One critical element of a successful online (or offline, for that matter) strategy is professional graphic design that conveys the culture, energy and vibrancy of your community. This was one of the observations that led me to found Darim 8 years ago. Many Jewish organizations (and nonprofits in general) struggle wit budgeting for such professional design services. But it’s really worthwhile, and one good design can provide a foundation for many related designs in the future. A well designed piece (web site, blog, brochure, etc.) conveys that you are high quality in everything you do, and thus grabs a reader’s attention long enough for them to actually absorb what you are saying. The greatest content in a crappy design may never be appreciated.
Idealist.org recently launched a new pro bono program that helps match graphic designers with nonprofits who need such services. (Thanks to the Wild Apricot Blog for bringing this opportunity to our attention!)
Idealist.org has just introduced its Pro Bono Design Project, in cooperation with the Art Directors Club. Nonprofit organizations can post their requests for the services of designers
This could include anything design-related, from a banner to a new brochure, a website re-design to a promotional video…. Once you post your listing, it will be visible on Idealist as a volunteer opportunity. Then, ADC will reach out to designers all over the world to get them involved.
For more information about how to post your listing for the Pro Bono Design Project (or any other listing at Idealist.org), see the FAQ on the site. Note that there is no deadline for listing and its free for nonprofit organizations, although there is a fee for consultants to register and be listed in the consultants directory.
Have you invested in professional graphic design? Share your experience with us! What was worthwhile? How do you think the design has impacted your relationships with your constituents? If you’ve tried pro bono services (though Idealist, or a local design program or elsewhere), how did it work out. We welcome your words of advice. Leave a comment!
Laura Quinn posted a great piece on the Idealware blog recently about what you get for your money when building a web site. We get questions all the time about how much an organization should budget for a new site, and what you get for each step up. We all know dollars are scarce, and it’s important to be able to make the case for why you should or should not budget a certain amount for your site.
First, let’s talk about the variables which influence the cost of a site:
Design — less expensive sites offer little or no graphic design flexibility. Choose a template, a color, and drop in your logo. Moderate sites offer more customized and creative design services, and more expensive sites offer more detailed design, and may present multiple design concepts to choose from.
Content Management — license of a CMS is usually included in moderate to higher priced sites. May not be in lower range sites. However, many people who save money here end up paying much more in per hour fees to update or change content on the site down the line. And content is key, so a CMS should be a non-negotiable on your list.
Functionality — the more functions you want your site to serve, the more it may cost. However, there are many free or low cost third party widgets you can drop into your site these days to add forms, polls, video, donations, etc. Thus, make sure that the platform will support such things if you plan to go this route.
Strategic Consulting — any web site is just a tool to help you achieve your mission and goals. Thus, you should think about what you will need, and how you will use towards these goals. A low cost web site project will be just simple execution of the site. A higher cost project will include more consulting, strategic guidance, recommendations and education throughout the process to help you use the tools more effectively. Some will also offer ongoing availability for such assistance through an annual support contract.
Support — a low end site will likely leave you on your own once it’s launched. A higher cost project will offer phone and/or email support should you have tech support questions or need guidance after launch.
Hosting — some vendors offer hosting with their site development, and others require you to have the site hosted yourself. Though these costs are often not huge, it’s important to budget for a service that updates their servers regularly, offers 24/7 server monitoring should something go down, automatic and regular back ups, and security features to guard against hacking (there have been a small number of anti-semitic web site hacks in the past few years on synagogue sites that were not well protected).
Finally, when budgeting for such a project, don’t forget to add in the costs for the staff time to create (and/or re-purpose) content and post it on the site, and for managing your broader social media strategy if you have one (Facebook, blogging, etc.). We find this cost is often overlooked in the planning stages, but is critical to get a return on your investment and to use the available tools to their best potential.
The Idealware post offers brief descriptions of what you can expect for $1K, $5K, $15K, $50K and $100K. How did you weigh the costs and benefits to determine your web site design budget?
The Pew Internet and American Life Project has released a new study titled “Networked Families”. The report paints a picture of how “parents and spouses are using the internet and cell phones to create a new connectedness that builds on remote connections and shared internet experiences”. The majority of American families now are empowered with multiple tools, including desktop and laptop computers, cell phones, and broadband internet, which make possible a new type of connectedness. These patterns of connection within the family shed light on how families prioritize time, seek out and experience meaningful activities, and relate to both people and institutions.
