What’s in your toolbox?

This article was written for the Pacific Northwest Conference’s publication, Channels. To view this on their website, click here.

Let’s not kid ourselves. There is way too much information out there. It’s easy to get lost, inundated, bogged down so you feel like you don’t even know how to start sifting through the barrage of information we encounter daily, let alone decide how to mange it all.  Many of you have moved past the question of whether or not you’ll start tweeting, create a facebook page or start an e-newsletter. You’ve done that or are in the process. And just as you were figuring your way around blogs, facebook pages and podcasts, you’re learning there are even more communication tools at your disposal! How do you keep it all straight? You represent congregations and faith communities big and small. What tools can help you work smarter and more effectively?

I heard your plea. Or groan?
flickr user "cwt_ucla"

photo by flickr user, "cwt_ucla"

Here’s a sampling of basic tools you can use to keep up to speed with the changing (and sticking) technology. From eNewsletters to conference calls; blogging to file sharing; live streaming to media editing; project management to task management–you’ve got a smattering here of tools you’ll need to keep in your digital toolkit.

Use what you need, come back to the ones you don’t quite know much about. Find a friend and start exploring! Click on stuff. Don’t worry, you won’t break anything. Promise.

eNews + eCommunication :: Green is in. It’s time to start thinking about paperless communication solutions. This doesn’t mean completely doing away with paper newsletters. You are merely offering another opportunity for your community to receive timely communication about the great things happening in your congregation and faith community.

Constant Contact [constantcontact.com]
Constant Contact has been around the block. They’re a favorite email and event marketing solution for non profits and industry. If you subscribe to any of the Pacific Northwest Conference newsletters, you’ve received a product of Constant Contact. If you can prove your 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit, you can take advantage of their discounted pricing starting at $15/month.

MailChimp [mailchimp.com]

MailChip is a newer service, but I like it already. They’re hip, easy to use, and have a “Forever Free Plan” that allows you to store up to 2,000 email addresses and send out 12,000 emails a month. Not too shabby!

Website + Blogging :: We know that websites are one of the easiest ways to make information accessible to people who need quick, up-to-date access.

UMC web hosting [gbgm-umc.org/churches]
20 megabytes of web space free-of-charge provided by the General Board of Global Ministries to United Methodist churches, districts, conferences, jurisdictions, United Methodist Women’s groups and other United Methodist organizations that have been approved.

Google Sites [sites.google.com]
With Google Sites, people can work together on a Site to add file attachments, information from other Google applications (like Google Docs, Google Calendar, YouTube and Picasa), and new content. Creating a site is just like editing a word document, and you always control who has access, whether it’s yourself or others in the church. The Google Sites web application is accessible from any internet connected computer, so everyone has access to the latest version.

WordPress [wordpress.com]
Technophobes wanted! WordPress says you can go “from zero to hero” by following their 10-step guide [http://learn.wordpress.com] and I believe it. Using WYSIWYG editing, you don’t have to know code or anything special to make your blog/website look beautiful. And with hundreds of free templates to choose from, you’re bound to find one you like.

Flavors.me [flavors.me]
“Make a homepage in minutes” is their claim to fame. It makes a great landing page and allows you to pull all your online presence into one place. And the layouts/font options are beautiful. Try it!

Filesharing :: We’ve all sent messages with multiple attachments. Some, so big that we get that fateful message saying we’ve exceeded the limit to send them in one email. Or how about the images or sites that we come across and want to save, but can never remember? Here are a few file sharing and organizing options for you to maintain sanity.

Evernote [evernote.com]
Imagine you had a big file or box where you could throw in all the information you came across and wanted to save: photos, quotes, passages you read, website you wanted to check out later. That’s Evernote: an online file cabinet. Oh yes, it’s free!

Dropbox [dropbox.com]
With the option to install Dropbox on your computer or just use the online version, you’re able to share large files with others and access them anywhere–even from your smartphone. Create multiple folders to organize your information and sharing features.

Slideshare [slideshare.net]
It’s social media for presentations and documents! Great way to make your presentations and information accessible via the web. Also a great place to search for info from other presentations that have been uploaded.

Check out part deux in the next installation of Channels, when we’ll cover live streaming, media editing and project management tools. Happy clicking!

Sophia Agtarap is a graduate student in theology at Seattle Pacific University and has a background in education and digital media and communication. She is a member of Beacon United Methodist in Seattle. She is usually spotted drinking soy lattes with her apple devices within arm’s reach. Follow her on twitter at @SophiaSPU or visit her blog at sophiakristina.wordpress.com.

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