The second edition of my Posthaven Primer is now published at Scribd. You can read it online or download a PDF version.
Would you like to reduce the paperwork and improve the collaboration efforts of your society’s board and staff? Evernote can help!
The first step is to create a premium Evernote account for the society. Why a premium account? In addition to the extra space and upload limits, it’s required to allow shared notebooks where the people accessing the share can add and edit notes. At $45/year, this investment will more than pay for itself in time saved. Create the account using a position email address (for example, email@example.com) . This will make it easier to pass the account on as board members and staff change. The “groupmaster” will be the person creating and managing shared notebooks for the various committees and projects.
One big decision your board will need to make is how board and staff will access the society’s shared notebooks. Since so many people already use Evernote, allowing them to connect to shared society notebooks through their personal account is easiest on them. They won’t need to juggle multiple Evernote accounts. It will mean additional work for the groupmaster who will have to adjust access to shared notebooks more often.
The most useful shared notebook I’ve created has been the Help Desk. Since I deal with all levels of technical skills, I frequently get the same questions over and over. Those responses have been typed up with screenshots and added to the Help Desk notebook. It’s also the place to post PDF copies of user guides for the apps and services used within the society. When someone has a question, point them to the appropriate note or email the note to them.
Next, create a Templates notebook. I’ve been converting many of our paper forms – like volunteer hours reporting – to notes which are then placed in the Templates notebook. A user copies the template form to the appropriate staff notebook – like the Volunteer Reporting notebook – fills it in and saves it.
NOTE: Check the “How To Hold Paperless Team Meetings” article at the Evernote blog for a great meeting agenda template!
While help notes, forms and agendas will make things easier for everyone, that’s just the beginning. Here are some other ways Evernote can streamline your staff’s work:
- Maintain a library of society information – from a staff email directory to the speaker schedule to policy and procedure manuals so it’s all available to staff whenever and wherever.
- Create project notebooks for team members. Notes could include task assignments, reminders for important deadlines, checklists, working drafts and research material.
- Publications editors can manage authors, editors and designers with task lists and reminders. Draft publications can be posted for review.
Many societies still have staff members with limited tech skills yet Evernote can still help. If you can’t convince a staff member to use Evernote, send notes to them by email. And, perhaps the Help Desk notebook can inspire them to take some tech steps forward.
Are you using Evernote in your organization? If so, please share your tips in the comments.
In today’s hectic world, it’s difficult to get your society’s board of directors together for the monthly meetings – let alone to work on big projects. Round-robin emails are more annoying than effective. That doesn’t mean you can’t tackle big projects. You just need to put some virtual tools to work to make it happen. One easy and effective option is to build a virtual board room using WordPress.
A free WordPress.com site using the P2 theme becomes an instant collaboration platform. See for yourself . . .
Using P2, you don’t need to get board or committee members together at the same time. Just post a question, document to be reviewed or task and set a deadline for responses. Each member checks in when his schedule permits and adds comments or updates as a reply to the original post. And, because every board member is seeing the entire conversation at the time of his visit, it also reduces duplication of effort. This supports project management efforts as well as serving as a discussion platform and keeping everyone up-to-date on important topics. It may require a revision to your society’s by-laws first, but this could also be used to get quick board approval when time is short.
To get started, you will need to create a free WordPress.com blog site. Since this isn’t a public site, you don’t need a custom domain address. Do choose something that’s easy to remember like http://mcgsboardroom.wordpress.com for Moultrie Creek Genealogy Society’s virtual board room site.
Once you’re in your new site, choose the Settings section in your Dashboard and select the Reading item. Here you will identify your board room site as a private one and send invitations to the board members inviting them to join. The email they receive will include instructions for setting up their WordPress user profile and getting logged into your board site. I don’t doubt it will be a challenge to get all your staff signed up and logged in, but it will be worth the effort to be able to get things done in a timely manner.
Here are a few ways you can put your virtual board room to work:
- Document reviews. Post the documents in a shared Dropbox folder available to all your board members, then post the link to the document with instructions that responses should be posted as replies to your tasking message. Set a deadline to submit replies.
- Brainstorming. Need opinions or recommendations on an issue or idea? Since each member can see all the replies, this is a great way to get conversations going.
- Most projects involve multiple people performing multiple tasks. Use a conversational thread in the virtual board room to track the status of each task and easily see who needs a poke to get moving.
- New board members – and those who have been out of the loop for a while – can review older updates to quickly spin up on board activities.
Speaking of historical information . . . In addition to the collaborative tools found in the P2 theme, you can still use WordPress’s traditional tools to build pages for any information you want to make easily available to your board members. This includes things like schedules, possible speakers, project description and policy and procedures.
A webmaster familiar with WordPress can have a virtual board room up and running with minimal time and effort. The site maintenance effort – especially on a wordpress.com site – is also minimal. The board president and committee chairs will still have the brunt of the work – keeping staff motivated and moving in a timely manner. It will take some time for everyone to get familiar using these new tools, but perseverance and results will soon show the advantages of working together online.
NOTE: For societies who already use a self-hosted version of WordPress for their web site, you can install a second instance of WordPress using the P2 theme to build your own collaborative board room. There are a couple of advantages to the self-hosted option including the ability to add media to your P2 posts and using additional plugins on the site.
Are your society’s officers and staff using their personal email accounts for society communications? If so, you may want to rethink this idea. Having “official” society email accounts for each position on the board, committee chairs and other staff positions has many advantages. First of all, having position-based accounts means that there’s an historical record captured for each of those positions. When a new person moves into the position, they can easily spin up on what’s happening and use the mail service’s search feature to find previous messages when needed. Perhaps just as important, it can protect your members’ personal email should there be any legal actions related to the society.
