Tips for Success


Tips for Both Board Members and Main Street Managers

Walk your Main Street

Walking your Main Street district and surrounding community is always helpful. 

Assessing the buildings and public infrastructure gives you a sense of the resources you have in your district and the opportunities for improvement. Take photos and keep notes!

Know your Program

You should know your mission and vision statements by heart, and be familiar with your strategic plan ­— all of which should be revisited (although not necessarily rewritten) every five years. Colorado Main Street can provide consultants to help with the process.

Your annual work plan should outline tasks to achieve strategic goals, along with the timeline, cost, and person responsible, which should NOT be always be the Main Street manager. As the name indicates, the annual work plan should be updated annually and is a requirement of the program. Again, Colorado Main Street can provide consultants can help keep plans realistic and their implementation from falling solely on the manager.

Review your bylaws and intended board structure. Meet regularly with the board president on meeting agendas and treasurer to get a handle on finances. Ensure you understand income streams and reporting requirements. 

Do not make any quick decisions. Seek input and understanding from multiple viewpoints prior to making a recommendation for a major change. Main Street is all about community.

The Role of the Main Street Manager

Successful Main Street programs are volunteer-driven. They are not staff-driven but rather staff-managed, like the coach or the band leader.

Main Street managers are professionals hired to:

  • Coordinate all activities of volunteers;
  • Facilitate work planning;
  • Coordinate communication;
  • Support and uphold board decisions;
  • Handle public awareness and public relations for the program;
  • Work closely with building and business owners;
  • Walk the district;
  • May handle/support administrative details: records, reporting, files, etc. 
  • Become the local technical assistance provider or the liaison to those who can provide the assistance;
  • Establish strong relationships with the city, chamber, county, etc.;
  • Become part of the team;
  • Educate the community on Main Street, economic development and historic preservation;
  • Become a leader in the community, especially in smaller towns;
  • Motivate volunteers to do the work of the program;
  • Report to and work at the pleasure of the Board of Directors;
  • Be accountable to and work directly for the Board president, meeting weekly;
  • Attend all board & volunteer meetings;
  • Teach self-help, empowering volunteers to turn the downtown vision into reality;
  • Give credit for the success of the program to volunteers and leaders.

The Main Street Manager has been hired to orchestrate program efforts. Main Street managers should not try to single-handedly implement the activities of the program for the organization.

The Main Street manager does not:

  • Become the fund raiser for Main Street – this is a board responsibility. A Main Street Manager fundraising his or her own salary diminishes his or her credibility.
  • Take the minutes at board meetings – the is the secretary’s responsibility, or possibly an admin staff;
  • Chair, lead or preside over meetings. The board chair must be capable of conducting effective meetings;
  • Write the entire newsletter for the program;
  • Voice his or her own opinion to the public, media, etc. unless it is consistent with the position of the board;
  • Keep the books for the organization – this is the responsibility of the treasurer;
  • Write his or her own paycheck;
  • Implement all the activities of the program.

Plan for Continuity

Main Street managers come and go, as do board presidents and volunteers. Each program must have a plan for continuity or succession and written records of how things are done. If a program is overly staff-driven, the entire program might go with the manager and the community is left to put together the pieces.

Tips for Main Street Managers

Know the People

Spend time with your partners, and nurture those relationships. Consider joining local civic groups. Your missions may align, and you can leverage these partnerships to do more with less.

Meet with your business and property owners. What are their struggles, successes, past experiences and what is their vision for downtown and their business in the future? Keep notes for future reference. Schedule time to meet with your owners so this important task does not go undone. One way to ensure this is to hand deliver items rather than mailing them when practical.

Know your major funders and board members, as well as your elected officials ­— particularly councilmembers or trustees, but also county commissioners and state representatives. While a local program is required to present to the local elected body annual, consider attending all council meetings and providing updates throughout the year.

As the Main Street Executive Director, you act as the face of downtown. The relationship many people have with the program is directly related to their relationship with you as the director. It is important to not only familiarize yourself with many of these stakeholder groups, but also provide them the opportunity to get to know you in return. This builds trust.

