10 Tech Tools for Main Street Executive Directors

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Running a Main Street program is no easy task. Whether it’s scheduling a board meeting, organizing volunteers, or alerting the public of road closures in downtown, Main Street executive directors are expected to juggle several tasks. However, the use of technology can level the playing field when it comes to getting your message out and mobilizing constituents around a pressing issue. As more and more people access the internet and use their mobile devices and tablets to communicate and gather information in real-time, it’s vital for directors to be up-to-date on the latest technology platforms, apps and services. Knowing how to use these programs effectively and strategically can improve the visibility of your program in a way to engage both old and young donors and volunteers. Here are ten useful technology tools and resources you can use to stay organized, funded, and in the public eye without breaking the bank.

1.    Join Google Platform for Nonprofits.

Google now offers a way for nonprofits to stay connected and collaborative through its membership program, Google for Nonprofits. It’s a free and easy-to-use program that allows access to its many services and apps. This has been a game changer for many of our downtown programs that are 501c3 because it allows them to cut their IT costs in half and increase their online presence. It also provides free access to domain emails for staff and includes tools such as Google AdWords and Analytics. With Google AdWords, you can develop keywords and phrases that can drive online traffic to your particular ad, website, or social media site. Google Analytics works to increase your competitive edge by providing data to determine how many people are visiting your website and how much time they spend on it.

Executive Director of Main Street Siloam Springs, Meredith Bergstrom, states that her program uses Google for Nonprofits to network their three office computers and also for access to Google Drive – Google’s cloud storage service. For only an extra $1.99 a month, Google Drive stores all of the organization’s files. She also has Google Drive on her smartphone, so that she has access to all her work files at any given time. 

2.    Create and maintain a social media account.

According to the Pew Research Internet Project some 73% of online adults now use a social networking site of some kind and 42% use multiple social networking sites. With so many social networking websites where it seems a new one pops up every day, it can get confusing and also time consuming as managers try to figure out which platforms to use,  not to mention manage several social networking sites and a website all at the same time.

My advice is to pick no more than three social media sites that best fit your community of users. The key to success is remember that each social networking sites has a unique audience and a unique language. For example, when issuing a call to action you may want to post a simple picture and a caption on how they can get involved on Facebook. The same call to action message should be more specific on Twitter with a direct link to your website. You could use Instagram or Tumblr to post a video with a call to action embed within the video. Instagram just released an app called Hyperlapse which allows you to take cinematic time lapse videos without the need of expensive equipment. At your next festival or event, create a hyperlapse video of volunteers working from beginning to end, and play it at your awards program banquet to thank your volunteers. 

Getting a headache as you wonder how you will juggle to manage these sites? HooteSuite is a free service that manages the conversations about your downtown on Twitter and provides the capability to schedule posts across several social media platforms. By working in HootSuite, Downtown Jonesboro Association Executive Director Hailey Knight can have all of her social media platforms in one place, which allows her to schedule posts, manage content, and launch campaigns when followers are on the sites most for the biggest reach. She can schedule posts days, weeks, and even months in advance, freeing up her day-to-day schedule.

3.    Create an active website.

While it is important to create a social media presence, it is also important to create and maintain an active website. Websites and their usage are not going away as they act as an anchor for all of your organization’s social media sites and information; however they are evolving as social media continues to play a more prominent role in engaging your audience.

One of the most popular tools to build websites is Wordpress. It is affordable and user friendly in that it doesn’t require you to have to know HTML coding in order to update your calendars, content, and business listings. Wordpress also has several widgets that allow you to integrate your Facebook, Twitter, or PayPal account onto your website.

4.    Update your software with products from Tech Soup. 

Tech Soup, a free service, is like chicken soup for the Main Street executive director’s soul! Tech Soup offers discounted hardware and software to nonprofits in addition to training and services to help with products such as Microsoft Office and QuickBooks. Main Street Siloam Springs was able to buy Adobe Creative Suite through Tech Soup at a huge discount that allows their John Brown University work study design assistants to create professionally attractive print and promotional materials.

