It seems that the first posting of UUCA News4Leaders was well-received.  We even got a few comments.  We like comments.  We like it even better when a conversation develops among our readers through the comments.  So, feel free to comment on a comment.  We really want to hear from our leaders on all kinds of topics.

How about a little discussion about communications?  As you know, we’ve been experimenting with our publications, trying to give our congregants the information they want while 1) keeping our Communications Specialist’s work time to 40 hours per week, 2) dramatically reducing postal mailing, 3) reducing copying costs when we can and 4) trying to protect members from too much email.  We know we don’t have it right yet.

One of the things we struggle with is the tension between every leader’s desire to get their word out and the tolerance/attention level of our congregants for our messages. Here are some of the things we talk about in staff meetings:

In worship

If a person comes to UUCA to worship as a religious community, do they really want to hear 15 minutes of announcements and skits each week?  Well, OK, maybe not 15.  Five?  Well, who will get the 5 minutes?  How do we choose?  And WHEN will that five minutes happen?  Five minutes BEFORE the official start of the service?  At the end?  Shall we reduce the sermon to 15 minutes to fit in announcements?  We’ve chosen the most conservative option we can which is to RARELY have a special announcement and keep the number of announcements mentioned by the worship leader to a minimum.  Does that feel about right?

In the order of service

All the information about all the upcoming events of the church show up in the Thursday enews.  The enews gets sent to more than 900 people.  Do we really need to print on Sundays the very thing everyone received on Thursday?  (Yes, we need to accommodate the 20 people we know do not receive email.)  Why do leaders WANT inserts in the Order of Service?  Do our congregants actually respond better when they get a separate sheet of paper in their order of service?  Who gets inserts?  Anyone that asks?  How do we prioritize?

In the newsletter

In addition to all the information that appears in the Thursday enews, we include a complete schedule for children’s religious education, “columns” by the lead minister, assistant minister, LRE director and board chair.    Is this redundant?  Why do we duplicate information in the monthly newsletter and the Thursday enews?

At the present time, the newsletter is laid out for printing.  It would be more logical for the newsletter to be laid out for easier reading on a computer.  How might that feel?  And then what would we send to the 20 or so non-email members/friends?  We are thinking about changing the monthly newsletter columns by paid staff and the board chair to a website blog and then creating a website-based “newsletter” of all the upcoming events that would be updated weekly.  How might that feel?

Overall philosophy

Are these the right questions?

1)      What do our congregants want to know and how do we make that information easily accessible for them?

2)      How do we gain our congregants’ attention and move them to act on what we’re offering or asking?

It’s Not All about the Database

As a staff, we’re feeling as though we aren’t doing a good job of communicating even though we now use more communications outlets than ever before.  But somehow a great new website, a monthly newsletter, a weekly enews blast, and a Facebook page are still not helping us help you.  So, we’re trying an additional outlet. 

This is the first edition of a “memo” to the lay leaders of the congregation.  It is being sent to all folks listed in the Leaders’ List as well as all leaders of Small Groups.   The plan is that this will come out 1 or 2 times per month, on an irregular schedule.  We want you to respond when you feel so moved.  Sometimes we, as staff, feel as though we are operating in a vacuum, despite the fact that our only reason for being here is to help the congregation become what it wants to be.  So, if there is something in this edition that sparks a suggestion or response, go ahead and send it.  We are happy to hear from our leaders! 

Unless otherwise noted, these news memos are written by Linda Topp.

As a leader of a small group or a committee you have learned that the office staff is trying to keep track of the participants in your group.  We keep saying that we need the information for our database.  “But why?” you ask.  Here’s the story.

Three years ago the members of the Board of Trustees were trying to determine who exactly at UUCA are active participants in the life of the congregation.  We certainly don’t take attendance on Sunday mornings and aside from knowing which people are paying on their annual commitments, we could not say whether 50 or 500 people were actively engaged in adult RE programs, small groups, choir, committees or anything else.

So, the Board allocated $25,000 to establish a fund called “Technology Upgrade” which would give the congregation the capability to identify and track participation.  The Board charged the Executive with coming up with a way of answering the question, “How many UUCA members and friends are actively participating?”  Using the funding allocated by the Board, we purchased additional software and training in order to enhance the database system we were already using to track membership status and giving history.

We now have an upgraded database (you know it as MY INFO) but that is only half the picture.  Without leaders letting us know who their active participants are, we still have no idea if we are serving 50 or 500 different people.

The database has other cool features, too.  We have the capability right now to have an online photo directory.  All we need is for individuals or families to upload their own photos into their own record in MY INFO.  When we need to recruit people for special projects, we can search on various interests or skills fields to find folks.  But of course, we need to input these interests and skills into the database first, and we haven’t even tried to make that happen because of the resistance we are getting for all things computer-related.

So, here are some of the questions that the staff is mulling:

  • Is there another way to find the answer to the question, “How many UUCA members and friends are actively participating in the life of the congregation?”  Or, how can we get our leaders to input data to track participation in their groups?
  • “Attendance” isn’t exactly what we are tracking, so is there some other way to find out who is “active” in any group or committee and if there is, how could we enter that in our database?  (We don’t want our computer program to dictate how we do things, but if we can’t figure out how to capture and sort data that we’ve collected, it doesn’t really help us.)
  • Is “number of people actively participating” even an important question?  (I think so because without that sort of feedback we don’t know where to best allocate our resources—but I could be wrong.)
  • Why are many congregants so resistant (or oblivious?) to using MY INFO?  For building a database of interests and skills, instead of asking people to use MY INFO, what if we asked members/friends to fill out either online or paper forms similar to those that new members fill out and have volunteers input the data?  Could we find volunteers to do that?  Are people resistant to the computer, to the MY INFO user interface, or to the idea of being “tracked?”
  • How can we find volunteers to take photos and upload them to the database instead of asking individual members to do it themselves?  Seems like having a photo directory would be incredibly useful to more people than me!