One interesting finding is that the majority of adults say that technology has enabled their family life today to be as close or closer than they remember their families being when they were growing up. While the technologies have perhaps increased time that adults spend at the office and/or working from home, the study reports that they have not had a negative impact on family closeness.
In fact, people say these new communication tools help them stay more connected to family and friends throughout the day, not just during “leisure” time. And approximately 25% of online adults report watching less TV as a result of their internet use. This is an important statistic, as internet use is more likely to be characterized by interaction (email, blogging or microblogging, recommending resources to others, signing up for events or purchasing goods, etc.) rather than passive observation (TV).
“There had been some fears that the Internet had been taking people away from each other,” said Barry Wellman, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto and one of the authors of the report, published by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. “We found just the opposite.” Wellman said families appreciated the innovations because “they know what each other is doing during the day.” This, he said, comports with his other research, which shows that technology “doesn’t cut back on their physical presence with each other. It has not cut down on their face time.
The report finds that “some 52% of internet users who live with a spouse and one or more children go online with another person at least a few times a week. Another 34% of such families have shared screen moments at least occasionally,” and “more than half of the parents (54%) who use the internet go online with another person a few times a week or more.”
These findings are important for our understanding of technology in Jewish life as well. Our missions are not just about getting people into the building or attending programs, they are also about impacting individuals and families, bringing (and strengthening) Jewish knowledge and practice in the home and the family. Thus, it’s critical that we understand how families are using technology, and that we are “there” when they are sharing information with one another, planning activities, and discussing important family matters.
How do you take advantage of this level of connectivity to bring your message and offering into the homes of your constituents? How have you observed the impact of such “connectivity” on your work?
I’ll leave you with two examples from my own life:
Story #1: Our 4 yr old son attends the synagogue’s preschool. The preschool has a blog (private, for parents only) and posts photos, stories and curricular info there. I read it in my Google Reader, and when there is something important (photo of our kid, a great story, request for volunteers for a field trip), I forward the link to my husband, and we often end up discussing it with our kids at the dinner table. This level of insight into our son’s experience would not be possible without the blog, and without both parents having connected on XYZ topic mid-afternoon, our dinner table conversation may not have been about the preschool, synagogue or Judaic content
Story #2: I’m on the AJWS email list. Prior to Passover, I received an email about a publication drawing connections between the conflict in Darfur and the Exodus story. I downloaded the PDF, emailed it to my husband and friends with whom we were having seder. We exchanged emails about how we would include it our seder. I then uploaded the PDF to the Kinkos website, ordered color print outs, picked them up on my way home, and included this valuable resource in our seder.
What are examples from your personal and/or professional life?
As broadband internet has become the norm, and the value of compelling content online has become key to capturing and retaining user’s attention, online video has become more popular and more powerful. See3 Communications, a fantastic firm headed by Michael Hoffman out of Chicago, has released their Guide to Online Video.
The 7-part entertaining, informative and inspiring Guide is your best introduction to the WHY and HOW of online video for publicizing your organization, increasing momentum for a campaign, and spreading your message virally. Michael serves as your docent through the series of short 1-3 minute videos, each with complementary links and resources. Non-technical and very accessible, Michael teaches you how to be an online storyteller.
Mazel tov to the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, Illinois, which recently became the first house of worship to receive the highest level of LEED certification for their new “green” building. JRC recently launched their new web site with Darim, and has dedicated a whole category of the site to their “green synagogue”, including information about Jewish values, the building, decision making, and other useful environmentally responsible resources and products.
During the project Rabbi Brant Rosen’s Blog frequently included posts about the project. In one, he discusses talking to Hebrew school kids about the “pillars” of the community, as the construction crew was preparing to construct 18 concrete pillars for the foundation of the building, reaching 55 feet into the ground.
I took Alans idea [of 18 symbolic pillars of the congregation] to our 4th and 7th grade religious school students. I did my best to explain the concept of caissons [concrete pillars] to them, then we read a classic Jewish text from Pirke Avot (The Chapters of the Fathers): Rabbi Shimon the Righteous said, the world stands on three things: study, worship and acts of lovingkindness. What, I asked our students, would you consider to be the eighteen pillars upon which our congregational community stands?
Then together we brainstormed eighteen spiritual values of our JRC community: God, Judaism, Joy, Prayer, Hope, Respect, Partnership, Song, Tikkun Olam, Community, Study, Freedom, Friendship, Spirit, Learning, Peace, Growth, and Love.