5.    Create an e-newsletter.

Need to get the message out about upcoming events? Constant Contact, MailChimp and Emma are great email marketing tools that help you send professional-looking emails that keep your constituents engaged. If your program is not doing e-newsletters, then you should. The New York Times reports that e-newsletters are growing in popularity despite the fact that young people prefer texting and instant messaging to dealing with their inboxes.

Eureka Springs’s Main Street program executive director Jacqueline Wolven states ConstantContact has revolutionized the way she works.  She uses ConstantContact to not only communicate with her district business and property owners, but runs all of their program’s press releases through ConstantContact. This allows her to see which editors and reporters are reading and clicking on their program’s stories, and follow up with them to see if they need a special quote or more information.

6.    Set up a PayPal account.

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy online gifts to America’s nonprofits are growing far faster than other types of donations. Setting up a PayPal account allows for you to accept credit card payments with ease. Main Street Rogers Executive Director Dana Mather uses PayPal because they offer a discounted transaction rate for nonprofits, and setting up an account is easy. She has installed a PayPal Donate button onto their Main Street website to receive donations directly. She reports that PayPal also makes it easy to issue refunds, send invoices and reminders, and basically to ensure you have received payment. The PayPal HereTM credit card reader is great to use at events too.

7.    Use Doodle to schedule your next board retreat.

Need to schedule a board training that works for everyone’s schedule? Doodle radically simplifies the process of scheduling events, whether they’re board meetings, fundraising events, trainings, or anything else. This smart assistant saves time and in the end, it brings people together. Doodle is free and doesn’t require registration by either the initiator or the participants of a meeting poll.

8.    Recruit volunteers online.

Want to really engage your volunteers? Use VolunteerMark! and SignUpGenius to recruit and manage volunteers. Volunteer Mark! operates as volunteer management software that maximizes the volunteer experience through communication, scheduling, and reporting tools. Using the mobile-friendly software, nonprofit organizations can easily manage volunteer opportunities, schedule multiple shifts at once, recruit new volunteers, communicate through multiple platforms and track volunteer data.

Sign-up Genius is free and is absolutely genius! Main Street Rogers recently used SignUpGenius when they celebrated the 30th year anniversary of their major festival - Frisco Festival. Executive Director Dana Mather states it’s easy for administrators to set up and easy for volunteers to select the shifts they want. It even sends email reminders so you don't have to! She also uses the platform to collect their T-shirt sizes so she can pre-order shirts, and also their mailing address so she can send them a thank-you note after the event.

9.    Send text reminders using SendHub.

Need to send out a mass text message to your volunteers? SendHub offers a way to send mass texts to your volunteers or donors from any device. Rates vary depending on size of contact list

10.    Set up a crowdfunding campaign or help an entrepreneur in your downtown create one.

While there are several popular crowdfunding campaigns that have cropped up such as Indiegogo and GoFundMe, as of this month, more than 69,000 projects were successfully funded through Kickstarter, one of the major crowdfunding websites. More downtown programs are finding Kickstarter as a means to start innovative projects in their community when traditional means of funding sources are depleted. 

Communities in Michigan including Main Street Franklin and Rochester Downtown Development Authority created successful campaigns on Kickstarter to fund a mural project and Christmas lighting, respectively. Brad Belo with Main Street Virginia finds that crowdfunding is a great tool for entrepreneurs in your community to gauge a new business idea,  shore up support for proposed products and services, and to raise debt-free start-up capital. Jessica Reynolds with Main Street Georgia encourages communities to get creative - “Think outside the box to drive higher donations and make sure that your Kickstarter page is graphically appealing. The best part is that if you don’t reach your goal no one is out any money - this one component ensures that you can truly capture the 'we are all in this together' feeling.”

What are your favorite tech tools? We want to know! Share with us by tagging NMSC on Twitter or Facebook and using #MainStreetTech. Not on social media? Send your favorite tech tools via email to Rachel Bowdon at rbowdon@savingplaces.org.