A googol uses of Google

Google is all over the place. Maybe you’ve heard a commercial for the release of the google operating system based cell phone, or maybe its your favorite search engine. For whatever the reason, e-mail, search engine, or another post on our blog you’ve probably heard of google being used for something. But did you know that google has a whole section of its website devoted to tools that are meant to help you, a nonprofit. Over the coming weeks I will be pointing out many of the individual tools that google has produced. Google for Non-Profits is just the tip of the google iceberg but it’s a great place to start. Finally for google’s “professional tools” registered non-profits are eligible for Educational version of products like google apps which means more product for the same cost – FREE. Take some time to check out google’s tools and stayed tuned on JewPoint0.org for more info.

Alban Institute Focuses on Internet in Congregations

The Alban Institute is an organization dedicated to helping congregations be more effective and successful. They work with lay and professional leadership on a variety of short and long term planning projects, and are very highly regarded.

The latest issue of Alban’s Magazine is titled “The New Connectivity: How Internet Innovations Are Changing the Way We Do Church”. The issue is full of highly relevant articles, from blogging and listservs and Facebook, to navigating this changing landscape in general.

Andrea Useem, a contributing writer to Religion Writer, Slate Magazine, The Washington Post and USA Today, serves up the main dish of the magazine, examining how technology is changing the landscape and business of congregational life, including an example of how a Darim congregation used a discussion board to bring together members who were wrestling with similar life issues.

If your congregation is a member of the Alban Institute, you’ve probably recently received your copy in the mail. If not, you can buy an issue on their web site for $7.00. Read it yourself, then pass it on to other decision makers in your organization. You’ll get your money’s worth, and I’ll bet it will catalyze conversations and development of a shared vision that will benefit everyone.

Our Recommendations, and Yours

Part of our goal in this blog is to turn you on to great stuff, and we’ve just set up an aStore through Amazon.com to provide even more recommendations. The aStore allows you to set up your own store with your recommended products that Amazon sells. Any organization can do this, and through your affiliate relationship, get a percentage of each sale. The real value, however, is that you can turn on your constituents to the products you think they’d most enjoy or benefit from. This is a great way to plant the seed that parents and grandparents buy Jewish-themed gifts for Hanukkah. Instead of thinking that this is a great way to raise a few bucks, market it as a service you are providing to your community. And consider the affiliate referral fees just a bonus.

Check out our aStore here. And you can learn more about setting up your own (really, a 30 min undertaking to get going) here.

We also want to hear what you’ve been reading or using that you’d like to share with others through our aStore. This can be about anything: Jewish, nonprofit, technology, media, etc. I’ve even set up a kid related category as a resource for Hanukkah gift ideas. Leave a comment below with your suggestion, and we’ll add it to the store! I’ve also added a link to our store on the left side of this blog, so you can find it easily in the future.

When I speak at conferences or professional development events, I always try to leave something in my wake. After a shot in the arm of social media, usually the people in the room are hungry for more. I always mention books, web sites, blogs, and other recommendations, and provide a handout with lists of this info. After nearly every event, I get emails from participants saying “I love that blog!” and “I read that Managing Transitions book — thank you, it was so helpful!”. I hope our store can provide this ongoing resource for you. When you finish your next book, come browse!

The Gift of Time and Organization. For Free! It’s Called RSS.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. With a name like that, you’d think it would be so simple. While RSS can seem confusing, it really is so simple, and so valuable. Imagine a single newspaper delivered to your door every morning with articles on your favorite topics by your favorite authors. And nothing else to slog through. Welcome to RSS!

Common Craft, a great little firm from Seattle has produced a fun, short video to help us understand RSS:

I use Google Reader. There are many good readers out there, but I’ll use this as an example. Down the left side are all the “feeds” I subscribe to. When I run across a blog that I like, and want to keep up with, I click the “subscribe” button — commonly shown as this orange icon. That blog is then added to my reader.

Each morning when I sit down at my computer, I open my Google Reader. It shows me all my feeds down the left. I’ve organized them into folders by topic. The bold titles are the feeds with new posts. I can then scan the posts in the main part of the window, and click on any headline to open a new window to go directly to the blog. This way, I don’t have to remember all my favorite blogs, and remember to go to my “favorites” and take the time to check on each one, or waste time if there is no new content. It all comes to me.

I scan my feeds — I don’t read every single post of every single feed. And if over the course of time I find I’m skipping more than I’m reading, I can unsubscribe in one click and remove that feed from my reader.

This is a very useful way of organizing your own reading to keep up with the most amount of high quality and useful information in the least amount of time. It is also useful to know that this is how an increasingly large percentage of your constituents are aggregating and consuming content online. By RSS enabling your content, your readers will be alerted every time you post something new.

I add new feeds to my reader regularly, as I’m turned on to a new blog, or a trusted friend makes a recommendation. By pulling all of the greatest content together, it makes catching up on my reading a real treat — sometimes even a reward after I’ve completed a big task. What’s on your RSS reader?

G-dcast.com Animated Torah Lessons

Date: August, 2007. Place: Atlanta. “The Conversation“, an amazing gathering of professional and lay Jews.

My Ah-Ha Moment: Sarah Lefton showing a small crowd a new project she’s been working on: G-dcast. A short animated online video that captures the story, the lessons and the larger questions of the Torah portion. Wow. Fun, entertaining, insightful, thought provoking. Accessible. Really accessible. I was impressed.

