Using Email in Conflicted Situations

Most of us now depend daily on email to get church & non-profit business done.  And most of the time, it’s a great communications tool for us.

But in situations of conflict, email can be incredibly destructive.  We can use language that we wouldn’t use in person.  We can’t read the body language of either the writer or the reader.  Humor or sarcasm can be easily mis-read.

“Email is not a conflict resolution tool,” writes Susan Nienaber from the Alban Institute.  Her article “Is E-mail the New Parking Lot?” offers helpful insights and suggestions for dealing with email during conflict.  It’s worth a read before you find yourself in a situation of conflict.

Print Google Calendar

printmycalI recommend Google calendar to all of my clients because it is easy to use, easy to keep updated (even to allow several people to make updates), and easy to embed in websites.  BUT, Google calendar’s one big drawback was printing out your calendar in month-view for print publications like newsletters.  If you had long event titles, they would truncate, and there was no choice about fonts or sizes.

But PrintMyCal changes all that!  You download and install this free little Java app on your desktop, then one-time set up your Google calendar.  Select your calendar, the month you want, and click “Go”.  Your calendar opens as an .rtf document in your default word processing application (Microsoft Word for me).  From there, it can be edited for fonts, etc.  For now, PrintMyCal is still a little rough graphically in default, but you can make whatever changes you need.  Also, so far, it’s only available in 8.5×11 format — hopefully a 8.5×14 format will come soon!  They have a short overview video on their site.  Do check out PrintMyCal!

[For transparency, I am not an affiliate of PrintMyCal.  I do think you should make a $5 donation on the site to the developer though!]

Add Someone to a FB Message

facebook logoEver start a conversation by Facebook message and realize that you should have included someone?  Or, been included on someone’s mass message, and feel helpless to get out of getting an email in your inbox every time one of the twenty other people in the message makes a response?  I sure have wanted both of those things!  And I just discovered you can do them!

You can add new people to a FB message.  Just be aware that the new person you add will be able to see the entire conversation history.

Here’s how:

  1. Open the conversation.
  2. Open the Actions menu.
  3. Select “Add people.”
  4. Type the names of people you’d like to add. Note that anyone you add will be able to see all previous messages in the conversation.
  5. Click the “Add People” button.

You can also take yourself out of messages that aren’t relevant.  Here’s how:

  1. Open the conversation.
  2. Open the Actions menu.
  3. Select “Leave Conversation.”

If you need a visual tutorial, FB has one here.

Designing Emails for Mobile Devices

SmartphonesNot only do you have to consider the basics of writing emails to a particular audience (what can you assume, what do you have to explain, etc.), now you have to plan for your email recipients reading your email on different devices.  More and more of us read emails on our mobile devices, but not just our mobile devices– we also read them on our desktops.  And smart email senders do their best to make reading in both situations easier.

For instance, while some mobile devices (like the iPhone) automatically resize the email to the width of the screen, other operating systems don’t, leaving recipients to scroll back and forth to read your email.

The folks at Litmus have designed a really nice infographic to help you think about some of the challenges of designing emails for mobile devices.  While some of the info there might be too technical for general audience readers, this infographic does give a good sense of the challenges for putting together emails that will be effective on mobile devices.  And it’s always good to know what you’re up against, even if you need help to meet the challenge!


Migrating from a FB Profile to Page

Three times in the last few weeks, I’ve ended up explaining  that organizations should not be using a Facebook personal profile, they should be using a Fan Page.  The Facebook “terms of service” (all that fine print that few of us read, but all click “ok” to) limit personal profiles to individuals.

Yes, I know that there are a good number of violations out there, but those terms of service also give FB the right to shut down the profiles of violators without warning!   I’m aware of at least two instances where this has happened.  Those organizations lost all their friends and all their posts– poof!  You don’t want to risk losing so much.

Additionally, lots of people intuitively know that organizations using profiles on FB isn’t how it’s “supposed” to work, and when you use a profile for your organization, you lose some social media credibility.  You might feel inept at this, but you certainly don’t want to convey that to your constituents and potential donors.

Facebook Pages are intended as an authorized online presence for offline businesses, brands, performers/celebrities and organizations.  I’ve written before about why non-profit organizations should choose a FB Page over a FB Group.   You’ll discover that while you lose the ability to personal message your friends, you gain a whole lot more functions on a Page.

