Is Your Website Helping You Meet Your Mission?

by Lisa Colton

Do you manage your technology to run your operations, or to achieve your mission?

According to a recently released study of synagogue web sites commissioned by Jvillage Network, the vast majority of synagogues have a membership management database and a website, but they are not using these tools effectively to achieve their mission. When investing in technology, most congregations focus on what will help them operationally, putting themselves first, rather than focusing on what will help their community lead rich, educated and active Jewish lives, which, last time I looked was the mission of most synagogues. How does a synagogue’s online presence help support its 3 pillars as a beit midrash (house of study), beit tefillah (house of prayer) and beit knesset (community)? How do their online tools help people connect with one another, lead meaningful lives, learn and support the community?

Let’s take online giving for example. In my experience, congregations are nervous about dealing with online security of credit cards, hesitant to invest in a system to accept online donations, or want to discourage their members from using credit cards since they will incur fees. Only 40% of congregations in this study offer online donations. Expecting your prospective donors to pull out their checkbook, an envelope and stamp is like a bank asking their customers to park their car and stand in line to talk with a teller to get $40 in cash, since ATMs are complicated to install and maintain. Online giving is a norm of being a nonprofit today. As reported here on eJP in June, 2010, the annual Convio Online Marketing Nonprofit Benchmark Index Study showed that even in a down economy, online giving grew 14% in 2009, and 69% of organizations raised more in 2009 than 2008. It’s 2010. No more excuses.

A critical part of a successful, mission-centric online strategy is allocating the right staff time and skills to creating and maintaining the tools, and facilitating the community. In the synagogue survey, of those synagogues limiting or avoiding use of social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter, 86 percent cite a lack of time to devote to it. I often hear staff (especially at synagogues) rationalize that they can’t start blogging or maintaining a Facebook page because they don’t have a spare 10 minutes a day. No one does. But this isn’t the right calculation. The question is, “how do you get the most mission-centric bang for your buck out of 10 minutes?”

To illustrate the point, let’s look at the synagogue newsletter. Most congregations produce a 12-24 page print newsletter monthly. Producing these newsletters takes 20-60 hours a month (that’s 240-720 hours a year) of staff time to write, edit, layout, print, and mail, and somewhere between $10,000-$20,000 a year of paper, labels, stamps, designers, etc.

Now let’s look at the impact of those hours and tens of thousands of dollars. How many people read it cover to cover? Of the ones who do, are they more educated, involved, volunteering more, donating more, connecting more with their community because of the newsletter? I use this example not to say that you should ditch your print newsletter (I actually don’t think you should), but to illustrate that managing technology to meet your mission may mean re-allocating resources, and modifying job descriptions. At this moment of communications revolution, we must question our assumptions about where investments of time and money are best made, and align these investments with our goals.

Synagogues are in the business of creating and strengthening community. This is a relationship business. Effective communication and excellent customer service is the foundation of being in the relationship business. The technology is no longer complicated, difficult to use, or even that expensive. We need to stop dragging our feet and start embracing these tools, which are a great gift to nonprofits in the relationship business.

The data from this recent synagogue website survey is not surprising to me, but it is very important. It is a call to action for Jewish organizations to align our investments – both financial and human capital – in technology that will further our missions.

Lisa Colton is President of Darim Online.