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LEAH supports ethnically diverse adults in Kingston, Richmond and Hounslow. Their vision is to achieve ‘inclusion through language’

Use this Guide if you need a secure and low-cost way for people to communicate with each other without sharing personal details. It covers user research and how to choose a communication tool. It also covers configuration options and how to help your team get used to using a new tool. There is a useful video link in Step 4.

This Guide could be used if you work with other groups of people too.

Steps to using Discord for secure 1-to-1 communication

When you want to help people communicate you have a lot of digital options. To pick the right option, you need to understand exactly what type of communication is needed.

Start by working out a high level problem statement. Some examples could be:

  • "We need our helpline staff to be able to contact each other at the same time as they connect with callers. This will give them extra support."

  • "We need to stay in touch with our groups between sessions. This will help them feel more engaged."

  • "We want to create a space where people can digitally “drop in” for support. This will help people in rural locations get our help."

Don’t make problem statements that include a solution. Jumping to a solution before you've understood people's needs and behaviours makes it more likely you'll choose one that doesn't do what you or they need.

LEAH match students with volunteers to help them learn English. Lessons can be online or face to face. Many of their students are in very vulnerable circumstances. 

During the pandemic, LEAH moved their services online. They quickly developed digital solutions. Then in 2021 they began to look more strategically at their digital transformation. They appointed a digital co-ordinator. They talked to staff and volunteers across the organisation to create a set of priorities for change.

One priority was: "our volunteer coordinators need to spend less time passing messages between volunteers and students. This is so that they can do other things that have more impact."

Next explore your problem more deeply. Think about all the different people who will use your solution. Plan a way to talk to them and learn their needs and behaviours.

Questions to ask include:

  • How often do people need to connect with each other?

  • Are they communicating individually or in groups?

  • How confident are they with digital tools?

  • What technology are people already using - either at work or at home?

  • Do people need to be able to share things - such as documents or audio files?

  • Do they need voice, text or video options - or all of them?

  • What safeguarding needs do you and they have?
  • How much information do people need to share?

  • How will you meet data protection requirements?

Once you have answers you can set out priorities for how your solution needs to work.

LEAH's digital coordinator talked to coordinators and volunteers about their needs. The coordinators also spoke with existing students to explore their needs.

Then they set out their priorities:

  • Safeguarding and data protection. Students and volunteers should not see each other’s phone number or email. This also makes sure that students needing urgent support reach out to LEAH and not their volunteer.

  • Safeguarding. Coordinators need to be able to see communications between students and volunteers. They only look at communications occasionally for checks, or in case of concerns. It still needs to be simple to do.

  • Two way messages. Students need to be able to message volunteers and vice versa. The most common message is to change or cancel a session, but they also need to exchange other messages.

  • File sharing. Volunteers need to be able to send documents, links and videos for homework and students need to be able to send completed homework back

  • Multi-platform functionality. Students need to be able to use phones, tablets or computers to communicate.

From your user research, create a list of priorities.

First look at the types of communications tools available. You could look at:

  • Messaging apps

  • Learning management systems

  • Community platforms or networks

  • Team management software

Once you have chosen a type you can compare different providers.

For help you can use NCVO's digital tool choosing guide.

LEAH started out by looking at platforms specifically designed for education settings. One in particular had a lot of the features they wanted. Unfortunately the company was based on the other side of the world and couldn't offer the plan they wanted.

They wanted a platform that would be free or very cheap to run, and provide the privacy and safeguarding options they needed.

They explored community platforms and realised that Discord could meet all of their highest priorities:

  • People using Discord choose usernames. They don’t share passwords or emails.

  • You can set your community or server to closed or private. This means only people with the link can see it.

  • Within a Discord server (community) you can set up as many communication channels as you like and control who can see and use each one.

Most staff and volunteers were not familiar with Discord. LEAH's digital coordinator knew this would challenge them but was confident that the learning and cultural shift required would be worth it.

When you use Discord, you create a community by setting up a server. You choose whether to make your server public or private. Then you can set different permissions within that server. You can do all this following on screen instructions or watching video tutorials. You don’t need any technical skills.

You can create:

  • Text channels (Like a persistent chat thread)

  • Voice channels (with the option to turn on video)

  • Groups called Categories - these can help you organise your channels

You can give people permission to:

  • see or post in all channels, or just in one

  • administrate (manage) the whole server or individual channels

What you create will depend on the communication processes you want to allow.