Unfortunately, there is no place to easily make a switch from a personal profile to a Fan Page.  You will have to put out a little effort and migrate your friends into becoming fans of your Page.

The basic principles are:

  • You should give the process 3-5 weeks.
  • Create a new Fan Page for the organization.  Do this from a personal profile of a real person, not the profile you are going to shut down.  That real person becomes the admin of the Page– and their name & contact info are not visible to fans.
  • Stop posting on the individual profile except to say “come to the Fan Page”, and start posting your interesting content on the Fan page.
  • Announce on the profile that you are moved to a Page and invite folks there to become fans.  Tell them you will shut down this profile on (give date).
  • If people post on the individual profile wall, remind them in a comment that you have moved, and ask them to repost it on the fan page.
  • After the bulk of friends have become fans, you can optionally try to start sending private messages to those who have not migrated–sometimes I call these nagging little messages.  This is time consuming, but will probably result in larger numbers of migrations.
  • At the end of the period, with plenty of repeated announcements (“this individual profile will be deleted on Oct. 1—join our Fan Page”), on the announced end date, delete the individual profile.

That’s it.  As always, if you have questions about your specific situation, feel free to leave a comment here on the blog or email me.


Effective Home Pages for Churches

While I work with a variety of non-profits & small businesses, a good number of my clients are churches.  There are a few unique things about new media communication in this niche of non-profits, and I’ve been thinking lately about websites, and most especially about the home pages of church websites.

Churches create websites for at least two different groups of people– members and insiders on the one hand, and a target demographic of prospective attenders/members on the other.  The content of the website should be skewed at least 75% toward those prospective attenders.  As I talk to pastors today, almost everyone visiting their church on their own (without being brought by a friend or family member) has looked at the website of the church before ever showing up in person.  So your website is your chance to indicate whether it might be a “good fit” for folks.  And the Home page of your site is the first thing they see.

There are of course, other things to think about site-wide, but the Home page deserves a bit of special attention.

Think of your Home page as your welcome mat, or at least the entryway to your home.  When we visit someone’s home for the first time, we both consciously and unconsciously pick up clues about the family that lives in the home.  Are they more formal or relaxed?  Does the home feel sterile and unlived in, or so lived in that the messiness of daily life overwhelms the visitor?  Are there evidences of the family’s identity: cultural or religious clues (like a Jewish mezuzah on the doorpost, or African prints on the wall); books they are reading; whether they invite you first to the living room or to the kitchen?  Your Home page is your opportunity — in words and images to give both a welcome and share who you are as a faith community.

In both words and “feel”, your home page should:

  • Convey a warm welcome, and it’s design should connect with your target outreach demographic (for example, if your target is active retirees, your site will have larger fonts that if your target group is under-30’s).
  • Briefly tell something about who you are.  Churches are not one-size-fits-all, and church “shoppers” are looking for clues that they might fit in at your church: theologically, generationally, worship styles, opportunities for learning or service, even dress styles (formal/casual).  Express your congregation’s personality–for example, use humor if that’s who you are.  The real challenge is brevity–site visitors are usually scanning, and will skip reading long blocks of text.  Save the longer story of how you got to be the way you are for your “About us” page.
  • Have the worship times, in bold, visible on the opening screen with no scrolling.  And keep this up to date! If you are changing the time of next Sunday’s service, make sure that’s up on the home page by the Monday previous.
  • Provide easy links to other information that might be of interest: a “visitors’ FAQ” (frequently asked questions) if you have one; a description of your worship style (especially if you have more than one style of service).

Here are a few things to avoid on the home page:

  • Any outdated content.  Remove any dated content as soon as possible.  If you list the sermon title, scriptures, or preacher for “next Sunday”, this content ought to go up on Monday morning.
  • Put promotional announcements (“Car Wash Fundraiser this Sunday!”) in a sidebar if needed, but avoid this type of content in the main area of your home page.  You wouldn’t start forcing your kids’ soccer schedules or your household budget into the hands of a first time visitor to your home, so don’t do it with website visitors.
  • Ok, so this isn’t a “don’t” but a caution: Think twice about putting a flash or rotating images on your home page.  Depending on how they are constructed, they may pose issues for smart phone users.  Depending on how you put them together they can slow down page load times.  But the larger issue: most of the time, these slide shows are just not well done, and come off looking cheesy or worse.

I’m interested in dialogue here.  Anyone have any other Home page tips?



