Synagogues and Jewish Nonprofits Should Upgrade Communications in 21st Century

“Because that’s how we’ve always done things!” I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard a professional in a synagogue or Jewish nonprofit utter those words. For some reason, synagogues and Jewish nonprofits are very late adopters to new technology. Even synagogues that have invested in expensive, dynamic websites are still sending out hard copy flyers in the mail, which is not economically prudent, effective or efficient.

Donors to synagogues and Jewish nonprofits have become more focused in the past several years on how much of their donation goes to overhead costs and how much is allocated to fulfilling the organization’s actual mission. Websites like Charity Navigator and Guidestar provide the percentages making it easier for us to know just how far our charitable gifts will go. This leads many to wonder how much of that $18 donation to your favorite local organization or congregation in tribute to your friend’s beloved mother goes to sending out the tribute card informing them of your generosity.

In some cases, it might be as much as 10% of that small donation going to overhead, and with today’s high tech communications it’s quite unnecessary too. In the technology age when most charitable organizations make it possible to donate online, the next step in the process is very low-tech. Rather than sending a nice automated e-mail to the recipient of your charitable tribute, most organizations allocate a lot of resources to the process — spending an employee’s time preparing a tribute card, printing out the card and envelope, and then paying for the postage to mail it out. The funds used in that low-tech processing could have gone directly to the cause. So why don’t these nonprofits and synagogues adapt to the new technology? “Because that’s how we’ve always done things,” they’ll explain.

 

Clip of a Constant Contact newsletter from Adat Shalom Synagogue in Detroit, Michigan

While some organizations have gotten out of that mindset, most are still stuck there. And it’s not only the online tributes that could easily be adapted to quicker, more cost efficient methods. Jewish nonprofits and synagogues have been slow to embrace new media, but in 2014 most have now begun to focus more on weekly e-mail newsletters, more dynamic websites, and reaching their membership through social networks like Facebook. But they haven’t fully adapted to the new technology and communication. Many organizations are still sending out correspondence by snail mail (traditional) rather than sending via e-mail. The cost of postage is continuing to rise and that means additional costs for organization’s budgets, not to mention an extra couple of days for the recipients to receive the correspondence.

Even though most correspondence between nonprofits and their membership is via electronic means (mostly e-mail), postage and paper (i.e., copy paper, letterhead and envelopes) are still factoring into the operating budget. Many synagogues still feel it is necessary to mail paper flyers on colored copy paper out to members, afraid that older members don’t use e-mail and the people have grown accustomed to receiving event information that way. Many nonprofits still send monthly newsletters and annual reports to their entire donor base despite the unnecessary cost, even though an electronic copy is much easier and cost effective. Rather than sending paper invitations, using online invitation applications like Evite, Paperless Post and Facebook make organizing attendee responses much easier as well (and studies show that events are better attended when invitees can see who is attending).

In 2014 there is no excuse for a nonprofit organization or a synagogue not to have e-mail addresses for all of its members and donors. Some might appreciate receiving a hard copy newsletter each month, but the associated cost is extraneous. If individuals prefer a printed copy of the newsletter or event flyers, they can print out the PDF (portable document format) at their own cost on their printer and then attach it to the fridge or read it in the bathroom as they wish. Further, they can print multiple copies if they choose (a second copy for a friend or for the bulletin board at the office).

This might prove to be a difficult transition for some organizations, but their supporters will get used to it and will come to appreciate the cost savings. Most of these nonprofits are already on their way to being paper-free by communicating through e-mail newsletters like Constant Contact and Mailchimp, increasing their engagement on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and texting members event reminders.

Sending out 16-20 page glossy newsletters is not only a dispensable expense, it’s also not environmentally prudent. Nonprofits will be improving their carbon footprint in addition to reallocating funds by focusing more on electronic communication. It’s only a matter of time until we look back nostalgically on the time when we received correspondence from our congregations and the charitable organizations we support in the traditional mail. Reading our monthly bulletins and annual reports on issuu.com, responding to event invitations on Facebook, and downloading event flyers from Pinterest will become as second nature as checking our e-mail, sharing news on Facebook, and making online donations.

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Jewish Techs: The Jewish Technology Blog

This blog looks at how modern technology affects Jewish life, particularly the impact of the Internet on Jews across the globe. The Internet has made the Jewish community seem smaller. The Jewish Techs blog, written by blogger Rabbi Jason Miller (The Techie Rabbi), explores the places where Jewish culture, education and faith intersect with technology. Of course, like anything, Jews will continue to ask if technology is good or bad for the Jews – the age old question of our people. Good or bad, it is undisputed that technology has changed Jewish life. If you’re Jewish or interested in technology or both… you’ll enjoy the conversation. Thanks for reading the Jewish Techs blog.

The Techie Rabbi – Rabbi Jason Miller

Rabbi Jason Miller, the Techie RabbiJason Miller is NOT your typical rabbi. Known as the Techie Rabbi, he launched Access Computer Technology in 2010 and has grown it into a full-scale technology firm that provides social media marketing consulting and web design in addition to IT support. Ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary a decade ago, Rabbi Jason has made a name for himself as a popular blogger, social media expert, educator and entrepreneur. Based in Detroit, his congregation includes more than a million people who read his blog and follow him in Cyberspace. He began the Jewish Techs blog in January 2010 as the New York Jewish Week's technology expert.

An entrepreneurial rabbi and an alum of Clal's "Rabbi Without Borders" fellowship, Jason Miller is a rabbi and thought leader whose personal blog has been viewed by millions. The Detroit Free Press called him “the most tech-savvy Jewish leader" and the Huffington Post ranked him among the top Jewish Twitter users in the world. A social media expert, Rabbi Jason is a popular speaker and writer on technology and its effect on the Jewish world. He writes the "Jewish Techs" blog for The Jewish Week and the monthly "Jews in the Digital Age" column for the Detroit Jewish News.

Miller won the 2012 Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the West Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce and is one of the winners of a Jewish Influencer award from the National Jewish Outreach Program.