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Crisis Text Line

Community Migration Leads to Higher Engagement and a Better Support Network


Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7, high-quality text-based mental health support and crisis intervention by empowering a community of trained volunteers to support people in their moments of need.

The non-profit organization started in 2013. Within four months, it was receiving texts from nearly every area code in the United States. Now, it’s become the nation’s largest text-based crisis-intervention service. To date, the organization has trained over 65,000 volunteer crisis counselors and engaged in millions of text conversations with people in crisis.

At the core of Crisis Text Line’s success are its dedicated volunteers. Leading the charge in cultivating this community is Katelyn Gillum, the organization’s Director of Community. She creates opportunities for volunteers to connect, share best practices, and grow both personally and professionally.

One of Crisis Text Line’s goals is to keep its dedicated volunteers engaged over the long term. The organization uses its community as the prime resource for achieving this. Here, volunteers can stay connected with the cause and with each other, even during breaks from their service.

The Challenge

Since its inception, building a strong sense of community has been part of Crisis Text Line’s DNA. Back in 2016, the organization embraced this by rolling out its first-ever community platform.

Initially, community management was somewhat ad-hoc, with a few team members pitching in here and there. However, there wasn’t dedicated team or a clear plan in place. Although they recognized fostering a community was important to their mission, they lacked the resources and tools to make it a priority in the way they felt it deserved.

Realizing the need for a change, the organization hired Katelyn as the Director of Community. Her responsibilities included developing a strategic plan for the community and aligning teams across the organization on the value community can have for both volunteers and Crisis Text Line.

As the team reviewed their options, it became clear that they needed a more connected and centralized community space. Major gaps in moderation and integrations on their previous platform highlighted the need for a shift toward a more unified and supportive community approach.

The Vendor Selection Process

Katelyn assembled key members from across different teams to ensure the selected vendor reflected the needs of the entire organization. She emphasized the value of this inclusive approach, noting: “Community teams often operate with limited resources, making it crucial to collaborate and draw on expertise from other areas. Involving a diverse group from the outset secured widespread buy-in and facilitated a smoother implementation process.”

With the organization’s input, they identified Higher Logic Vanilla as the top choice based on its versatile customization, integration, and moderation capabilities.

However, as Katelyn noted, it wasn’t just about the features: “The support and community around Higher Logic Vanilla were so critical to our success and our decision at the end of the day.”

Katelyn’s hard work to engage stakeholders and drum up enthusiasm clearly paid off. “Everyone’s really excited about the changes we’re making,” said Katelyn. “Especially the volunteer experience and clinical teams. Our previous one-to-one approach wasn’t scalable. Now, with customizable categories and permissions, they can efficiently support volunteers at scale. This reduces the strain on our internal resources and ensures volunteers have all the information they need in one place.”

“10/10 onboarding experience. The implementation process was incredibly hands-on with the Higher Logic Vanilla team. Our implementation manager went above and beyond in getting us technically set up for success with a tight timeframe. Plus, the strategic advisors were fantastic. They took our vision and strategy and brought it to life.”

Katelyn Gillum

Director of Community

Implementation and Onboarding

With the organization’s backing and the support of Higher Logic Vanilla, Crisis Text Line managed to launch its community platform in eight weeks. Katelyn spearheaded the effort, crafting engagement strategies with various stakeholders including the coaching, learning, and clinical teams. These groups now take the lead in driving interactions with volunteers in the community.

Launching with confidence

As part of Higher Logic Vanilla’s Premium Launch service, Katelyn worked with community strategists who offered guidance on both technical setup and community management best practices. Katelyn was particularly impressed by the nuanced understanding they brought to discussions, ensuring the technical aspects of the platform were tailored to the organization’s unique needs.

“Our kickoff call set the tone for the entire project,” said Katelyn. “Our implementation manager was incredible. The level of detail, trust, and direction from the team from start to finish was so impactful. No question ever felt too small or silly.”