How LEAH set-up their Discord server

LEAH have a private Discord community. Their coordinators and volunteers are members of the community.

Each coordinator has an area (category) where they create text channels for volunteers and students. Each volunteer can only see the channels their coordinator adds them to.

The coordinators think about the level of English and access to technology each student has. If the student is ready for it, they invite them to the Discord community.

They send them a non-verbal video guide showing how to create a Discord log in. This video is different depending on whether they have iPhone, Android phone, tablet or laptop. They also share guides showing how to start using Discord.

When the student logs in to Discord they arrive in the main “welcome area” (a text channel). The coordinator greets them, and matches them with a volunteer. The coordinator creates a text channel in their category area and adds both the volunteer and the student to it.

Then the volunteer starts the conversation. Messages and homework are exchanged as needed. Lessons between student and volunteer take place face to face or on Zoom.

The text channel stays available place for as long as the student and volunteer are working together. Usually this is 1 year.

When they stop working together, the coordinator moves the text channel to an area called 'archive'. They keep the channel here for monitoring and evaluation.

Coordinators also have their own channel where they can talk to each other.

Watch a 2 minute example of one of LEAH's non-verbal guides.

Introducing a new digital tool to your team or organisation always starts a culture change process. You will need to plan how to reassure and train people, and make sure the system is working for them.

Sometimes you also have to be prepared to deal with unexpected reactions to the tool itself.

LEAH knew that some of their volunteers might be resistant or hesitant to using Discord. They were making two big changes:

  1. Volunteers would be messaging students directly for the first time

  2. They’d be using technology they hadn't used before.

LEAH wanted to make this transition as easy as possible. So they planned a 6 month campaign to listen to concerns and plan with people. They gave everyone plenty of time. 


  • Onboarded coordinators first

  • Held workshops for volunteers

  • Found simple guides to using Discord, and agreed to make new non-verbal guides for their students

  • Found some volunteers who were keen to try Discord, helped them get started, then allowed them to talk about and champion it to others

  • Prepared messages about the benefits of using Discord with students. They explained how it could save time and build stronger relationships.

They found that:

  • People who had heard of Discord thought of it as something children and young people used

  • Some people didn’t like the name because it suggested “argument” to them. So LEAH's digital coordinator explained that they would be using Discord without any group channels (a place where arguments can start).

  • Some volunteers felt uncomfortable that the coordinators could see their conversations. The digital coordinator emphasised that the coordinators would not be spying on volunteers. The ability to view conversations was for safeguarding purposes - to protect volunteers and students.

  • Some people would have been happy to share their personal details and use more familiar systems. So the digital coordinator explained how this introduced the chance of them being contacted in emergencies or for support that wasn’t part of their role. The digital coordinator also explained that they chose Discord to meet GDPR and safeguarding needs. Using it protected everyone legally and ethically.

Now that they have been using Discord for a few months, it runs really smoothly. Volunteers, coordinators and students all see it as a key part of how they work and learn.

Think about:

  • Can you reduce the number of steps people have to take to get started?

  • Can you reduce what people can see so they can focus only on what they need to know?

  • Can you find good, helpful guides online or do you need to make your own?

  • Do you have a way to talk people through starting out on Discord, if they can’t use the guides?

LEAH set up Discord so that students only see one text channel in their view.

Students receive 4 non-verbal video guides to logging in, joining the text channel, sending a message and uploading homework. These guides are tailored to the phone, tablet or laptop they use. LEAH's digital coordinator made them all.

If a student is still struggling to perform a task on Discord then a volunteer or coordinator can take them through it on a Zoom call.

Check in with everyone using your system, and find out what improvements you need to make. 

Discord has lots of videos on how to use different elements of their system. It also has things called “bots” that you can run. These give you even more functions. There are videos showing you how to use bots.

LEAH iterated their processes several times before they fully launched Discord and onboarded everyone. They ran a test group first. Coordinators joined one at a time, bringing their student and volunteers with them. During this period LEAH tweaked lots of things, especially their video guides.

The system is now working well for volunteers and students.

The coordinators were finding the archive a bit clunky for monitoring and evaluation. So they worked with the digital coordinator on a plan to create new fields in their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system where they can safely store information about people's participation. To begin with they will add the information manually. Then, once it is working well, they will explore whether it can be automated.

So far, they haven’t needed to use any Discord bots.

Further information

See some of our other Guides about using community platforms or 1-to-1 communication tools: