When I looked through lots of Conservative synagogue websites and Reform temple websites, I noticed that a significant number of those websites are still using outdated technology to run their sites.
If I were to draw a conclusion about a synagogue from giving their website the “eye test”, those synagogues with outdated website technology are most likely also using an outdated management philosophy when it comes to who is responsible for the website.
Who should be responsible for the synagogue’s website?
Even if a synagogue has a modern website in the technological sense, many times their management philosophy about who is responsible for the website is outdated.
Who is primarily responsible for managing the synagogue’s website? Is it volunteers or laypeople, who are often passionate about technology and want to give their time by working on the website? Is it the professional staff, who are often over-burdened with other responsibilities? Is it an outside website firm altogether? Or is it some combination of all three?
Here are some pros and cons regarding each group’s involvement with a synagogue’s website.
- Lots of passion – New volunteers are often eager to get involved and make a difference, especially if they’re familiar with website technology.
- Have other priorities – As volunteers, the synagogue isn’t their main focus, so their responsibilities regarding the website don’t always come first or as quick as necessary.
- Can turn over quickly – Volunteers can come and go quickly as members join or leave the synagogue, or take on other volunteer responsibilities at the synagogue.
- Territoriality – I’ve heard many situations where synagogues don’t have access to all of the account information they need, or to the website in general, because the original person who created it doesn’t want to cede control, see it changed, or do something different with it.
- Knowledge and skills – What happens when the person who inherits the website down the line doesn’t have the necessary knowledge or skills needed to manage it?
- Focus is the synagogue – Someone whose daily work focuses on the synagogue is in a better position to assume responsibility for the website than a volunteer.
- Greater continuity than volunteers – Synagogue staff usually don’t change as often as volunteers do, so there is a greater likelihood that someone will be able to focus on the website for the long-term.
- Who exactly? – Unlike in businesses and other organizations, most synagogues don’t have someone devoted solely to the website, so its responsibilities get tacked onto someone’s portfolio. This can be a downside if that person doesn’t necessarily have a website background, or the knowledge and skills needed. Hence the need for volunteers in the first place.
- Over-stretched for time as it is – If someone’s background and job responsibilities are primarily doing something else, the website may not take as high a priority as it should.
- Greater technical support – Should something go wrong with the website, professionals are in a better position to diagnose and correct it then a staff member (whose work doesn’t revolve totally around websites) or a volunteer (who may not be able to respond quick enough).
- Security issues – Due to their Jewish nature, synagogue websites have the potential to be hacked with inappropriate content. Professionals follow these trends closely and can quickly work to restore a synagogue’s website and remove the offensive content.
- Takes the burden off of the synagogue – Having an outside professional work on the website can free up staff members’ time so that they can focus on other priorities.
- Are on top of other technologies – Professionals can also help a synagogue set up, manage, and properly use other web technologies such as Facebook pages, email newsletters, etc.
- Outside the community – Professional firms or designers are most likely not a part of your synagogue’s community, so they might not understand all the unique aspects of its communication needs.
What do we recommend?
In my opinion the ideal situation there are two layers of support that a synagogue’s website should have:
- Inner layer – One or two staff members and/or dedicated volunteers who are responsible for it on a regular basis. These individuals are most likely part of a larger oversight group, say a communications or marketing committee.
- Outer layer – A professional web designer or firm should be engaged to provide ongoing support and maintenance on a more macro level.
I do not say this to disparage volunteers in any way. I fully understand why many synagogues use, or used, volunteers to work on their website. However, in today’s day and age, with the breadth of web technologies available, in my opinion synagogues are in a better position in the long run if they work with a professional designer or design firm on a new website and then continue to work with them for ongoing support.
This is precisely the service that we offer synagogues. We will start working with them from the ground up, building a modern website that is well-designed, well-organized, and that meets all of their advanced needs such as online donations and other functionality. We’ll then train people at the synagogue in how to use WordPress so that they know how to update and work with it.
We also offer monthly support plans so that synagogues have the reassurance that someone is there if they need help.
Contact us for more information
Synagogues need to make their websites a priority, including serious thinking about who will manage and be responsible for it. If your synagogue is interested in any of our web design services, contact us to learn more.
About Hirsch Fishman
Hirsch has been working professionally with websites since 2001, working exclusively in, and focusing on, the Jewish community. Hirsch offers a wide range of website knowledge to his synagogue web design clients from his years of experience working in the Jewish community. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.