The Staff at the Coalition works in a totally virtual office, and are very pleased with some of the online services and software we have discovered to keep in touch with each other and our constituents. Many of these services are free, or very, very reasonably priced. Below are some of the tools we have discovered that make our lives easier, we think they might help you as well.
Mail Chimp: Have you ever wanted to produce an online newsletter for your group; or create an email list that automatically updates itself, and can be instantly available for any group member to use?
Take a look at Mailchimp, a free “Do It Yourself” email marketing service that’s chock full of useful, powerful email marketing features. Set up as many email lists as you want and MailChimp will automatically manage your sign-ups and un-subscribes, and delete returned addresses from your list. Includes professionally designed templates with a variety of header graphics, fonts, and color palettes to customize great looking emails. No need to learn or use code, it’s as simple as using a word processor. The “Forever Free Plan,” is just that – free to anyone with fewer than 500 people on your mailing list. Learn more at http://www.mailchimp.com .
Vonage Internet Phone Service: Tired of changing contact information when group leadership changes, or looking for a way to share information and referral tasks with others?
Set up a Vonage telephone account for your group for a little as $25.00 a month and create a portable message center using any high-speed internet connection. Features include unlimited free long distance, portability, email voicemail messages, enhanced call forwarding, caller ID and many, many other features. The people you call don’t need to have Vonage or the Internet to get your call – just a phone. And when someone calls you, your phone rings as usual. Just connect the Vonage adapter box to any high-speed Internet connection and connect a normal telephone to the adapter. When your group contact person changes, simply give the adapter box to whoever is taking over the job, or take it with you when you travel. Any group member with your password can manage the account and access the group’s voice mail from any computer anywhere. Available plans start at $25.00 monthly, with a one-time $79 cost to purchase the adaptor box. Learn more at http://www.vonage.com/
Free Conference Calling: Having trouble getting members to committee meetings or need a way to provide quick and easy audio training for group members?
Try free teleconferencing to bring large or small numbers of group members together with a simple phone call from their home phone. There are several free conference calling services available, all of which are simple to use. AFFCNY has chosen FreeConferenceCall because it meets our particular needs, (you might find something else suits you better.) Setting up a teleconference account at FreeConferenceCall requires only a name and an e-mail address to receive an instant account. Once you enter your name and e-mail address, you will be instantaneously provided with a dial-in number and access code for immediate phone conferencing. Your free teleconferencing line is available to you 24/7. There is no need to schedule a meeting or make reservations. Each free teleconferencing account accommodates 96 callers on an unlimited number of 6 hour conference calls. Callers may incur long distance charges, but there are no additional charges from FreeConferenceCall. Learn more at http://www.freeconferencecall.com/index.asp .
File Hosting and Sharing: Tired of copying & mailing, or emailing, group documents between members?
Set up a virtual filing cabinet for your documents on the web and share document viewing and/or editing with other members you select for access. You don’t need to have a website to make sure everyone in your parent group has access to the same information. There are numerous free file hosting sites and tools on the internet that are simple and easy to use. Two sites we like a lot are Dropbox (www.dropbox.com), and Sugar Sync (www.sugarsync.com). Both provide you with space in a virtual file cabinet to that allows you to store any file you own (regardless of software) and access and automatically synchronize it with any computer you use – as long as that computer has the software program installed. All your files are backed up online and you can control which files and folders you want to share with other users. Drop Box is totally free and Sugar Sync only costs $8.00 a month for 60 GB of space.
Create Online Surveys and Polls: Looking for a quick and easy way to easily collect feedback from group members, or conduct evaluations of group events and services.
