It was a pleasure to meet with you to discuss PTS’ forthcoming website redesign. A vibrant, evolving, and engaged community like PTS should have a website that reflects everything the congregation is and aspires to be. It’d be an honor to work with you to build a new site befitting Temple Sholom and it’s members.
What follows is a formal proposal for the project, including a description of how I plan to move forward and a little information about me and The Motech Agency.
I intend my proposals to be part of a conversation. That means that this document isn’t written in stone, and that the prices and project parameters can be adjusted to meet any needs or limitations I haven’t considered. Please be in touch if you have any questions, or if you’d like to discuss possible changes to this document.
Peninsula Temple Sholom (PTS), a major Reform congregation in Burlingame, California. Community members regard PTS as “an inclusive Jewish community where everyone can find peace, inspiration, and their own connection to Judaism.”
PTS’ current website utilizes the Joomla content management system and RocketTheme for page templates. It is updated (primarily) by a lay leader. The site’s templates seem to be ill-equipped to easily display more than the most basic formatting for text and images, resulting in webpages that feature textual information accompanied by links which tells visitors, “Click here to download this information in a colorful PDF file.” Furthermore, the site’s general design — though not particularly “offensive” or egregious from a graphic-design perspective — is in need of complete overhaul. A new design needs to appeal to site visitors used to websites with far more “current” and clean user interfaces, and it needs to be compatible with the smaller touch-interface screens found on mobile devices. (This compatibility would improve user experience, and would also be advantageous for the site’s search engine rank, since Google recently announced that their search algorithm would give preference to mobile-optimized sites.)
Though the congregation’s public (and internal) organizational calendars are maintained by Temple staff using the cloud-based CalendarWiz service, the embeddable calendars generated by CalendarWiz are not compatible with the site’s design templates. As a result, calendar events must be re-entered individually into the website’s backend. Presumably, this is time consuming and it provides extra opportunities for human-error, resulting in incorrectly inputted information.
(It should be noted that PTS utilizes Google Apps for Nonprofits to provide organizational email, though the congregation does not use Google Calendars — a part of the Google Apps suite — for institutional calendaring and resource allocation. It seems that some of Google Calendars’ allocation features were unavailable when the Temple began using Google Apps, prompting the adoption of CalendarWiz for Temple-wide calendaring.)
In addition to the Temple’s main website, PTS’ preschool and religious school each operate independent sites for their programs. These sites were created because the respective schools’ directors each needed an online space where information could be easily updated, and that offered features like multiple blogs (for preschool classes, for example) and easy file hosting for important documents like PDF files of registration forms.
Certainly, the religious school and preschool sites were meant to temporarily address immediate needs. (Obviously, these “sub-sites” would be part of the Temple’s main website for a number of reasons: consistency of design/branding and messaging, clarity of oversight, search engine optimization, simplification of the visitor experience… just to name a few.) But insofar as they were created in response to the insufficiencies of the main website, these independent sites illuminate some of the immediate challenges that must be addressed by a new Temple website:
- In order for it to serve as an effective tool for disseminating information to congregants (and others) the site needs to allow for Temple staff to easily (read: in minimal time, and without requiring intensive specialized training) post updates and other important content.
- To these degree that it’s possible, the site needs to integrate with systems currently in use by the Temple. For example: The public calendar on the site needs to automatically display designated events (and updates to them) as they appear in the Temple’s internal calendar system.
- The site needs to offer a variety of features (and/or the flexibility to add new functionalities as needed) in order to provide staff with adequate (if not excellent!) tools for communicating with congregants. For example, the site should include the option to create multiple “blogs” like those in use for individual classes on the preschool site.
- The site should be able to accommodate “sub-sites” for certain parts of the Temple — like the preschool and religious school — as well as for those events, programs, or other areas of the synagogue’s operation where such a functionality would be beneficial. These “sub-sites” would each have a main “homepage” (or, in actuality, a “sub-homepage”) and their own organizational/navigational structure (or “sub-nav”), and the ability to integrate unique design elements like color palettes, departmental logos, or event-specific graphics. At the same time, the existing school websites highlight the need for these sub-sites to share consistent “branding” with the rest of the Temple site.
- The site needs to have a robust system for designating levels of “permission” for staff members (and anyone else with “backend” access). Such a system would allow specific members of staff — like school directors and school admin staff — to have the ability to update their own sections of the site without concern that they could inadvertently make changes to other site content.
This proposal is intended to address the challenges presented by the website’s “status quo,” and endeavors to imagine a new website for PTS that provides adequate functionality for staff and that publicly presents the synagogue in the best possible light. Our imagined result is a website that is well-suited to serve PTS’ needs today and far into the foreseeable future.
Goals of the Project
In my conversations with Karen Wisialowski, chief community officer, the following primary goals emerged:
1. Ease of Management.
The site needs to be incredibly simple to update and maintain. Temple staff and leadership need to be able to keep information current (and add new information) without it being a confusing, difficult, time-consuming, or technologically complicated task. Ideally, site content should integrate easily with the synagogue’s other communication vehicles (print newsletter and email bulletin, for example) so as to streamline staff workflow. (See #4, below, for more on this.)
Furthermore, the site needs to allow for certain staff and lay leaders to manage their own sections of the site (or “sub-sites” in some cases). Currently, the religious school and preschool are operating their own sites using an outside web provider. The new site should negate the need for this sort of segmentation, while allowing for certain areas of the site to be ‘semi-autonomous.’
2. Telling PTS’ Story.
The new site needs to effectively reflect the unique qualities of Peninsula Temple Sholom, with an emphasis on the congregation’s mission and core values.
In order to achieve this goal, the site also needs to convey the enormous range of programs and opportunities for community engagement at PTS while at the same time presenting the synagogue as a cohesive community. Given that the site needs to allow for (at least a few of) the aforementioned ‘semi-autonomous’ areas/sub-sites, the larger site design needs to have a naturally (even effortless) sense of visual consistency.
3. Accessibility of Information (for All Site Visitors).
One of the site’s primary objectives is to be a clearinghouse of information for Temple members. That information needs to be simple for site users to find, organized as intuitively as possible, and easy to use.
Furthermore, non-members (especially prospective members) visiting the site need to be able to quickly find relevant and accurate information about the Temple. The site needs to be simple to navigate, while projecting warmth, inclusivity, excitement, and professionalism.
There are perhaps numerous sub-groups within these primary audiences (members and non-members). From a “big picture” perspective, however, the site redesign’s focus may be understood as a balancing act between these two. In many (perhaps most) cases, the needs of both groups are similar (if not identical) or complementary. For example, both members and non-members require site navigation that’s intuitive and clear. In areas where the needs of each audience differ, the site’s design and organizational structure need to be flexible enough to effectively serve both.
4. A Tool for Temple Management
The site needs to serve as a primary tool for various aspects of the Temple’s communications and day-to-day management. Wherever possible and prudent, it needs to incorporate existing administrative tools (the synagogue database, email system, calendaring and room/resource management, online forms, event RSVPs, etc.). In cases where it makes sense, the site may incorporate solutions that replace some existing tools. Regardless, the site needs to integrate with existing systems organically and with minimal ‘friction.’