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Volunteerism and the Robert E. Peary Class of 1977 Reunion

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:

Some Context

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/contribution 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
  • photos

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.

The Problem

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.

Examples

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.

My Point

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.

11 Comments

  1. Great stories, Dean. My experience has been opposite, given ‘the okay’ and free-reign, but no input on message/branding or follow-up.

    They seem to think that we webmasters can turn stones to bread, apparently, to un-reverse the metaphor.

  2. Good grief…nothing like re-inventing the wheel for a one-time event. I have to believe most of these “requirements” could be met by an exsting web 2.0 app of some sort.

    With Firefox support even…*roll*.

    I just recently skipped my 20 year – like a friend mentioned they (the committee) keeps planning the event like its a danged wedding reception — phancy food, loud band and booze. $60/plate and too noisy to do what the whole event is for – catch up with people you haven’t seen for awhile.

    So far my repeated suggestion of a Saturday afternoon at a big public park, pig roast, bring your kids and your dog and a plate to pass has gone on deaf ears…

  3. > I think it’s an issue of control.

    Bingo! But, my personal church web experience has been more like b2blog’s.

  4. Augh – “click here” is all over the place!

    I don’t know if it’s pride, or control, or what; but I doubt I will ever again be able to work on my own church’s web site. Now, if some other church wants to pay me, that’s a different matter.

    My 20th reunion was just like Boyink : loud music, ok food, and loud music. It was nice seeing people again, but screaming and nodding at people was not fun.

  5. Dave, Bill

    Actually glad to hear the contrary – as I do get a number of frustrat-o-grams from individuals in situations similar to mine

    I was similarly blessed before I moved

    Part of it I guess has to do w/vetting enjoined members – but part of getting people to go from visitor to member is assuring them they have a place to employ their talents and gifts.

    There’s got to be a middle-ground somewhere.

  6. Long time reader…first time commenter

    I was also disappointed when I visited the site, and the first thing to catch my eye was a banner saying “we don’t want your sort here”.
    Well, actually it said “Some website links may not work if you are using the Mozilla/Firefox browser”. A graphic image, not text.

  7. On the flip side, I worked for a non-profit for several years. Volunteer labor was critical to our success, but I also learned that there were some areas, like our computer system, that were better handled by the permanent staff– even if we weren’t as skilled as the volunteer offering to help. We learned this the hard way after several volunteers took over a project only to disappear part way through never to be seen again leaving the project in disarry with no documentation of what they had done. It takes a long time to recover from such things and makes one reluctant to accept help that is offered.

  8. Kristen – you have a salient point. Which is why I wouldn’t have minded going through a ‘vetting process’ for some of the aforementioned churches.

    Then again, perhaps what’s needed is some form of certification for net ministry?

    Then again, it’s not like I don’t have two degrees (out of 3) in the field of computer science, 25 years experience, etc, blah, and so-on.

    BOYINK – are you on target. $75 dollars for fattening ‘old folks’ food while shouting over music to impress people whom still treat me like the non-A list, non-clique guy they knew 30 years ago is not my idea of fun either.

    Hence, I did some yard work today – got the recent tile/backsplash job prep’d for sealing tomorrow morning (so it can set while at church).

    Better in my mind to garner husband points than to attempt to impress people whom have no bearing on my life nor success.

  9. Personally I believe all these ‘volunteer’ type problems come down to the attitudes of the volunteers.

    What do I mean? Well in short people serve but not from the right heart attitude or for the right reasons. I would suggest any volunteer should read “God’s ArmorBearer” (sic)by Tery Nance – both volumes. Secondly they need to understand that their calling, their gifting and their service is an ‘open hand’ approach.

    Those of us who use the open hand method hold our service, gift, calling in an open hand – we aren’t trying to hold on to it and thus we aren’t damaging it. Those who try to hold on end up damaging what they hold. Think of a plastic cup full of water in your hand. What happens if you hold one too tight? The contents leak or flood out and this is what we end up doing to our gift, call, service.

    I annually approach my pastor and offer him back all the things I do for my church and will willingly give up anything he asks me to do so.

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