daily digest, if they’re set to paused or if they are blocked.  You can also hover over the left-hand border of a member card to reveal options to either add or remove that member from the group.

Group email member

You can click “VIEW DETAILS” on a member’s card to slide out the member details panel when you can edit the member or delete them entirely. If the member is blocked we show details about this here as well. For linked groups, there’s a second tab within the member details view which shows which groups that person is a member of.

Member details panel

At the top of the member list, we show totals for the number of members in that group as well as how many of them receive the digest, are paused or blocked. You can also see the total number of members who are in the linked group. Clicking on any of these numbers will filter to member list to show just those members. You can also use the search bar at the top of the screen to search for members.

Groups member counts

Message Threading

We’re delighted to announce the availability of one of our most requested features – Gaggle Mail now supports message threading.

 

Group email message thread

 

When viewing messages on the Gaggle Mail website they can now appear grouped by thread. This new “Conversation view” can be switched on and off via a new settings button above the message list.

 

Message settings

 

With Conversation view enabled there are two ways to view a thread. Firstly, there’s the single message view, this is similar to the existing message view with the addition of some buttons in the popup title bar to navigate between messages within the thread.

 

Group email chat view
Viewing a message thread in “Chat View”

 

Also in the title bar is a button to toggle between the single message view and a new “Chat view”. Chat view opens the thread in one long view similar to a mobile chat application. In here, we strip away replies from messages and isolate each message for a much clearer view.

 

Daily Digest Improvements

We’ve also made these message viewing improvements available to Daily Digest users who can now choose to view their digests messages gathered together by thread and open thread then in Chat view. As with viewing the message archive, these options are controlled by the new settings button.

 

Daily Digest message thread
A digest message thread showing additional messages for that digest in blue.

 

Digests are now viewed from the members own membership details page which means they can go back and see previous digests. Also from their membership details page members can post a new message to the group to start new threads – as well as posting to an existing thread.

 

Gaggle Mail member view with digests
Members can now view old digests

 

As you can see, there are quite a few changes here that we’re really excited about.  However, if change isn’t your thing then simply switch off Conversation view and things will be back to how they were before. If you have any feedback on this or anything else with Gaggle Mail please let us know.

Email as a Social Network

At Gaggle Mail we see a wide variety of groups of all sizes discussing a wide variety of topics. Each group is comprised of a set of people who share a common interest and choose to use email to facilitate their discussion. They send messages, share pictures and make plans – just like on a social network.

Comparisons between email and social networks are nothing new. It’s obvious really – the parallels between refreshing your email and checking your Facebook news feed are pretty clear.

The thing with Facebook is that it was designed to BE a social network. Over many years of use by billions of people it’s been honed to optimise for “socialness”. Every interaction has been optimised to achieve a certain goal; improve engagement, encourage ‘likes’, make friends, be more social.

You are socialising within their system, by their measures. All their tricks and nudges to optimise for their metrics change your behaviour. Maybe they change you for the better; making you more social, connecting with more people but it’s not you, it’s you + them.

By comparison email is just message passing – it’s a post office. It won’t encourage you to post a message or pester a friend who hasn’t replied to your message. It won’t go looking for people like you to connect with.

As a result of this, socialising over email is much more organic, nobody is going to hold your hand and show you how to socialise. With email your group has to survive by it’s own merits alone – email isn’t going to step in and help.

Alternative To EmailDoDo

EmailDoDo has been around for years. Founded in 2007 they have been the cheap and cheerful group email option small group often turn too. With bright colours and 90’s bulletin board style interface their whimsical style appeals to many.

EmailDoDo logo

And they’re cheap too, prices start from a very low $5 per year. For a long time EmailDoDo had a completely free option too, they still do, but now they put adverts in the footer of all messages you send to generate revenue and cover their costs. In a time of privacy concerns and GDPR this seems a strange choice.

While EmailDoDo does offer polls and SMS as well as email their group email function is quite bare bones. There’s no message archive, no delivery tracking, limited multi-group support and no daily digest option.

For small groups which don’t need much from their group email system and can get over the privacy concerns this could be enough but if you need to be sure your messages get delivered and want a fully functional email discussion system you may want to look elsewhere.

Groups start on Gaggle Mail from just $2 per month and come with a complete set of group email discussion tools. Your privacy is assured also with no-ads and complete GDPR compliance. If you need to be sure your messages get delivered and want a beautifully simple and modern interface the try Gaggle Mail free for 14-days.