A peek behind the curtain:
Digital tools we use every day at LEAD

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

You see our Front of the House every day. It’s things like our website, this newsletter, our Facebook page and all the people you meet who talk to you about LEAD (from our team to our partners to our clients). Our front door is always open and you know how to find it.

The Back of the House is different. Until now, we haven’t revealed the systems and tools we use, mostly because we are constantly refining them ourselves. Even as we’re sending this out, we are evaluating things in the Back of the House and making decisions about whether to pivot and try something new or persevere with what we have.

It takes a lot of hard work to keep LEAD running, something I know you all can relate to. As a learning organization, this is a two-way street; we’ll share what’s working for us and we hope you’ll do the same.

So…let’s take a peek behind the curtain.

LEAD’s Back of the House:

For Internal Communication, we use Slack. Here’s why.

We realized an average of 30% of our email traffic jam was caused by our own decentralized team. Slack, a free cloud-based service with upgraded plans available, helps us:

  • organize our conversations
  • get faster answers (more like texting than like email)
  • build deeper relationships
  • know how to pray for each other in real time

External Communication:

This is more complicated because HOW we communicate depends on WHO we are communicating with and WHAT their needs are. Here are our best tips.

Website (Worship Times is our partner for the LEAD website):

  • For us, the website is both the front door (for guests and those who are just getting to know us) and the back door (for those who already know and trust us and value our resources). The goal is to think about what each of these groups need and make it easy for them to find it.
  • How do you know if it’s working? Ask! But don’t just ask your regular attenders (or in our case, our “frequent flyers” who eagerly await our latest and greatest program, resource, or blogpost). Ask new people and visitors too. These are the ones you may have to work harder to reach and, because they don’t already know you and love you, they may not be willing to give you a second or third chance to get it right.

For more website tips, check out these Tips for Your Church Website.

Email:

  • We do our best to be responsive. At LEAD, we promise a 48-hour turnaround and strive for a response within 24 hours to our clients’ requests. Sometimes we have to delay while we gather more information, but even then, we’ll reply with a quick note saying “we will be in touch as soon as possible.”
  • On the flip side, we do not feel obligated to answer emails after 6 PM or on weekends unless we have extra personal time. We feel it is healthy to set work aside for Sabbath time.
  • Watch for themes in the questions that come in. If you are getting the same questions over and over, take another look at the information you are providing. Is the message unclear or incomplete? If so, fix it (change the source of the problem) AND get back to those who may have been impacted, even those who didn’t bother to contact you.
  • We do not blind copy (BCC) anyone. We want to be transparent about who we are keeping “in the loop.”
  • Figure out a plan for filing emails, AND USE IT!

Phone:

  • Never underestimate the power of a phone call. There are many instances where picking up the phone can save both time and misunderstandings. Then follow up with a short email to document what was discussed. It can be as simple as “Thank you for the conversation where we agreed to move forward with xxx.”
  • We would never record a phone call without permission.

Digital meetings:

  • Online meetings are essential to our work. We couldn’t support our clients and our staff (who are spread all across the country and beyond) without this technology.
  • We’ve tried a number of different services and our favorite is Zoom. It uses less bandwidth and is less intimidating for people who are new to digital meetings, all they have to do is click on a link.
    • Zoom allows us to see each other, share a screen, show a PowerPoint, or write together. It’s wonderful.
    • We will occasionally record a Zoom meeting but we’ll always ask before doing it. This allows people who were unable to be part of the original meeting to watch the video or listen to the audio, at their own convenience.

Organization: Drop Box and Smartsheet

Dropbox:

  • Shared files are a lifesaver. We store our work in Dropbox which gives us access on all our different devices (computer, Smartphone, tablet, etc.) AND among the team. Not everyone on the team needs access to everything, and in fact it could easily get overwhelming, so we are intentional about who gets invited into which folders.
  • A byproduct of selective sharing means that many on our team can use the free version, but even paying $99 for a team member’s annual subscription is a steal.
  • We have a few rules for using Dropbox so we don’t drive each other crazy.
    • #1 When you open a file and plan to work in it, FIRST resave it with your initials so that the last person’s document remains intact. That file can (and should) be deleted later or saved in an Old or Archive folder.
    • Make file names as short as possible.
    • Begin the most important folder / file names with a number so they are in the same order in everyone’s directory.

Smartsheet:

  • Think of Excel on steroids. This project management software interfaces with many of the other tools we use, like Dropbox and Slack. We use it to plot out our work step by step, set up calendar alerts so we don’t miss deadlines, and check progress anytime without constantly having to ask others for updates. And that’s just a tiny piece of its awesomeness!

With all of these tools, we should be AMAZING!!!! However, as humans trying to manage families, friends, our personal wellbeing, and the big work we are called to, we occasionally lose our way. When that happens, we rely on God’s grace and your forgiveness.

What tools do you use? Let’s learn together.

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