Tag Archives: Slack

Odds and Sods: MailClark is out of beta, etc.

screenshot_102816_104525_amMailClark, the eMail robot for Slack came out of beta on October 27th. They have instituted reasonable pricing and even include a single eMail address for free, which should work for us at least temporarily. I was hoping that they would introduce nonprofit pricing,  but with the free address, and a price of $9.00 per month for unlimited inbound and outbound emails   we can probably afford it if necessary.

filemaker_cloudJust after buying our FileMaker 15 server license, FileMaker announced FileMaker for the Cloud. Essentially it looks like Amazon Web Services running an instance of FileMaker server.  Oh well. We’re pretty happy with our server running on a Mac mini,  with up to five users and have been deploying our nonprofit CRM to production, adding users one-by-one using desktop licenses for FileMaker Pro.   I still think there is a case for reasonable fixed pricing as opposed to subscription pricing,  and this is what we’ve got through TechSoup.

screenshot_102816_104818_amApple announces new MacBooks.  Fair enough.  Expensive though…. the least expensive MacBook, without the OLED touch bar is $1500 for 256GB SSD disk and 8 gigs of RAM.  The OLED touch bar adds $300.00 to the price! Oh and they upgraded Apple TV.   What about the MacBook Air,  Mac mini,  and the iMac?  Nichts, nada, silence….


Progress with MailClark, Slack, FileMaker, WordPress

Somemotor-1381998_1280times you just have a week where you are grinding away at things, and nothing particularly new or spectacular happens, and no new revelations are on the horizon. This was one of those weeks.

MailClark and Slack

The MailClark experiment is moving into its third week. As I hoped, it  appears to be working well as an application for low-volume  email customer support. In another couple of weeks, I will introduce this to the rest of the customer support team, so that more than one of us can respond to emails and questions sent in to our help address.

FileMaker CRM

Our FileMaker CRM is taking shape. I have built the basic tables, and am working on the data entry screens. I’ve hosted it on a new Mac Mini with an SSD drive using FileMaker Server. This is the first time I’ve ever used an SSD up close and personal (all Linodes are SSD based), and I’m impressed with the speed.

FileMaker has been steadily improving the web client of the application called WebDirect. This is an effective implementation of the regular FileMaker desktop interface, but rendered in HTML5 and CSS for a web browser, which eliminates the need to install the FileMaker software client on your desktop workstation.  My thought is that we will provide access to the CRM via a virtual private networking connection rather than allowing direct access through our firewall.

Similar to FileMaker Go, the FileMaker client that runs on iPhones and iPads, I  expect to build dedicated data entry screens for the web clients. This means that each platform gets its  own screens….desktop,  iDevice, and web.  The startup script for the application will contain a CASE statement which determines which platform you are connecting with, and point you to the correct screen.

So far the data design and use cases appear to be pretty accurate and for the most part remain unchanged. One thing I have done is add a “reference” section. This will provide a front-end for the National Center for Educational Statistics database of public and private schools.

WordPress and Apache

I spent a couple days faffing about with my Apache / WordPress installation, trying to figure out what what slowing down our blog. It turns out to be hidden in plain sight, and here is one explanation.


MailClark: Use Slack for Customer Support

One thing that is pretty wonderful about Slack is the number of integrations available. We have integrated Trello, Google Calendar, Dropbox and Google Drive with our Slack installations. Now a new one has presented itself that allows you to create what I would call a “threaded customer support system”. This appears to be ideal for relatively low-volume eMail support. Here’s how it works:

Hire a Mail Clerk, (named Clark).

The key is a terrific application called MailClark an email bot for Slack. If you have worked with Slack at all, you know about the “slackbot”; an artificial intelligence “user” which you can communicate with to perform various tasks, or to get help on Slack. (Think Siri for Slack). MailBot is a similar “bot” but one that allows you to send and receive eMail directly to and from Slack channels.

Adding MailClark to Slack adds a new user called @mailclark, and provides you with an intermediate email address that includes your team name and the channel that you are going to use for inbound questions.  So, for example if your Slack team name is  “tfnphelpteam”, and you have a Slack channel called “grantsupport” you will get an email address of grantsupport@tfnphelpteam.mailclark.ai.

Emails sent to that address will show up in the techsupport channel showing the complete email address of the sender and a reply button. Screenshot_071416_110006_AM.jpg

If I click on the reply button, MailClark will create an entirely new Slack channel for the conversation, including the original query.  This channel will be named similarly to the original (inbound) channel, but will be randomized for the individual. The channel will show up with unread messages…  and you can then click on the channel to reply to the original question.


The crux on the replies is that you need to follow the your reply with @mailclark send on its own line at the end of the message.



What’s cool, is that any subsequent emails to or from this person will stay in the channel, so that you have a threaded discussion of an entire conversation. This is the equivalent of a “trouble ticket” system like ZenDesk.

Of course grantsupport@tfnphelpteam.mailclark.ai. isn’t a particularly intuitive email address for help. So, we created our own own google eMail address, something like grants@tfnp.com (not a real address!) which then gets forwarded to the MailClark address.

