This weekend the Robert E. Peary High School Class of 1977 will hold its 30th year reunion. Whatever comes of the events, one notable failure will be the lack of a strong and effective online presence similar to those suffered by many church and charity websites. Here’s why:
See if this story doesn’t sound familiar to some of you who have offered your time and talents to church and/or charity web sites …
.. back in early March of this year, I emailed the reunion committee and offered the following resources for free:
- free web hosting for the site – all bandwidth included
- set up a domain name if I/we/you/the committee chooses to buy one
- provide limited but sufficient email & listserv services to the domain
- set up an open source community/content-manglement application – such as WordPress
- set it up with adsense with any click through going to an account established of/for/by … “the committee”
- support the committee’s need for document collaboration through Google Apps
- track website usage using Google Analytics
- hand the keys to the kingdom to whichever committee member wants to run the site, after providing them free online training.
Here’s the response I got back:
Thank-you for getting back to me. Let me tell you what we hope to accomplish and you can let me know if you can be of assistance. Please understand in my mind I think what we want is fairly easy and straightforward but then again I have 3 dedicated web staff members who would tell you that I am not always thinking straight. We would like to be able to handle the ticket/advertisement/contributi
on sales for the reunion on the web. We want to do this for several reasons:
- Ease to classmates of handling purchases on-line and being able to use a credit card for payment
- Cash going directly to the bank rather than sitting on someone’s kitchen counter
- Having a data source for sales so that we do not have to reenter contact information for badges, advertisements and memory book messages
We are planning on opening a PayPal account to handle the secured payment processing. With the PayPal service it is not necessary to have a shopping cart on the website. In addition, I do not think that we need a dedicated domain as this is a brief project and I have asked [name witheld] if we can put a direct link on the [alumni] site. I envision having a form for classmates to fill out that includes:
- contact information
- guest information
- number of tickets to be purchased
- cash contributions
- advertising to be purchased (full page, 1/2 page, 1/4 page and business card)
- total purchases
- description of donated items
- actual ad (pdf format?)
- memory book statement
As several people on the committee would be working with the data for badges, memory book, etc., we would need multiple access to the data. While a standard text box could be used for the memory book statement, it would not be a problem to have the ad & photos submitted separately through e-mail and outside of the webpage.Please let me know if this is something you could help us with or if you have any other questions.
In other words “… forget about what you have to offer in terms of a free online community with collaboration, tracking and ad revenue tools – we have an an overly-ambitious e-commerce and badging system in mind, so please limit your thinking to our’s or else no thank you…”
Such responses are not uncommon with churches and charities as well.
I’ve both experienced and heard via email from a number of you instances where talents offered were talents ignored because it was ‘outside the box’ limiting vision the person in charge.
Well in some cases, I think it’s an issue of control.
For example, I’ve offered to help with (and not take over) the website of the church I currently attend. The pastor has eagerly handed this offer off to a member of the staff. The staff member has politely ignored my offer – instead opting to wander in the wilderness of PHP failures for six months until they finally subscribed the Community Builder service. Which not a bad choice – but one that could be better leveraged with more effective presentation than what is currently implemented.
Similarly, when I first moved to the area, I had considered joining another church here in town until I asked about being involved with their web presence. There I was told flat-out that the web committee was set – and would have to wait a year or three before considering my aid (even after explicitly assuring them that I would help, not take-over). As I check on the site today, I see almost 2 years later that not much has changed.
Finally – that ambitious Robert E. Peary High School Class of 1977 reunion site mentioned in the above communications? I’ll link it up here and let you judge for yourself.
So is this post merely kvetching?! Ah, probably a little – but not because I’m bitter – heck, them saying no only means more spare time and less work for me!
Rather my post is a wake-up call is to pastors, church staff and other individuals charged with the stewardship of their church and/or charity’s web presence.
When an individual offers you a loaf of bread – don’t return the offer with a rock (yes, I know that’s an inversion of the metaphor).
Or put another way, when experienced web developer, a paid software as a service product manager and published usability author is offering their time, resources and talent – cool it with the worries about control and instead consider what it might cost your organization to hire out such expertise and/or services.
I know I’m not alone here, as some of you have emailed me similar accounts of frustration.
If so, leave a comment here. It’s time church staff and committee chairs quit ‘beefin‘ about time, tithes and talents while squandering that which is already being offered.