Fast forward approximately one year. Sarah’s attracted funding, support and a lot of energy as she’s produced a series of G-dcast.com films, which launch today. The narrators include Lawrence Kushner, Esther Kustanowitz and many other hip, household names. Some episodes are straightforward storytelling, while other parshiot are told as country songs, hip-hop tracks or mystical discourses on the nature of the universe.

G-dcasts goal is to raise basic Jewish literacy among youth and young adults in an accessible and fun way. In order to affect as wide an audience as possible, G-dcast is delivered online for free, and they offer a downloadable curriculum guide for each episode (great for teachers as well as parents). The series will also be available as a video podcast, so the cartoons can be watched and collected on ipods and mobile phones. Each episode offers embed code so you can easily add it to your web site or blog (see below). While Lefton and her colleagues imagine the animations targeted to a relatively youthful audience, I happen to think the wit, insightful nature and creative style will appeal to a very wide audience, both online and in a live gathering, such as a classroom. What do you think?

Check it out: G-dcast.com.

copyright 2008, g-dcast llc

Update: The New York Times raves about G-dcast.com!

InterfaithFamily.com December Survey: Enter to win a $500 gift card!

InterfaithFamily.com, a wonderful online resource for interfaith couples and families is conducting a brief online survey about how your family celebrates the December holidays. Heather Martin and the other folks at InterfaithFamily.com have done a great job using multiple social media channels to promote the survey. I learned about it via Heather’s Facebook status update, and they are promoting it through their Facebook Group too.

Anyone can respond to the survey — you need not be in an interfaith relationship. One lucky respondent will be chosen to receive a $500 American Express gift card. And if you refer someone to take the survey, you are both entered a second time! Thus, help me (and you, and them!) out here, and complete the survey … and mention my name at the end!

How does your congregation or other Jewish organization support interfaith families in making Jewish choices and welcoming them into your community around the December holiday season?

Announcing the Winners of the Sukkah Contest in Second Life

Did you know there is a vibrant Jewish life in Second Life? (Pause: What is Second Life you might ask?)

Second Life is and internet-based 3D virtual world available by downloading an application by its developer, Linden Labs. Anyone can participate (they have a teen world that is protected for the younger set). “Residents” create an avatar, and can explore, meet other residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, and create and trade items and services with one another. Those who wish to participate in the commerce can pay a monthly fee for an “allowance” of Linden Dollars, and/or cash in real dollars for the Second Life currency.

View of the sukkah contest
View of the sukkah contest

Now, on to the Jewish life in Second Life. There is a synagogue, a yeshiva, a museum, Hebrew classes, Torah study, a mikvah, a Second Life Kotel, and much more. There is even a magazine about Jewish life in Second Life, cleverly named 2LifeMagazine (get it — Second Life / L’chaim?).

Beth Odets (that’s her avatar name – in real life, Beth Brown) created the synagogue in 2006 and convenes many holiday celebrations, candle lightings, sing alongs and other events in the Jewish neighborhood. Once again, she held a sukkah building contest in the courtyard outside the synagogue this year. Over the past few weeks participants have designed and built their sukkot, decorated them, added signs, and notecards you can take and “keep”, glasses of wine and slices of cake you can enjoy while visiting. You can stroll down “sukkah alley”, admiring the “handiwork” of the contestants, taking a seat in this one, viewing photos of families and ushpizin on the walls of another.

Here I am (my avatar) visiting a traditional sukkah in Second Life
Here I am (my avatar) visiting a traditional sukkah in Second Life

I toured 16 of them today, as the contest closed and the winners were announced. There were many stylish entries – some very traditional, some quite modern and unique. Many had music playing inside, birds chirping, and the fabric “swaying in the wind”.

Interested? Go to http://secondlife.com to download the application. A good internet connection and a decent video card are recommended. Even better, find friend who is experienced in Second Life to give you a tutorial. Or start by reading a bit about the Jewish community there in 2LifeMagazine.

How Much Should A Nonprofit Website Cost?

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?

New Pew Study Shows Importance of Internet/Cell Phone Use in Families

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.

Pew Internet & American Life Project, "Networked Families"
Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project, "Networked Families"

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?

Incredible Opportunity: Center for Leadership Initiatives Job Opening

The Center For Leadership Initiatives is a private operating foundation offering programs that serve current and future leaders of the Jewish community. Supported by the Schusterman Family Foundaiton, CLI offers skills trainings, coaching, conferences and retreats, as well as online networks. Through this amazing work, CLI cultivates excellence, leadership and vision in the Jewish non-profit world. Examples of their work include ROI, The Insight Fellowship, The Conversation, and gatherings for grantees of the Schusterman Family Foundation.

The Center for Leadership Initiatives is seeking a Program Director to work in its Vancouver, BC office. The is an incredible opportunity for someone who is excited by innovation and wants to be part of a dynamic team that is offering cutting edge programs to non-profit leaders in the Jewish community and around the world. The newly created Program Director position is a senior position reporting to the Executive Director. It will involve management of a diverse program portfolio, development of curricula for new programs and facilitation of a wide range of projects.

CLI is one of the most amazing organizations I know, led by Yoni Gordis, who is a one-of-a-kind gem in the Jewish community. If you, or someone you know, are looking for a phenomenal new gig, in an incredible city, check out their website for more information on the job and the organization.