One good example of this is for services like PayPal. One association set up a PayPal account for collecting dues and other uses but the treasurer used his personal email address in the registration process. When another member took over as treasurer, the association had to jump through all kinds of hoops to update the account. Today that account uses the treasurer’s society email address. The only things that change when a new treasurer comes on board are the passwords for the PayPal and email accounts.
Knowing you need society mailboxes is one thing. Creating them is something else. Here’s a look at some of your options and how to get started.
- If you use a web hosting service to maintain your society’s web site, your plan generally includes some level of email service. The advantages to using this option is your email address will be the same as your domain name. For example email for the president of the society using the domain name http://www.somesociety.org will be firstname.lastname@example.org. Check your host to see if there are mailbox size limits and what it would cost to add more storage if necessary.
- Are you using online collaboration tools like Google Drive or iCloud for society operations? If so, each user has to create an account with that service – which automatically generates an email address. By creating accounts using position titles (BHSpresident or BHStreasurer) rather than personal monikers, you have just built your mail system too.
- Regardless of your web hosting or collaboration status, you still can build a society email system using either Yahoo, Google or Outlook. Yahoo currently offers unlimited mailbox size, but both the other platforms have very generous storage levels for their free accounts. And, each of these accounts give access to the platform’s other tools which can be quite useful to the society. Once again, these accounts are created using position titles.
It may take some time and effort to get the staff comfortable using their society accounts for society business. For those less technically inclined, you may want to show them the value of using an email client application so they can have all their email delivered to one place rather than having to visit multiple webmail sites to check for new messages.
Once established, your society’s mail system not only presents a more professional face to the world, but also collects the history of each position making it easier for new board and committee members to review the issues and efforts of those who held those positions before them.
Today’s digital world is quite diverse – in both hardware and software. While this means more affordability and flexibility to the consumer, it can make society operations more difficult. Where do you find a common ground for collaboration?
That’s where “The Cloud” comes in. Just what is “The Cloud”? It is a growing number of services and platforms available online to anyone who has Internet access. All you need to use one of these services is a web browser and a good Internet connection. Cloud-based tools are quite affordable and most offer features that make it easy for groups to work together regardless of their members’ hardware and software preferences. Here’s a look a some cloud-based systems you can put to use to help manage your society operations.
This cloud-based notes management platform has become a must-have tool within the genealogy community. It is a researcher’s dream – allowing easy note-taking along with quick capture of just about anything that appears online. While the user’s notes archive physically resides online, apps are available for just about every desktop and mobile device making it easy to create and access notes just about anywhere. Because it is so useful and popular, it’s quite probable that many of your members already have accounts and are comfortable using it.
Evernote offers both free and premium accounts. The premium account [$5.00/mo or $45.00/year] offers higher storage volume and additional features. At least one premium account would be needed to provide full collaboration functionality. Only a premium user can create a shared notebook where all the invited users have note creation and editing rights. The invited users don’t have to be premium users – just the shared notebook owner. One premium account could easily support operations for a small society.
How do you put Evernote to use? Here are a few suggestions:
- Create a library of important documents (by-laws, policy manual, staff bios, forms, etc.) by uploading PDF copies of these files.
- Committees can use it to maintain task lists, deadlines and idea files.
- Maintain a “help desk” for volunteers by posting step-by-step instructions for common tasks.
- Use a public folder to make documents available to your membership.
This is one of a growing number of online storage services. Once a user creates an account, he then installs the Dropbox app which creates a virtual drive (looks and acts like it’s on your computer, but it’s really online) inside your computer’s file manager. There are also apps for almost every mobile device as well as a growing number of apps that include Dropbox as a storage option. Users can open and save files directly to their Dropbox folders as well as copy and move them. Sub-folders can be created within Dropbox and users can make a folder public (open to all) or shared to just specific individuals.
Each user gets 2GB of storage at no cost. Subscriptions are available for additional storage beginning at $99/year for 100GB. Like Evernote, one upgraded subscription would be needed for the society and members could use their personal accounts (free or otherwise) to access the shared folders.
Some of the ways Dropbox can be used include:
- Distribute files too big to move via email.
- Use for off-site storage of critical files to protect against disaster.
- Post documents for review.
- Maintain a library of frequently used photos and society graphics.
- Maintain a folder of articles submitted for publication.
Google+ is Google’s latest social networking venture. Google Hangouts is an easy-to-use online communication platform for text, voice and/or video conversations. Since Google offers so many tools useful to genealogy researchers, many already have Google accounts and access to both Google+ and Google Hangouts. Both services are free. Hangouts will require a computer with speakers and microphone (or headset) for audio calls and web cam for video calls. It supports group calls with up to 10 participants. There are mobile apps making it possible to collaborate when away from your desktop.
Google+ uses circles to help you organize the people you connect to. For example, you could create a circle of family members and another circle for your society’s board members. The conversations and updates shared to one circle are not seen in any others. In addition, Google+ supports a community system based on interests. Communities can be public, limited-access or by invitation only.
The combination of Google+ and Hangouts offers affordable ways for your society to communicate, share information and even participate in online meetings.
These few examples are representative of the many cloud-based systems now available. So where do you begin? Your first step is to determine what your society needs. Then, go find the tools that will help make those tasks easier. Yes, there will be training involved, but the time spent learning these new systems will be recovered quickly in time saved as staff put these tools to work.