The Lesser Evil: No Website, or Old Website

My friend Aaron Spiegel from the Alban Institutes’s Center for Congregations dug up an interesting commentary on the sins of church websites, “10 Easy Ways to Keep Me from Visiting Your Church Because I Visited Your Website,” which he sites here.

The original post was written several years ago, and while some church websites have redeemed themselves, I’ve seen many, many synagogue sites that need serious overhauls. Same goes for any nonprofit.

The important thing to keep in mind is that people make judgments about your organization based on your website. Calendars are extremely useful tools, for instance, but I’d rather see no calendar at all than one that’s outdated by a year. Ignoring your site is worse than having no site at all.

Fast tool for show and tell

Trying to describe what a web design will look like or what we’re about to change with a layout is a challenge over the phone, especially with the limits of technical jargon. The best way to communicate tricky changes is to show them.

I know there are a million collaboration tools like WebEx and Genesys out there (heck, we even set people up with Unyte for webinars), but for a quick show-and-tell, I love Twiddla.

It’s free and lets you mark up websites, graphics, photos or just blank canvases. And there’s no annoying set-up. It’s simply worked for everyone I’ve worked on it with, no matter what archaic machines they have.

Click “Try it now in the sandbox” to see how it works; no need to log in.

3 Solid Articles on Nonprofits 2.0

It’s long been my holding that the nonprofits that stand to gain the most from use of web technologies are the least likely to use them. Here are three pieces I’ve come across lately that encourage nonprofits – secular and faith-based – to step it up, and examine how the field is evolving. Good reading:

  1. Aaron Spiegel, who’s the IT guy and a former congregational rabbi at the Alban Institute, wrote about how synagogues need to use more technology.
  2. Aaron references a great list from Rich Melheim on why churches should be using more technology. Feel free to apply this list to whatever nonprofit you’re working with.
  3. A great article from Giulio Quaggiotto, program officer at the IFC, the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, and Pierre Guillaume Wielezynski, a member of the World Bank’s Central Web Team. They wrote “Development 2.0: A New Paradigm for the Non-Profit Sector?” for me in my role as editor of FreePint.

Stay tuned, because this is a topic I’ve proposed to The Forward, which should be appearing this fall.

Volunteers and Website Management

Volunteers are a gift to a nonprofit website. The problem is, well, they’re volunteers. You’re counting on them to help out, but you’ve got respect their time and other limitations. A salary is a powerful incentive you can’t use with a volunteer. (Check out 21 Ways Volunteers Can Help with Your Website.)

It’s a chronic limitation for synagogue websites. The webmaster for a New York-based synagogue was talking about this with me the other day. She said, “One of the biggest challenges, of course, is that the site is managed on a fully volunteer basis and there is only so much time I can devote to it.”

We effectively face the same challenge with Talance’s company website – we squeeze in enhancements between other client projects. But knowing that anyone who comes to our website forms judgments on the quality of work we do based on what they see there, we also know it’s vitally important to keep performing upgrades.

My solution is to set up what equates to a project management checklist with a priority number next to each task and put it in a central location. Whenever a team member (including myself) has a bit of free time, we just pick something off the list and do it. Its easier to attack in bite-sized bits, and things do eventually get done.

We have our own project management software we use, but you might look at Google Calendars and Docs and Spreadsheets for hosting a centrally accessible spreadsheet you can use for a tasklist. I think simpler is always better when it comes to tracking a project.

Create a Website for Your Synagogue Audience

Targeting and addressing your website audience isn’t a problem for synagogues alone. Web ventures across the secular and religious world grapple with the same problem. But it’s important to know who you want to attract to your site, because it will affect not only how you build it, but who might be attending services and programs.

Generally speaking, synagogues can target existing members or new members. That’s just scraping the surface, though. You should know:

  • How old are those people? If it’s an aging congregation, they might not know or care much about technology, but that’s not the same for younger generations. All synagogues should be addressing a younger membership, otherwise your existing membership will eventually fizzle out.
  • Do they have kids? If so, put information front and center about Sunday school or Hebrew classes.
  • Where do they live? If it’s a snowy climate, put cancellations on the homepage. And always include directions.
  • What’s their economic situation? Would your congregants be interested in auctions? Registering for a 5K? Can you tap them for heavy fund development?
  • What gender are they? Men and women will each have different questions about your programs.
  • Can you guess what kind of technical equipment they have? Are they accessing your site through a PDA? Are they logging on antiquated equipment at school?
  • Why are they visiting your site? Guests might want to know about membership information or how to find your building. Members might be interested in volunteer opportunities.

Synagogue sites should be inclusive for everyone, but by finding and knowing your target audience, you can prioritize information for them.

Here are some useful articles on how to learn more about your target audience:

Defining Your Target Audience from the American Marketing Association tells you how to conduct this research.’s Making websites: what’s your target audience? speaks from a more technical perspective.

CrazyEgg Tells You What’s Hot

I admit to an obsession: I must know where you’ve been clicking when you go to the website. And an excellent service I found today is only fueling my need.

CrazyEgg is a tool that lets you see in different graphical formats where people are clicking on your website, or what are known as hotspots. This isn’t to say the most popular pages, but where people are clicking once they arrive at a particular page.

This is very revealing information. It’ll tell you, for instance the most commonly accessed areas of your site, so you can put premium information there. It also tells you if there’s a disparity between where you’re thinking people are clicking and where they actually are.

And I love that it tells you graphically, for instance in heatmaps:


Or with confetti:


What I like most about CrazyEgg is that it’s free. At least a stripped-down version is. If you want heavy coverage for a big site, you can sign up for a monthly plan.


