What is a CMS, anyway?

If you’ve heard the words “Drupal” and “Joomla” but think they may be ancient tribes, have I got the online seminar for you. Since one of the most common questions I hear from a potential client is “What is a CMS, anyway?” we’ve put together a webinar to answer just this question.

Sign up on our website (for free), and you can learn:

  • What a CMS (content management system) is and what it does (hint: it’s a great way for you to manage your website)
  • Why it’s important for nonprofits
  • Advice on how to budget for a CMS project
  • And more!

Hope to connect with you May 20 at 2 p.m. Eastern.


Tips for Creating a Tech Dream Team

Which would be the smarter way to run a project:

  1. Leave all decisions-making power and creative control to a single person with a genius IQ, or
  2. Share decisions and idea-making among a team of interested people?

There may be some power-hungry geniuses who could effectively argue the first choice, but my money is on a shared responsibility. No matter how well I know something, I can’t honestly believe I’ll think of every angle, and that’s why it’s important to gather feedback.

Yet many organizations – very often nonprofits with limited staffs – will leave construction and maintenance of a website to a single person. What a mistake!

When we work through projects with clients, we encourage them to discuss ideas together before coming to us. They’re usually surprised at how much their ideas about the site differ. This is one of the key reasons why you should assemble a reliable tech team to guide your organization through the process. I believe this is doubly true if your nonprofit is a church or synagogue or otherwise serves a large community.

Why build a tech team?

  • It helps solicit feedback from your audience/congregation in an organized way
  • Helps draw out other’s talents to achieve organizational goals
  • It works!

When creating your tech team, make sure you have all areas of your organization represented, and make sure you know who’s in charge. Everyone has to have a voice, but it’s imperative for successful projects to have one person who can give the nod on development, and then have one person who can give the nod on an ongoing basis.

Once you’ve got your prospects for a tech team, run this checklist by yourself:

  • Does your tech team adequately represent everyone in your audience/congregation?
  • Is there a single person in charge who’s good at leadership?
  • Have you decided who’s in charge on an ongoing basis?

Now you’ve got your dream team, you can put them to work on discovering what should go into your site. Best place to start? A needs assessment.

Tips for Organized Business Travel

SuitcaseEvery time I take a trip, I tell myself I will be even more organized. I’m not sure if I’ll ever reach that state of packing nirvana, but here are a few tools that help take the stress off the week before traveling for business:

  1. Universal Packing List is a nifty program that lets you specify where you’re going, how long you’ll be gone and what activities you’ll be doing, and it spits back a recommended packing list. I have my own checklist I keep on Protopage that I use for each of my trips, but this helps me think of items I might not.
  2. Pick the best seat on the plane with SeatGuru, recently acquired by TripAdvisor. It shows you seat maps, specs for seats with limited recline, reduced legroom, and more.
  3. Take a quick look at the TSA’s latest security measures to ensure your gelled shoe inserts aren’t confiscated at the security checkpoint.
  4. Pack antibacterial wet wipes. I limit my use of antibacterials so they don’t wash down into our water supply, but I love these moist towelettes for limiting germ-spread on my seatbelt buckle and seat-back tray. Totally Howard Hughes, but worth it.

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.

Evolt.org’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 Talance.com 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.

Politics 2.0.co.uk

[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 MeetUp.com 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 www.talance.com.