When I was a kid, I would listen to my mom talk on the phone with prospective members. She would answer all of their questions about our synagogue treating everyone kindly and taking the time to get to know them. The countless hours she spent at the kitchen table were well worth the time and effort because families felt a personal connection to our community.
Although times have changed, creating that personal connection with prospective members is still very important today. But, how do we do this in the digital age? Gone are the days when someone picks up the phone and asks for a membership packet and a tour. Today, it is your synagogue website needs to make an important first impression and provide a window into your community. As the summer approaches and families begin to shul shop and register their kids for religious school, here are some sure-fire ways to get your website ready for membership season.
Home Page – View your website from the perspective of a new member. How easy is it for you to find the membership section of your website? Can you tell what time this week’s Shabbat service starts? Is there a link to religious school information? Did you advertise your upcoming open house in a prominent place? Get the entire congregation involved by asking current members to invite a friend to check out their synagogue.
Membership Page – What is the overall message and tone of your membership page? Is it "for more information, contact so and so at this number…" If so, consider a more warm and welcoming approach in which you explain the benefits of joining the synagogue. Provide testimonials of members who have recently joined or who have been in the community for a long time. Ask your rabbi to write a welcome letter – or better yet – produce a video of him in his office extending a warm welcome to prospective members.
Photos – Prospective members want to see people like themselves reflected on your home page and throughout your website. If you are looking to attract young families, post pictures of other young families in your congregation during holiday celebrations, family education programs or mitzvah projects. Are you marketing your synagogue to the baby boomer generation and senior population? Put up pictures of trips, clubs and get-togethers that your older members are participating in.
Forms & Links – When you download your financial aid or membership forms, does it still say 2011 at the top? Are all of the deadlines current? Prospective members who see out-of-date forms on your website will wonder if they are the right forms to fill out. Upon seeing expired dates and the wrong forms, they may delay sending in their information and the check to your office and opt to call you instead – when they get around to it.
Clean Up – Take down old event information and put up new programs. Instead, add summer and fall events to your on-line calendar. What open houses or summer events are you planning? What is coming up in the fall? How do families get their High Holiday tickets?
When you update your website with accurate information, engaging photos, and upcoming events, you are providing a window into your community. Creating a good first impression on-line will inspire prospective members to pick up the phone or stop by and seriously consider becoming a new member in your congregation.
Elisa Heisman is a Program Director at Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen, PA. She is also the immediate past president of Program Directors for Reform Judaism and the founder of Shul Solutions – a full service consulting company helping congregations with membership initiatives, program development and creating effective communications.