3 simple systems for successful choir management

In the last couple of articles on this site, we’ve had some fascinating perspectives on choir leadership and participation, but I thought we’d get squarely back to the business of choir management this week. I want to share with you some of the systems that we use to run our choirs successfully.

One of the first lessons that Christine and I learned when we started collaborating was that we needed to find ways of centralising the information that we gather from our choir members, and that we impart to our choir members. We work in very different ways. Christine is a bit of technophobe whereas I’m a full-on geek girl. I sold my soul to Apple years ago and have all my devices synced and streamlined. Christine uses a Windows PC and, being the mother of a two-year old, relies heavily on her smartphone as a mobile office.

When I joined Christine in the business and we started a second choir, we didn’t immediately set up shared systems. It wasn’t long before difficulties arose. If we wanted to send information to all our choir members, we’d end up sending one email from Christine to our contemporary choir and another from me to our chamber choir. When contact information changed, one of us would have to remember to let the other know so that both our address books could be updated. Not very elegant.

Those of you who already use collaborative tools like cloud-based data storage and shared apps are probably wondering how on earth we kept things running remotely smoothly. The truth is there were some slip-ups. One of us would have the wrong email address for a choir member. One of us would forget to pass on a task for the other to do and things would get missed. Over the last year or so, we’ve made some big improvements. Here are three of the most important systems that allow us to run Total Voice effectively.

Communication

We use email almost exclusively for communicating with our choir members. We’ve found that this is the method most favoured by our choirs. Of course, many of our members use Facebook and other social networking sites, but we have a substantial older membership who don’t, so email is perfect for keeping everything centralised (we even have a few older members who don’t use email, but they tend to make arrangements with a friend in the choir to be passed important information).

As I said in my introduction, we used to send emails to our choirs from our personal email addresses. That was unsatisfactory because we weren’t sharing email accounts or address books. When we had an overhaul of our choirs website, we took the opportunity to add a membership plugin (Wishlist Member) that allows our singers to register on the site and access choir-only information. The plugin gives us all sorts of membership facilities, one of which is the “email broadcast”. This means that either of us can email all (or a section of) our members from a central list which is always up to date.

The system we use relates specifically to WordPress websites, but there are similar facilities available free online, for example Google Groups and Yahoo! Groups. If you run a youth choir or the average age of your choir members is younger, you may find that a Facebook group suits you better as all your members will probably already be on there regularly.  Messaging via a FB group gives you added functionality such as creating event invitations and gathering responses.

Whichever messaging option you choose, it’s important that all your choir members know that this is how you’re going to contact them to give them important information, and that they need to ensure that they’re receiving your messages. Don’t bombard them with messages or extraneous information. I also think it’s important to choose subject lines carefully so that your recipients know that you’re sending important stuff.

In addition to our membership plugin, we’ve also added a calendar app to our choirs website on which we can put all our rehearsals, performances and workshops. The app we use automatically adds a Google map and allows users to add the event to their own calendar. The obvious free online tool to use is Google Calendar, which can be shared widely and which has various management tools that allow you to set permissions and restrictions. Yahoo! Groups has a shared calendar function built-in.

Data management

Whatever model you use for running your choir, chances are you need to share resources with others involved in the organisation’s management. You don’t want several versions of documents floating around as email attachments, or audio and image files being duplicated several times so they lose quality. The key, as with communication, is to centralise using cloud storage. You have lots of options when it comes to providers and you can get quite generous storage allowances before you have to start paying.

We chose Dropbox, partly because I’d already accumulated a substantial free allowance and partly because it works well over all platforms and devices. We have all our choir documents and files in Dropbox so that whether we’re on the go or working in our homes, we can always access everything we need and we always have the most up to date version.