Afterwards, I wrote out the values on a separate pieces of paper and each one was placed by the construction crew into a separate caisson shaft to be mixed together with the concrete, becoming a permanent part of JRCs support structure.
What an amazing lesson. Mazel tov and kol hakavod to the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation.
RedWriteWeb, one of the most popular blogs on web technology news, is running a series of posts this week on how religious organizations are using technology. Today they focused on the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, pluralistic research and training institute that trains and ordains rabbis as well as runs high schools in Jerusalem, among other things.
As their work attracts and serves a very diverse (and worldwide) audience, so too must their online strategy. Beyond information about the organization and programs via their web site, the Institute incorporates extensive video and slide sharing throughout the site to share their value and make their work (and their extraordinary teachers) come alive. Further, they are developing a Facebook strategy, working their Wikipedia entries, venturing into podcasting, blogging, using video-based distance learning, and experimenting with Twitter.
Alan Abbey, the organization’s web site manager, is turning theory into practice, experimenting, and measuring his success. More than dabbling in this and that, he is creating an internet strategy for his organization, and is implementing the multiple facets of that strategy. Alan knows that the age of focusing only on your web site ended in 2007, and he’s integrating multiple tools and approaches. He understands it may take time for each venture to get rooted and attract and audience. And for his audience to mature and start to use these tools as well. And perhaps, in the coming year or two, he’ll weed his garden and pursue a smaller number of approaches that have the greatest returns for his mission. Or maybe he’ll find great success in all of his approaches. Learn about his work at ReadWriteWeb. And check out the other religion postings this week too.
Andrea Useem writes about religious life and web 2.0 on the Religion Writer blog.
Lets say your organization already has a website, but you have a project that needs some extra attention. It might be a capital campaign, a special event, a call for action, volunteering opportunities, a new publication, or a resource that is just aching to stand out from your general site. Consider the use of microsites, online sites that supplement an organizations primary web presence. Microsites highlight a product or service associated with an organization and is usually accessed at its own unique web address
Microsites became popular in the marketing community to tout new products and to house extensive marketing campaigns. Nonprofits and social service organizations are using microsites to engage with their communities in powerful ways.
Consider, for example, Temple Sinai in Oakland, California. The synagogue uses microsites for its capital campaign, and for its big Spring Fling fundraiser. As you can see, general information is available for both events on the primary site with additional, more focused details available on the customized microsites:
Provides more specific information about a product, service, or opportunity than is found at your organizations primary site
Targets niche audiences who might otherwise not get noticed on your primary site
Opportunities to create and embed niche content, including multimedia and other digital storytelling techniques
Specific departments of an organization can own the site and respond quickly to changes and visitor feedback
Use of keywords facilitates better search engine rankings
Easier for visitors to bookmark that specific website rather than a particular page on the primary site
Here’s another reason for entertaining microsites: Is your organization thinking about upping the ante with your website, but isnt quite ready to make the leap? A microsite might be one way to minimize perceived risks and gain valuable feedback by using it to implement incremental changes as you refine your vision and further develop your organizations web strategy.
Adding a new technology to your organization’s toolbox is not as easy as it might initially seem. In addition to research and making a decision about which tool and vendor to select, the project management often takes more skill, time and focus that one assumes. Furthermore, management of a technology project really is quite different than other projects, so making sure you’ve got the right person on the task can make an important difference.
Implementing the technology in your organization isn’t like flicking a light switch. In his book Managing Transitions, William Bridges discusses how change is situational, but transition is psychological. It’s not just enough to launch a new web site — all stakeholders (staff, board, members, volunteers, etc.) need to move through the transition to maintain and use the new tool smoothly and effectively. Bridges gives many suggestions about how to do this, and recently Dahna Goldstein from PhilanTech has offered her own useful insights and advise on the NTEN blog:
“In our personal lives, we tend not to like change, particularly changes over which we feel we have no control. The same is true in organizational changes.
People may be concerned about how a new technology will affect their jobs or day-to-day work life, or may be worried about their ability to learn the new technology. The most important element in mitigating anxiety related to organizational changes is to understand that it exists.
Anxiety can also be mitigated through good communication, involvement and empowerment, creating opportunities for feedback, and allowing people to voice their anxiety in a safe way so that they know that the anxiety they feel about an impending change is understandable, normal, and manageable.”
She expands on the following points:
Set a clear direction from the top.
Tie tech changes to mission.
Communicate early and often.
Involve and empower staff.
Tech changes need champions and influencers.
Recognize that change causes anxiety, and work to mitigate it.