Each community has unique needs and stakeholders, but in addition to the key relationships above, consider getting to know: municipal staff (particularly the manager/administrator and any department heads, such as parks/recreation, public works, police/fire), planning commission, economic development corporation, chamber of commerce, visitors bureau, library director, community foundations, historical societies, community service groups, and school superintendent.

Don’t forget state agencies — Get to know your Colorado Main Street staff, as well as your Department of Local Affairs regional manager, Small Business Development Center representative, Colorado Department of Transportation regional representative, and Office of Economic Development & International Trade Rural Technical Assistance Program personnel.

Maintain Communications

  • Main Street managers are instrumental in providing communication to and between the board of directors, volunteers, business and property owners, and partners such as municipal staff, economic development agencies, and nonprofit groups.
  • Gain the trust of those who hired you for the job. Let them propose your ideas, then support them during discussions. Make your ideas their own.
  • Go to lunch weekly with a different board member;
  • Always work with the Board President; it is difficult answering to 7-13 bosses;
  • Use work plans to stay on target at meetings and to ensure new activities/projects/tasks support the overall vision. Remind Board and volunteers of the work plans whenever it is appropriate. Work plans are approved by the Board.
  • Walk the streets and listen and learn from the downtown business community;
  • In general, business owners will be more visible than property owners in your district, but be cognizant to keep in touch with both;
  • Recognize that retailers, restaurants/bars, offices/large employers, and housing owners may have different interests in the district;
  • Find someone not involved in the program to be your confidant or to vent with. Another program manager in a nearby community may be a good choice!
  • Respect is earned, not expected.

Keeping It All Together

The Main Street office can quickly become Grand Central Station for people, ideas, paper and equipment. Setting up an organized office that is both functional and inviting on a shoestring budget can sometimes seem impossible. Organization is key.

Setting Priorities

Doing good in the downtown is a tall order. There never seems to be a shortage of empty buildings, litter, or people vying for your time. It is important to be able to see the forest, not just the trees. An annual work plan and updated strategic plan can keep you focus on what needs to get done. With each phone call, request, or unplanned project that pops up, you can ask yourself, does this get the program closer to its goals? Does it align with our strategic plan or work plan? 

Managing Time

Directors have come up with a variety of tricks to manage their time. Some limit the number of evenings they allow for meetings each week. Others find small breaks throughout the day offer the most respite and allow themselves a walk or a cup of coffee outside. Setting three to five “must-do” items for the day is another tactic. Figure out what works to keep you driven and refreshed for another day and another challenge. Try to avoid burnout - Give yourself some grace that community economic development is a long game, and never done. 

Organizing Files

Your office will quickly become the clearinghouse for paperwork of all kinds like documents and contracts from old projects, current projects and projects you hope to tackle.To tame the beast, try organizing your files between active and inactive files.

As a project comes to an end and the final review is done by both the committee and the board, the file can be laid to rest in a non-active filing cabinet for the next time you consider the project. These historical documents can be very helpful in updating a walking tour or resurrecting an old event but do not need to be cluttering up your immediate workspace.

Documents that should be kept up to date and readily accessible 

  • quarterly reports
  • meeting minutes
  • national accreditation checklist
  • contact lists, including board, volunteers, and investors
  • building and business inventory
  • historic properties

Creating a Calendar

To reflect a community vision, a Main Street program often has a variety of committees, sub-committees, and ad-hoc committee. And, these groups should help spread the work, they do make for a very full calendar. It will be important to find your system for keeping it all straight.

Managing Projects

Some programs have chosen to organize projects, tasks, and volunteers through project management software like Basecamp, TeamWork.com, Maestrom or Google Docs. These, or a variety of other programs, can easily adapt your action plans and allow you to automate reminders, task assignments to volunteers, track hours and more. For programs with a tech-savvy volunteer base and strong action plans, these programs can take it to the next level.

Other programs use binders and boards. Give each project its own binder or folder, labeled clearly, and made accessible to committee members to empower them to take leadership.