Crisis Text Line’s teams also found huge value in Higher Logic’s support materials: “The knowledge base articles were extremely helpful. Any of the tasks where I had to collaborate with my internal teams, it was so easy to direct people to Vanilla’s documentation and project board,” said Katelyn. “All the little things made a big difference, both from a support and feature perspective.”

Details make the masterpiece

The platform’s ability to adapt to the organization’s specific needs, including small but significant details like emoji reactions, helped set it apart.

Understanding the sensitivity required in their community interactions, Katelyn collaborated with Higher Logic Vanilla to customize emoji reactions, replacing thumbs-up “likes” with more supportive symbols such as hearts. This customization ensured that the platform’s interactions aligned with the organization’s ethos and met the needs of its community members.

“Those are some of the nuances that the team took to heart,” said Katelyn. “They paid attention to every detail and showed a willingness to explore all our ideas to ensure everything was set up just right.”

Opening new doors with flexible permissions

Another key feature that made a major impact was the platform’s flexible permissions. Previously, volunteers would undergo training asynchronously and independently, only joining the community upon completion. With Higher Logic Vanilla, the team created a space where trainees could connect earlier in the process, fostering a sense of belonging and engagement from the start. The platform also offered solutions for re-engaging past volunteers, showing them the ongoing value of their association with the organization.

“The changes we’ve implemented are not just technical tweaks; they represent a big shift in how we interact with our community and support our volunteers through their journey,” Katelyn reflected. “It’s going to have a massive impact on our retention and engagement.”

The Results

The journey to revamping Crisis Text Line’s community with Higher Logic Vanilla centered on developing a more cohesive and engaging experience. “Now, everyone across our organization is actively directing volunteers to the community—talk about making an immediate impact,” said Katelyn.

Following the platform’s launch, an all-hands presentation and workshop were conducted to familiarize everyone with the new community. “The internal feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The ease of use and engagement from our teams on the platform have exceeded expectations,” Katelyn said.

By partnering with Higher Logic Vanilla, Crisis Text Line has:

Centralized the entire volunteer experience

The integration of different volunteer cohorts into a single community space, using Higher Logic Vanilla’s Groups feature, has dissolved previous silos. Katelyn noted, “In the past, our programs operated independently, mainly connecting through one-on-one emails, which didn’t really allow for actual conversations among volunteers. Now, having everyone in the same space naturally leads to more interactions right off the bat.”

The platform’s Zoom integration has made organizing events much easier. Katelyn noted, “Having all our events in one place, with easy one-click registration and access, has boosted attendance.” The excitement about additional tool integrations points to an even more cohesive volunteer experience in the future.

Created a better brand experience

Katelyn highlighted the platform’s impact on branding, stating: “Before, our branding was pretty much just our logo. There was nothing that screamed ‘This is us.’ With Higher Logic Vanilla’s user-friendly customization, we’ve really been able to make the community our own.’”

Now, the community aligns closely with both the organization and its volunteers. “We’ve designed the community to reflect our volunteers’ journey,” Katelyn added. “This capability was missing in our previous platform, and the change has really resonated with our volunteers. They appreciate the commitment, sophistication, and intentionality in the space that wasn’t there before,” said Katelyn.

Increased community engagement

Just two months after launch, there’s already a noticeable uptick in engagement, largely due to the organization leaning in and participating actively in the community. “Easier access to information, and the ability to customize discussion pages with Higher Logic Vanilla have significantly contributed to this rise,” she explained.

Improved security and moderation

The organization’s previous platform lacked adequate moderation tools and analytics. “We were missing the right tools and processes to manage the community the way we really needed to,” Katelyn pointed out. “Creating a safe space for our volunteers and having the ability to quickly address issues has been a major focus—and a noticeable improvement—with Higher Logic Vanilla.”

“Higher Logic Vanilla has really stepped up our game by offering the kind of security, scalability, and customization we needed— and the best part is, we didn’t have to dive into complex coding to get there. For any organization aiming to develop a top-notch community, I’d say turning to a top-tier platform like Higher Logic Vanilla is the way to go.”

Katelyn Gillum

Director of Community

Man and Woman using community on tablet

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