Most churches and start-ups I have worked with don’t have the luxury to buy different tools to help them develop professional-looking online communities. These 8 FREE tools and ones that I have used time and time again in my ministries and business. I hope you find it useful.
Free Stock Photography
I can tell you that I am NOT a professional photographer. I have tried, I see things out in the world and think “Man that is a great photo!” so I pull out my camera and take the shot. Then I look back and it is nothing like what I saw in my head. These days having an online presence requires us to have a professional image and that includes the pictures that we use on our website and all social media accounts.
But if you are not a professional photographer where can you get great images for free? Not to mention, for churches we want great photos that reflect religious themes/events (bible study/worship).
Free Stock Image Sites
Pixabay – I have been using this site for a few years now. I see more and more of their images being used so they are gaining in popularity. But there is a lot of great images that can be used.
Unsplash – Here is another great site for images. They have a great category break down to make it easier if you are just browsing for images without a specific idea in mind.
Freely – This site tends to be a mix of photos from other free sites and some original photography from the creator. What I love about this site is that the images are all tailored for churches. You can find great images for worship, bible study, inspiration, prayer and so much more! Best of all if you sign-up for his newsletter you get 50 free images that are not available on his site.
The downside to using free stock photography is that it is free for everyone to use. This just means that the images on your site are not unique and depending on your audience might hurt their impression of you. If you do have a little money to spend on stock photography I would highly recommend looking on Creative Market. Search for stock photography and you will see so many great choices.
Bonus Tip To Get Free Photos
Personally, I love to look for photographers that offer bundles so I can get more than one image if I do purchase. But, if you find a photographer you like, I suggest you look at their website and see if they have a newsletter. One of my favorite photographers (that I can’t yet afford her packages) gives out free images every month to her email subscribers and when I signed up I received 20 of her images for FREE! Lots of people will provide these kinds of offers, so be on the lookout! It’s a great way to get images for free.
Free Tools to Develop Online Assets
Now that you have the beautiful stock photography that you want to use on your site, you now need to make it your own! These images will be used on social media, your website and in emails (just to name a few).
Canva – I am in love with this program! There is a free version and an upgraded version. Right now I use the free version to design stunning images for my website and church and I feel it has everything I need. I can add text overlay, use only a portion of the picture, resize for different platforms. By far this is my favorite tool to play with! On my sites, I use Canva to create all of my images.
The best part is you can design a template for yourself and continue to reuse it each every time to keep that professional look and feel. You will also see that Canva can do so much more than images. I have seen it used to create stunning documents as well, especially opt-in offers for email subscribers. The best part is that you don’t have to be a designer, they offer you a number of free templates that you can take and make your own!
Email Marketing Platform
If you are not creating a list of emails from your followers you need to start doing this today! Why you ask? Because on any given day Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and any other networking platform can cancel your account or change its algorithm and every effort you have made to create a fan base can disappear overnight! The one thing that these other companies can not take from you is a list of people
Once you have started to collect those emails don’t just sit on them! Make a connection. How often and what you email about is up to you and your ministry but don’t create this list and only email when you have something to market. Find ways to connect with your followers regularly. For my churches ministry, we email up to 3 times a week. Our Sunday Morning Recap is sent on Monday and contains links to sermons and other information that was shared in church on Sunday. We send out a mid-week invite to any events coming up over the weekend. And we send out a ministry preview on Friday. Each ministry will be different and every group of fans will respond differently. Find out what works for your ministry and stick to it.
While I know this can seem daunting there are programs out there that can help you automate a lot of this process.
MailChimp – I have been using this program since I was working at one of the Big 4. I love this platform because the tool is free up to 2,000 subscribers. This is great news for those that are just trying to figure out this whole email marketing thing. Some features include – the ability to create a signup form that can be added to your website/social media pages that will collect information and add it to your list automatically. Ability to schedule campaigns (anything I can set and forget I love!). Create automation (no not the same as scheduling). Automation allows you to create emails in advance and have them sent when you want to. For example, a welcome message when you have someone new signup or send out Happy Birthday Emails.
Free Tools for Collaboration / Productivity
Since I started my business I know that there are a million details that I need to keep track of. I also need tools that will help me collaborate with my clients on their campaigns. That is where this next free tool comes in.
Trello – This free tool is a gem of a find for this girl who likes to be overly organized! I love to think of this tool like your to-do list on steroids! You can create boards to track ideas, manage social media scheduled, email marketing content and project steps. Each item on your board can be dug into further to provide even more details (including attachments!). Use this tool for yourself or your ministry and event teams. It will help you keep all of those details together!
G-Suite for Nonprofits
If you use Google for your personal email you know that it’s a fantastic tool that can offer you all kinds of tools like Google Docs, Photos and calendars. Now imagine that you could get that power for your church or non-profit while making your ministries look more professional. And yes, it’s a free tool!!!
Google for Nonprofits will allow your ministries to look more professional by allowing all of those who do work for you to have a unified email address. In my ministry we had @yahoo.com or @gmail.com, I even think there was an @hotmail.com address. With G-Suite you can have your own @ministry.com address!
Not only that but you can have shared calendars, doc folders and photo folders. Not to mention you get access to an upgraded YouTube channel!
To get access you will need to apply first through TechSoup and then you can apply through Google (I found it to be much easier to do it that way) and while you are on TechSoup’s site check out all the great tools they offer nonprofits for a discounted rate!
Google classroom is a virtual classroom that has been designed by google. It is available through your personal G-mail account as well as through your ministries G-Suite for Nonprofits account. I have used this to setup online bible studies. The downside is that everyone does need to have a gmail account (but they are free to obtain). This is also a great set it and forget it tool. You can setup your lessons and schedule when they will be released to the class. Students can review each lesson and respond, then they have the opportunity to respond to others in the class as well. You can use video, document and even create quizzes if you want to. Its a great way to get more people involved in your bible studies!
BONUS TOOL – Sign-ups
If your ministries are anything like mine we have a lot of events/activities that we ask people to signup for! Typically we have signup sheets in the back of the church but the downside to that is we are not reaching those who can not make it to church (but might want to help out). This bonus tool is fantastic for helping to organize volunteers or just get sign-ups for your next community event.
Signup Genius – This free tool will offer you a variety of ways to organize signups for different events. When people signup you receive an email to let you know. You will also have the ability to email from the system as well. It makes everything a lot easier! (Don’t forget to get those emails over to your marketing tool!)
With these free tools you can create a powerful online ministry. Do you have any other free tools or resources that you use for your ministries?