How One Nonprofit Uses Outpost to Manage Their Shared Inbox
The St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County experienced exponential growth over the last three years. They needed a tool that would help cut down response time to email inquiries in their askme@ inbox.
With Outpost, they’ve been able to reduce response times by up to two days, have increased their team’s productivity, and are able to establish more consistent language in their email responses.
A Mission-Driven Organization Grows
The St. Vincent de Paul Society is Lane County, Oregon’s largest nonprofit human services organization, providing a range of services to help the county’s most vulnerable since 1953.
According to their annual report, their programs “have provided supportive resources for individuals, children, and families who are temporarily homeless or at risk of losing their homes due to job loss, health issues, or other critical circumstances. We serve those most at risk in our community, and we are a catalyst for progressive change in a variety of endeavors that alleviate poverty and lead people to self-sufficiency.”
Over the past three years, St. Vincent de Paul has experienced exponential growth, increasing its community and grant-provided funds from around $7 million per year to over $48 million in 2019.
Increased funds have been poured into new community initiatives and programs, greatly expanding the organization’s reach and impact. In 2018, St. Vincent de Paul worked with nearly 4,000 volunteers to provide over 113,000 meals to unstably housed adults.
Their recycling-based businesses—including more than 15 retail thrift stores, as well as online store Envia Fashion—diverted over 44 million pounds of materials away from landfills.
Rapid Growth Created an Email Bottleneck
According to Ashely Hensley, associate director of development, that rapid growth brought with it the challenge of finding a productive and efficient way to communicate both internally and externally.
“We just grew really, really quickly. And because we’re a really diverse organization, we’re getting emails and inquiries from basically all of our different programs and a lot of different needs.”
For example, their website’s Contact Us page directs visitors to email email@example.com for any donations, questions, and general inquiries. That generic address was only linked to one individual team member’s Outlook inbox, which created a communication bottleneck and a barrier for efficiency.
“It could only be linked to one person’s inbox. And trying to juggle, disseminate those emails to the people who needed them was difficult,” she says. Their email setup made it hard to have visibility and accountability to make sure requests were being taken care of once they were passed along.
“You send it off, and then you have no idea what happens with it. So then, someone would send an email again, and that person would have to go figure out, okay, what did I do with that? Okay, who, what did they do with that? And just kind of wasting a lot of time, circling back to figure out what was happening.”
“Communication was not as helpful and
efficient as most people would like.
Not being able to respond to inquiries in a
timely manner was a lot of lost opportunity for us.”
Without a collaborative way to manage emails as a team, precious time was being wasted, opportunities were nearly missed, and the organization’s reputation with community members was at risk.
“We were just doing what we could to stay afloat,” says Ashely, “but communication was not as helpful and efficient as most people would like. The turnaround time to respond to inquiries was too long. And those inquiries could be anything from, ‘I’m in need of some type of social service.’ ‘I have something I want to give you,’ ‘I want to partner with you,’ ‘I want to give you money.’ Not being able to respond to those in a timely manner was a lot of lost opportunity for us.”
Anna Gonzales, associate director of strategy and special projects, adds: “that experience directly impacts our ability to fundraise.”
“If someone is just trying to get housed, or they send an email to the waitlist, and they’re not finding out, and they’re not getting that answer…they’re going to tell all the people how grumpy they are about St. Vincent de Paul. And it doesn’t matter how many people we’re helping. That poor experience is what people remember.”
Making Team Email Collaborative, Organized, and Easy
During a local event for nonprofit organizations hosted by Palo Alto Software, the St. Vincent team discovered Outpost. Anna immediately saw its potential to go beyond how they were using Microsoft Outlook.
“The idea of having a web-based interface,
that multiple people can access,
that also doesn’t burden our IT team,
actually was quite appealing.”
“For all of Outlook’s wonderful qualities,” she says, “Microsoft is a little clunky when it comes to shared mailboxes. And the idea of having a web-based interface, that multiple people can access, that also doesn’t burden our IT team, actually was quite appealing.”
Once the team started using Outpost, the early potential they saw started to pay off right away, especially for Ashely. “When our previous development director left, I inherited the askme@ inbox. In those first days with Outpost, it was like, ‘oh gosh, this is so much easier and less work.’”
“In those first days with Outpost,
it was like, ‘oh gosh, this is
so much easier and less work.”
As Ashely and Anna added more team members, more benefits of collaboration began to surface. Mary-Dawn, the executive assistant to all departments, has become a daily user of Outpost and one of its biggest advocates.
“It helps me keep email way more organized. I love that I can go back into the sent folder, and see who sent each message. And I really appreciate that once a conversation is assigned, even after a client replies, it’s still assigned to my team member. So, I can make sure that we’re up to date without having to skim through a million emails.”
The Team Cut Down Their Response Time by 2 Days
Mary-Dawn, who now triages and delegates most emails in the askme@ inbox, has seen many inquiries come in from vulnerable community members who are in crisis mode, living in emergency situations, and reaching out when they are at the end of their rope.
“Because Outpost is organized,
and emails are assigned to the appropriate person,
a faster response time literally saves lives.”
According to Mary-Dawn, streamlining internal communication with Outpost has cut out at least two days of time following up with inquiries.
“Timeliness is huge in our world. Because Outpost is organized, and because emails are assigned to the appropriate person, a faster response time literally saves lives.”
A More Productive and Consistent Team
As St. Vincent de Paul continues to grow and expand, Outpost is a tool that they anticipate being able to grow with them. “I see so much potential for this,” says Ashely.
With the success of taming their askme@ inbox, the team wondered, “How else can we replicate this? And in what other ways is it going to be helpful?” That’s when the light bulb went off for Ashely and their volunteer program.
“Being able to have
multiple people access that inbox,
and keep things moving along
is huge for our department.”
“Our current volunteer coordinator, Katie, is a grad student and is only in the office half-time. So, now there’s a volunteer@ inbox instead of just katie@ so she can assign emails for us when she’s not going to be in the office. Being able to have multiple people access that inbox, and keep things moving along is huge for our department.”
Meanwhile, Mary-Dawn looks forward to using Outpost to help the organization establish more consistency in their messaging.
“Saved templates are amazing. I have a goal this year to help share the templates with more departments that have contact with the public and say ‘this is what we’re using as an organization, our language, and how we answer inquiries—so that everyone uses it.”
Looking Forward to Future Growth Together
Increased productivity with Outpost has been a huge win.
“Our organization’s always growing and changing,” says Ashely Henley, “and for me, that’s the biggest thing with Outpost: forward progress.”
With Outpost, Ashely says St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County can “develop some structure, internal processes, be more efficient, and just continue to grow.”