Task management

Whether your choir is run by a committee or a single manager, there’s always lots to do. A well-structured, easy to navigate task manager can help to keep things in order and avoid tasks getting overlooked. We used to use a shared iphone reminders list, which was fine but not exactly comprehensive. A few months ago, I discovered Asana and fell in love with it. Asana is an online project management tool that allows teams to work on projects together. You set up a workspace (eg your choir), invite people by email who need to work on projects within that workspace, then set up projects, tasks and sub-tasks to get things done. You can assign tasks to people in your team, set due dates and priorities and have reminders and comments sent to you by email or phone notification. You can set up as many workspaces as you like, so if you’re running more than one choir, or your choir has committees for different activities, each team can have its own workspace. There’s also a fantastic iphone app (and an Android one, but I haven’t seen it in action). Best of all, it’s completely free unless you want various pro functions aimed at larger businesses.

If you’re working alone, Google offers a simple task manager that integrates well with gmail and Google Calendar, so if you’re living happily in the Google landscape, that might be an option for you. Having said that, I think that there’s a lot to be said for adopting one of the many project management tools available. There’s something about the process of working methodically through projects, tasks and sub-tasks that seems to boost my creativity and help me come up with new ideas.

Well, I think I’ve rambled on for long enough. As you can probably tell, productivity and systems are dear to my heart (told you I was a geek!). I’d love to hear about any tools or apps you use to run your choir.

Until next time, thanks for visiting Total Choir Resources. Don’t forget to sign up (top right) for more great, exclusive subscriber content.

Comments on 3 simple systems for successful choir management

  1. Avatar Lynne Lee says:

    Since we signed up to Muzodo, as recommended by TCR, we’ve been able to use the Muzodo list to email all the choir or separate sections . It’s revolutionised my life. We just had to check that the emails weren’t going into members’ junk folders .

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Lynne,

      Glad to hear you’re choir admin life has been made easier.

  2. Avatar Polly says:

    What I would love is an app to track choir members each week at rehearsal. It would have to be a really easy interface, a bit like when you check yourself in at the doctor surgery. I think that would be really good for members to tap their name as they walk in (on an iPad). You’d know who’s there and then you could use it to build up attendance information – which would be handy for any loyalty schemes.
    I’m sure there are loads of these apps around, but I haven’t found any that look the part yet. Some are so clumsy or business-like, with extra features we just wouldn’t need! Oh and it would have to be free!

    I may just stick to the old fashioned way, you know, pen and paper, but being a techy type as well, I just hoped there’d be something out there! :-)

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Polly, that’s an interesting idea although would probably only work if the choir pays termly rather than weekly. I’m afraid I personally prefer the old fashioned pen and paper and checking people in on arrival! However I’m sure there must be apps out there to do the job, if not perhaps you can invent one.

  3. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

    Thanks for the tip, Jamie. We use Ticketsource, which has similar functions. Actually, we rarely use it because we tend to take workshop bookings at choir rehearsals (the old-fashioned way!) and our performances are usually administered by others. I really like the idea of using it for registering choir members’ availability for performances though. I hadn’t thought of that.

  4. Avatar Jamie Serafi says:

    THANK YOU for suggesting Wishlist Member – this is EXACTLY what i have been looking for for the last year! Since my website at http://www.aliveandsinging.com is not a wordpress website however i will be unable to use it at present however I have been considering ‘upgrading’ my choir’s website for sometime using wordpress and this wish list member facility to enable members to log in and access choir downloads has well and truly swayed my decision now! Brilliant!

    One of the tools I use most effectively online for registration of choir members to take part in a forthcoming concert/event is a website called Guestlist App https://guestlistapp.com

    I have been using it for a few years now and it enables you to easily setup an event with all information about the event in the description, add your choir’s logo, etc and create ‘tickets’ for choir members to register their attendance. For example…I create three ticket types sop,alto and bass and as people register their attendance for an event I can quickly see how many of each section I have. Should i require more of a particular section I usually ask choir members from one of my other choirs to come along and ‘backup’ vocally speaking! As I run four choirs teaching the same material at each one I can ask any choir member from across three countries to come along and support another choir’s concert/event.

    This website enables me to manage and build attendance easily. When a choir member registers to attend at an event they will receive an email ‘ticket’ they can bring along (although this is a feature I do not ask the choir members to use – as long as they have registered their attendance I assume they will be at the concert/event. If the website was being used to create a ticketed event/concert for AUDIENCE members however, the ticket system would be perfect for people to present a ticket on the door as they enter).

    I would highly recommend this website!

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