Facebook Pages Guide

facebook logo

Got a Facebook Page for your organization?  Facebook is making more publicly available guides and tutorials for helping Pages improve both their quality and responses from their fans.  I just found today the Facebook Pages Guide.

Don’t let the fact that “ads” is in the URL scare you off– this is a practical guide for figuring out how to best utilize Pages.  One of the best suggestions is creating a “conversational calendar” or posting schedule.

This guide is written for businesses, but most of the suggestions can “translate” into the non-profit arena.

Let me know in the comments: do you find this guide helpful?  What things don’t translate well?

Private FB Group for Youth Safety?

You (or your board or your insurance company) might have concerns about the saftey and liability of your organization when you connect with minors through social networks like Facebook.  In some situations, these concerns might be fairly high– for example that a parent who has been court-ordered to have no contact will “find” their child through event postings on your FB pages.  Under more “normal” circumstances, most of us realize that many youth are already on FB and we hope their parents are monitoring the FB use of their children.

If you wanted to do something organizationally to increase youth safety, what could you do?  You could create a private FB group for your youth.  A FB group set to private means that the Administrator of the group has to approve all members who ask to join the group, and the wall and posts of the group are not visible to anyone but group members.

Realize that a private group comes with several costs:

  1. You can private message on FB with private group members, but no group posts will appear in any news feeds–you will lose that avenue for promoting your group.
  2. Groups are not visible or accessible on smart phones, which may not be a big deal today, but as more youth begin to have smart phones, this will be more of a set-back.  (And remember, once you’ve established yourself with a group or a page– to switch, you will have to start over.)  [This is not true any longer!]
  3. One less visible cost is the sense of inhospitality that is conveyed when a group is “closed”.

If you do make a group private, you might explain why you are doing it: “To protect the safety of minors online, this group is private– but if you’re in grades 9-12, we’d love to have you join us!  Send us a request to join!”

What do you think?  How are you trying to protect the safety of youth online as you connect with them through social media?



Even when we should know better, sometimes we let our guard down online.  This last week, I got phished.  Phishing is when malicious users trick you (sometimes even without realizing it) into giving them sensitive information like usernames, passwords or credit card numbers.

This last weekend, I saw a post on a friend’s Facebook wall, by someone I’ve seen post there before– so I recognized their name, and thought I could trust them.  They were letting our mutual friend know that Southwest Airlines was giving discount coupons away on their Facebook page, and provided a short-link.  It looked legitimate.  “Wow!  Cool!” I thought, “I fly Southwest sometimes, that would be great!”  So I clicked the link.  It “hung” and never seemed to go through– I was mildly disappointed and gave up.

Of course, what had happened before I did that, was that the friend-of-a-friend (the one posting on my friend’s wall) had also done the very same thing, and when they did it– and when I did it — that action gave the malicious phisher access to my Facebook username & password.  Most likely the phisher has this all automated, so that very soon after I gave away my info, all my friends started getting the same fake messages on their walls.

Sometimes, the phishing attempts are clumsy and clearly not on the up-and-up, but other times, they look very legitimate.   The phisher/hacker is all about trying to get you to click the link or send the email.

Do they just do this for kicks?  No.  The phisher/hacker is hoping to gather enough information to perpetrate identity theft so they can make money.

If you’ve been phished, what should you do?   On social media like Facebook and Twitter, it usually is enough to simply change your password.  This will hopefully get the hacker & their bots out of your account.   You may need to click a “forgot my password” link to get your password reset.  This normally generates emails to the email that you used in creating your account, which is a good way to keep track of changes to your account.

While I hope we can all avoid being phished, if you’re online much, it’s almost unavoidable.  Hopefully, now you know what to do.  Anyone have phishing stories to tell in the comments?


Effective Church Websites


Here’s an article I read recently:  “12 Ways to Create a Successful, Effective Church Website“.  I don’t know Tom McFarlin, but he is pretty on target with good advice here for effective sites for all kinds of non-profits.

Just for clarity, when I read tip number 9, “Show your online giving details”, I thought at first Tom meant display giving totals– you know “Last week’s offering: $355.79″.  Please don’t!  What Ben means is: show clearly how to contribute online.  And please do that!

I’m interested in knowing how you think your church or or organization’s website is doing with regard to these tips.  Please let us know in the comments!


Constant Contact

Constant Contact


Christian churches may be interested in the resource Spiritual Formation Newsletter Content, and online resource that makes available short articles on spiritual formation appropriate for email newsletters.