5 Tasks Visitors Should Be Able to Do on a Synagogue’s Website

Written by Hirsch Fishman

A synagogue’s website is its face to the world (wide web), and there are lots of people who are likely to look at it. Congregants are the most obvious (and largest) group, but by no means are they exclusively the people who will be looking at the website.

There are lots of other people who may look at the synagogue’s website – people who are new to the community, potential members, people visiting the area (perhaps for a bar or bat mitzvah, or a wedding), and more. At my synagogue, I met someone at Sunday minyan once who was in town for an NCAA college basketball tournament game; he was from New Jersey and had found out the minyan time on the website. So you just never know who’s going to look at it.

But that being said, congregants are by and large the largest group of visitors to the synagogue’s website. Many synagogue websites are more informational in nature, which is fine, as most people are looking for information about the synagogue.

But in today’s day and Internet age, when so many people are used to accomplishing certain tasks online (especially younger generations), a synagogue’s website should offer the ability to accomplish some common tasks online – tasks that are common to life in the synagogue community.

Here is my list of five tasks that an outstanding synagogue website should let people accomplish.

1. Make a secure credit card donation

I’ve seen many synagogue websites where the donation page consists of a PDF file that people are supposed to print and mail in along with a check. Or the donation page is simply a Paypal button. I can tell you from both personal and professional experience – that is simply not going to do.

An excellent donation form should have the following components:

  • List of funds – Where can people direct their donation towards?
  • Descriptive fields – Who is the donation in honor/memory/recognition of?
  • Payment options – Can someone pay by credit card? Or, if the person making the donation is a congregant, can they have the donation added to their account to be billed later?
  • Secure connection – Any form/page that asks for credit card information should be secured with an SSL certificate.
  • Payment gateway* – Integration with a professional payment gateway, preferably Authorize.net.

Bottom line, what I’m saying is that a synagogue’s website should allow visitors to make a secure, online, credit card donation to the synagogue if they so desire. And for those who don’t want that, they can still mail in a check the old way.

If you would like to read a more in-depth post that I wrote about this topic, please see “Synagogue Websites and Online Donations: Benefits and Considerations”.

* A quick note about payment gateways

With any payment gateway, such as Paypal or Authorize.net, the synagogue is charged a certain small percentage of the transaction amount as the fee for using that gateway. Many synagogues struggle with this, particularly in terms of whether or not to “eat” those fees, or whether to ask people to add an extra amount to their donation to cover that fee.

I get asked often what should a synagogue do about this. My point of view is that those fees are simply the cost of doing business, and that unfortunately a synagogue should just absorb those fees. Yes, it is less money that they’re getting, but to me, the convenience factor outweighs that, especially if an online form drives more donations than would come in otherwise.

Bottom line is that so many people are used to making online payments of some sort, so if a synagogue doesn’t have this capability, it can be extremely frustrating to those who are looking for and used to it.

(A quick personal anecdote: I was recently looking to make a small donation in memory of someone to their synagogue. Not only did they not have a donation form like I’m describing, they didn’t even have a donate page. I had to do a Google search for the name of the template with the word “donations” after it, which turned up a page containing the dreaded PDF form I mentioned earlier.)

2. Register for an upcoming synagogue event and pay by credit card

So many synagogues I’ve seen or worked with post upcoming event information as a flyer with a form at the bottom of it, which people are then supposed to print, complete, and mail along with a check if they want to register for the event. Again – something like this is a task that someone should be able to complete on the website, including paying for the event with a credit card. There’s just no excuse not to have this in place.

The most frustrating thing for me is when I synagogue that I’ve built a website for, including the event registration and credit card payment functionality, and who still continues to use paper flyers like that. My point being: this is a very entrenched mindset and way of approaching it that takes a lot of effort to change.

If you have a payment gateway set up for online donations, this can easily be used for event registration capabilities as well.

The same list of form components above apply here as well.

3. Pay a dues balance, school tuition, etc.

This is a trickier area because the dollar amounts are greater, so synagogues aren’t always as willing to eat the fees for these payments. I still maintain that the convenience factor outweighs those considerations and that these are items that a synagogue should have a payment form for.

(Another quick personal anecdote: I have two children who attend my synagogue’s preschool. Their billing method is to send me a PDF statement so that I can write a check and leave it in the preschool office. I would love – LOVE – it if the synagogue had a payment form on their website with this as a line item, so that I can easily make these payments. I would much rather receive the credit card points and pay the balance as soon as I get the in voice by email. Plus, I can avoid the hassle of forgetting the envelope with the check in it, which I’ve done multiple times.)

If you have a payment gateway set up for online donations, this can easily be used for event registration capabilities as well.

The same list of form components above apply here as well.

4. Subscribe to the synagogue’s mailing list

A synagogue’s mailing list shouldn’t just be for members. Prospective members may be just as interested in learning what’s going on as current members are. When I moved to the city I currently live in, I didn’t join the synagogue right away, but we wanted to know what was happening. Fortunately, we could sign up to receive the monthly newsletter and email updates. We are now members.

Worried about separating potential members from current members in the email list?

Mailing list programs such as Constant Contact let you create as many mailing lists within the account as you want. Attach the sign-up form on your website to a new list for potential members or web sign-ups, which you can keep separate from the mailing list of congregants. Then when the weekly email is sent out, just make sure that whoever does it sends to both mailing lists. This way you can keep them separate, with the added benefit of having a separate database of potential members that you can use for other purposes.

5. Get directions to the synagogue

This is the simplest task on this list. How easy is it to embed a Google map on the synagogue’s website? Very easy. (Mapquest doesn’t count – sorry.) Google Maps have the added benefit that in the embedded map, they have a link to click on for directions. For visitors who may not have ever been to the synagogue before – relatives in town for a bar mitzvah, for example – this will make it easy for them to figure out how to get to the synagogue.

Bonus points for linking the address of the synagogue to the page with the embedded map on it, or to that address directly on the Google Maps website.

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About Hirsch Fishman

Hirsch Fishman is a professional web designer who has worked with synagogues and organizations in the Jewish community since 2006. Originally from Albany, NY, he has previously lived in New York City and Chicago, and currently resides in Raleigh, NC.

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