Use free online survey software to conduct online surveys, membership polls, and evaluations and generate professional looking reports with the click of a button. There’s no need to have any programming experience or your own website to collect online data and summarize results – your survey tool does it for you. There are several survey software provider sites available on the internet. AFFCNY picked SurveyGizmo as the tool that best meets our needs, but there are lots of others such as Survey Monkey and Question Pro
With a free account Survey Gizmo allows one user to create an unlimited number of surveys or polls, with an unlimited number of questions, and receive up to 250 responses a month. No need to have your own website, the survey you design has its own page on the Survey Gizmo site. Just send a link to your survey’s dedicated web page to people you are interested in hearing from – Survey Gizmo does the rest. Paid plans, starting at $19.00, will allow you to add more users, collect more responses per month, and use other features such as email invitation tools; but a free account should be sufficient for most parent groups. Here’s an example of a Parent Group Survey created with Survey Gizmo. Learn more at http://www2.surveygizmo.com/
OpenOffice: Free office management software for PC’s or Mac’s that is totally compatible with Microsoft Office and other major office suites.
OpenOffice is the leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages and works on all common computers. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose. Learn more and download for free at www.openoffice.org
My Fax: A reasonably priced internet fax service that lets you send and receive faxes through your email, the web, or smart phone.
MyFax requires no hardware or software and eliminates the need for a fax machine, fax supplies (paper, ink, toner), a separate phone line for faxing, and costly maintenance. All you need is internet access, an email address, and a MyFax account. Your fax number is tied to your email, so you can fax from home, work, and while traveling – anywhere you access the Internet. The basic plan for only $10.00 a month allows you to send 100 and receive 200 pages a month to and from 5 different email addresses. Learn more at www.myfax.com
Free and Easy Websites: Many Parent Groups think they need to pay a professional, or recruit an expert volunteer, to set up a website; and others then run into trouble when the volunteer computer techie member who set up their site is no longer available.
Google sites has come to the rescue with free and easy tools for anyone (and we mean anyone – no website design experience required) with internet access to simply create great looking free sites within minutes. Google Sites is powerful enough for a large organization intranet, yet simple enough for a family website. You can start a site from scratch or from dozens of templates; share site editing tasks with other members; and restrict your site to members only or share it with the world. Insert activity calendars, pictures and shared documents easily to collect all your information in one place and control who can view and edit pages. Here’s an example of a parent support group website structure that took only 20 minutes to set up. Visit the google sites help center to learn more.
Another great choice for website creation is Intuit Websites by Homestead, online website building tools for the technically unsavy. Homestead provides easy-to-use free drag-and-drop website design software, thousands of professional templates and images, affordable web hosting, and toll-free customer support. The first 30 days is free and only $6.99 a month for web hosting after your site goes live. Web hosting comes with a personalized domain name (www.yourbusinessname.com), and email branded with the same address. Learn more at www.homestead.com. Once you have a website you can use the following tools to improve communication with group members and simplify dues collection and fundraising tasks.
Website Contact and Feedback Forms: Searching for a quick and easy way to collect information from website visitors, or survey group members?
Create a free account at EmailMeForm and use their form wizard to create simple or complex forms that send you an email each time your visitors submit them. You don’t need any programming or technical knowledge, it works with any web hosting account, (no special server requirements), and it’s free. Simply design a form using any form wizard template, cut and paste the HTML code into your site, and your form is up and working. EmailMeForm’s server will automatically process the form submission, send you an email with the information and then redirect the visitor to your thank you web page, without the visitor knowing he left your web site. Learn more at http://www.emailmeform.com/
PayPal: Looking for a way to accept credit card payments for dues, donations, or event fees while simplifying your treasurer’s life?
Consider setting up a PayPal account for your group make it easier for members to pay dues and supporters to make donations via your website. PayPal provides donors and payers with a safe, secure way to donate/pay online, without sharing their financial information; and your group with a mechanism to accept credit card payments without a credit application. Payers do not need to have a PayPal account to make payments and monies collected will appear in your group’s online PayPal account where you view the donor name, donation amount, and date of the donation. You can keep funds in your account to spend with merchants who accept PayPal or move them at no charge to your group’s checking account.
Yes there’s a transaction fee, but it’s pretty reasonable when you consider the benefits. 501c3 tax exempt organizations pay only 2.2 % of monthly total funds collected under $100,000, plus $.30 (30 cents) per transaction; while others pay 2.9% on the monthly total collected under $3,000. Fees are applied only when you accept a payment or contribution, you won’t be charged setup or recurring monthly fees. Learn more at www.paypal.com.