Nonprofit CRM Overview

NonProfitCRMIn designing our non-profit CRM, we have been looking at all of the functions that we’d like to track.  At a minimum, we think each of the entities above will use one database table. In practice each entity will have an associated “interaction” table and “look-up” tables that feed picklists of options.

A little background. Our organization makes grants to schools and community groups. Many of these grants are funded through commercial sponsors, or through philanthropic individuals or organizations. Thus we have both Grant Prospecting and Grant Application Management functions.

Grant Prospecting — This is us prospecting and managing the workflow involved in applying for a grant. Recently when it gets  down to the application process itself  we have we have worked in Slack.

Grant Application Management — As we receive grant applications we have to process them and eventually evaluate them. We currently use LimeSurvey for our online grant application.

Sponsor Prospecting — If we don’t have an individual or foundation donor, we may fund a program through a sponsor; a company that wants to promote their community engagement or charitable contributions.

Contact Management — The contact table part of our design includes all the usual information about contacting a person In our database design, this may actually turn out to be  a hidden many to many table. One of the objectives that I want to address is the ability to look at a single person’s contact information and determine what our relationship(s) are with that person. A person could be a donor, a member, a volunteer, a member of our board, member of our advisory board. and our lawyer. This is really what CRM is all about, as well as the ability to track the relationship steps with the person at any stage of the relationship.

Membership (Donor) Management. We used to do this in Little Green Light. We’re not sure our business model going forward lends itself to membership.. but if it does, this is where we’d like to track members.

Media / Outreach Lists — We have 3782 media contacts to which we send press releases etc.

Admin — Could we provide forms for our usual HR functions like time sheets, vacation accrual, expense reimbursement, travel schedules, etc?

Note that this design exercise is independent of any particular kind of software. We have bits of data scattered in spreadsheets, word-processing files, online applications such as LimeSurvey and Little Green Light, FileMaker databases and of course eMail.

Update: I’ve added two additional tables; one for “contacts” (which will feed its contact and address data to the other tables), and  “projects” table which contains data about each project.




Slack for Grant Applications

We have just put Slack through its paces as a collaboration platform for applying for a couple of grants. We had a distributed team of three core team members:

  • The brain (BR) (who wrote most of the narrative parts of the application)
  • The numbers guy (NG) (who vetted the budget documents and provided updated balance sheet and income statements)
  • The grant slave. (GS)  (who managed the online submission process)

Like all grant applications these days, the application is online. The grantor uses Foundant as their online platform, which provides  a pretty good interface for the applicant.

The Toolbox

PDF Wranglers

Text-based attachments are usually PDF files, so you need some way to create these and combine them. Native Macintosh apps like Numbers can create PDFs. It also turns out that you can combine PDFs using the Mac Preview program. You can’t do this with the free Adobe Reader which I found out to my chagrin, loosing an hour or so in the process of trying.


Since we were working from home and from the office,  with both Windows and Macs, we needed a common place to store source files that we were adding to the online application.

Text Editor

OmmWriter on Windows and is now available for the Mac and iPad.  (I used the Mac text utility.) OmmWriter can export directly to PDF if needed, but usually I’d copy and paste directly into the online application. OmmWrite provides a critical function…it counts both words and characters so that you can stay within those restrictions if they exist. In our applications they did…and I spent considerable time editing the Other People’s stuff. Death to adverbs!

Spreadsheet Program

Numbers on the Mac,  Excel on Mac or Windows. Both create PDFs.

How we set up Slack

Each contributor is set up as a member of our Slack Team, so it is possible to send direct messages between each other.

We have a single Slack channel called #fundraising where we place all of the items that we have under discussion. If I had to do this again, with simultaneous applications, I might consider creating one channel for each grant application, however we shared a lot of data between the two applications as they were from the same funder.

The core team members are members of #fundraising. The rest of our non-profit board are also members but weren’t active during the creation process.  Obviously,  anything published in #fundraising is “public” or open for inspection to the team and the members.

The Work Flow

Grant Slave (GS) establishes account with the funder’s system, and downloads a PDF of the blank application.

GS posts the blank application to Slack in #fundraising.

Discussion within #fundraising, about who takes what for the writing.

As BR and NG prepare their text files,  GS starts filling in the online application with the routine stuff; name and address of the our organization, our mission,  etc. .

As the application becomes filled in, it gets printed to PDF and the PDF is posted in the #fundraising channel.

Team members view the PDF from within Slack and make suggestions for changes. They also post their new text in the channel. This is easiest if it is posted as a simple Slack message, as opposed to a Slack snippet or Slack post.

GS enters updated text in the online application,  usually by copying and pasting text that the others have provided in #fundraising.

Iterate.  As each new version of the application PDF  is generated, it gets posted to #fundraising and the earlier versions are deleted.  The idea here is that people are always looking at the most recent version of the application PDF.


Note a couple things:

  • Only one person touches the online application.
  • Everyone works with and edits the most recent version of the application. This is effectively a version-control system.
  • This system allows creative people (BR and NG) to be creative, without having to worry too much about the mechanics.