[This article about how politicians in the UK are using the Web appears in the February issue of N-TEN.]

by Monique Cuvelier, Talance, Inc.

Back when everyone was saying Al Gore “invented the Internet,” no one rolled their eyes more than the Brits. Back then, the very notion of Internet-based technologies was enough to send British eyes into one-eighties, never mind the marriage of politics and social media. The idea of the Queen appearing on YouTube? Patently ridiculous.

What a change a few years can bring, because there she is, on YouTube’s Royal Channel with her annual Christmas speech and video clips of Prince William flying a plane.
She’s not the only UK leader who has gone digital, as politicians are looking to social media tactics to gain more youthful support.

Our politicians are starting to investigate the possibilities of social media as a way of accessing younger audiences,” says Sara Waddington, managing editor of FUMSI, an online publication that tracks the information industry. “We have a general election coming up and a lot of middle England is dissatisfied with this government’s taxation stance, so it will need to look at ways of attracting new voters from different age ranges and groups.”

With the next general election looming in 2009, politicians are beginning to mirror their American counterparts in hopes of winning more votes. Until recently, the Brits didn’t need to be so cozy with social media. In the last three general elections, the UK population was voting — for Tony Blair. Oasis’s Noel Gallagher was New Labour’s wingman and famously visited Blair at 10 Downing Street for celebratory drinks. Blair was hip, young Britons felt empowered, and the War on Terror yet hadn’t begun.

Now Blair is gone, the War on Terror is dragging on, and many young voters especially feel jilted by campaign promises that never materialized. So, they’re not voting.
British politicians are flirting with social media to see if they can win them back.

To wit:
* The Conservatives launched webcameron, their glassy Web 2.0 home where readers can view leader David Cameron’s blog or read guest bloggings by the likes of John McCain.
* Left-wing Liberal Democrats launched Flock Together, inspired by how Howard Dean tapped to gain grassroots support for campaign planning and local meetings. Those who need a constant jolt can use the site’s Twitter page.
* Before he stepped down, Tony Blair hired Zack Exley, John Kerry’s presidential campaign director, who directed Internet operations for the Labour party. He is largely credited with helping Blair with his third consecutive victory.

But it doesn’t go much beyond flirting. The social media relationship hasn’t quite developed into the deep embrace American politicos have. The Queen, for instance, mistakenly referred to “OneTube.” While Barack Obama’s chaotic MySpace page boasts 281,141 friends, the only “Gordon Brown” profile on MySpace has four friends and a lack of proper punctuation.

UK politicians may be slower than their American counterparts to adopt social media, but as one recent study from the UK communications regulatory body Ofcom indicates, they’ll catch up. The UK has higher usage of Facebook and MySpace than the rest of Europe, with one in four UK adults tapping into social networks 23 times a month. Those are numbers that are hard to ignore, no matter what side of the Pond you’re on.

Monique Cuvelier is CEO of Talance, Inc., a company that helps nonprofits – in the US and abroad – understand better how to use technology through online courses and websites. She has been writing for UK-based publications since 1996. Learn more at

Importance of Needs Assessment

Someone wrote me yesterday looking for details on how I work with clients. I was saying on an N-TEN blog that it’s important to perform an internal needs assessment before you really begin to work with a website developer.

People generally know when they need a new site, but many tend not to start by asking what purpose the site should serve, what kinds of issues it should resolve and how it should look. Of course, this step is important in all companies, but I find it an absolute necessity with nonprofits that are governed by a board or committee.

So the first step we take with a new client is to encourage them to have these conversations together internally before talking to the website developer. That’s the idea behind a questionnaire we developed and hand out to our new clients before beginning on a project. I encourage our clients to send out copies to everyone on the team (from receptionist to CEO), have them fill it out independently and decide together what the final version should look like. Then they come to me with a filled out copy, and we talk through it together.

Everyone’s always really glad of this exercise, because people at organizations often don’t realize how different their thoughts are about their website. And it saves a lot of time and money when it comes to making a solid decision and putting together a reliable schedule.

Make sure to read through this blog posting on how to go about asking for a new website. It’s about what to expect from the company you hire. This is very important, because I find increasingly more often that a designer or a web developer will offer to build a website, but a designer lacks understanding of the underlying architecture, and web developers lack an understanding of how to bring it all together aesthetically.

We work with a project manager, a web developer who is an expert in human factors (meaning the way people naturally interact with technology) and a designer. All of us are able to address many questions before they’re asked and we consider our chief role as that of advisor. Inevitably, with expectations set early on, everyone is always happy with the final outcome.

You can find more info on our site on the kinds of sites we build. Oh, and we also have a deal with N-TEN members, so we can offer a discounts there, depending on what you need.

Good advice on asking for a new website

Entrepreneur’s Tech Forward blog has some solid advice on what kind of questions you should ask a company before you give them the green light to create a website for you. I agree completely with the advice, and this article is like an outline of the way we approach relationships with new organizations.

A reputable web services company should:

  • Say their first step is to understand your needs
  • Step up when it comes to explaining complicated technology
  • Know what goes into the front end (design) and back end (architecture) of a website.

I’d be happy to share more information about how we interact with clients. Contact me at for more info.

Help for picking tricky color combos

At first glance, you may think kuler from Adobe Labs is little more than online paint chips. But imagine paint chips in dazzling combinations that have been rated for effectiveness and beauty by a network of people. It’s an excellent tool for choosing colors for web and print projects, and an interesting community to become involved in.

I haven’t tested it, but WebAssist has a plug-in that lets you use kuler with Dreamweaver for on-the-fly color combos.