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.
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.
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.
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.
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