Community members, volunteers and you will come up with ideas of programming that you think may be a fit for your community. But every committee meeting cannot be a brainstorming session. To combat the interruptions, utilize a system to store ideas for future consideration. For example, keep folders of ideas that are mentioned for each of the committees. The executive director contributes to the idea folders as well by adding materials from the listserv or conferences. When it is time for action planning and brainstorming, the director pulls out the folder. This can help jump start conversation and brainstorming.

Actions to Live By

Be Discreet with Sensitive Information

Main Streets become privy to all sorts of information about the comings and goings of downtown and the surrounding areas. Whether you are in a big town or small one, it is important to be discreet. You never know who is related to whom, what implications conversations may have, or how your conversation may be perceived.

Stay Neutral in Local Politics

In Colorado, many Main Street programs are housed within a municipality, prohibiting any political activity. Many other Main Street programs also cannot by law formally advocate for a political party. Yet many programs become associated with political groups based on a variety of things, ultimately hurting the reputation of the program. 

While it is always helpful to have downtown advocates on the council or in other elected positions, the support should remain balanced. One-sided and highly political support of the council, real or perceived, may cause that partnership to be used as a tool against the elected official and the program. Campaigns can turn against Main Street and a change in office may mean the end of your program.

Reach out to other Main Street Executive Directors

There is a vast network of Main Street Executive Directors all over the state and country to rely on for support. These individuals are the only ones that can truly understand the ups and downs of the position.

Colorado Main Street and Main Street America have created a variety of opportunities for directors to communicate with one another including Colorado’s listserv for managers and Main Street America’s The Point, plus contact lists and training opportunities. (Note, you must be a member of Main Street America to access The Point.)

Take time to relax each day

The list of things to do is never ending. Building in time to relax each day is just as important as building in time to meet with business owners or check email. This thoughtful downtime will allow you to work smarter, not harder, and remain happy and successful in your position well into the future.

Keep some outside interests and friends

People who are a part of Main Street are passionate about the program — Which is great! However, Main Streeters can quickly find their whole life being consumed by that passion. It is important to maintain some activities and friends separate from Main Street. Whether it is a reading or community theater, outside activities can be an outlet for you to just be you, and not the representative for downtown.

Rely on Colorado Main Street

The Colorado Main Street team provides a variety of services to communities all over the state. Some of that support is just being a listening ear. Some managers call to unload, use the team as a sounding board, or to just hear some reassurance that they are on the right track. All these instances are completely acceptable and encouraged. And, sometimes, Colorado Main Street team members may even have some advice to boot!

Balance your time

The easiest way to avoid burnout is to not put in more hours than are realistic, and to take your vacations and comp time. It is challenging to be able to edit the amount of programming and activities you schedule for yourself and the program. However, this call often needs to be made to maintain realistic expectations of your time. While you may not always walk away after you have met your scheduled hours every week, limiting the extra hours will keep you sane and help the board better appreciate your time as a valuable resource.

A typical Main Street manager works more than a full-time (or half-time) schedule. Balance your time with private and family life. 


Successful Main Street organizations develop new leadership through meaningful volunteer experiences and create the environment for them to succeed. Main Street is successful because it is all-inclusive and teaches local empowerment. It is not the Main Street manager’s program. The Main Street manager is the coordinator, facilitator, instigator and communicator, not the sole implementer of the local program.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of a successful Main Street program. 

Respect volunteers, find suitable roles that match their skills and interests, train them, and thank them, and thank them again. Be careful not to burn out volunteers.

Successful volunteers: 

  • Are educated about your program, understand the four points, and how they work together.
  • Understand the mission and goals of your Main Street organization.
  • Take ownership in and responsibility for their commitments.
  • Are matched to their skills, interest and time – some want to provide strategic direction while others may just want to pour beer at Oktoberfest. 
  • Are provided with clear expected outcomes.
  • Want to be recognized for their accomplishments.

Use sub-committees or temporary task forces to do the work.

Get more people involved for a defined period of time.


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