By Cindy Mindell ~
SOUTHBURY – In an effort to help congregations strengthen their communities online, Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and Darim Online have awarded social-media coaching and consulting grants to four U.S. synagogues, including one from Connecticut.
B’nai Israel of Southbury is among the grantees and will receive eight hours of consulting with a coach from Darim Online, a nonprofit organization that provides social-media and leadership strategies to help Jewish organizations succeed in the “connected age.”
“Social media is only a tool,” says Lisa Colton, founder and president of Darim Online. “Successful congregations of the future will understand the evolving nature of society, community and individual needs, and be nimble enough to adapt to this changing landscape. Thus, we are interested in working with congregations that are culturally ripe and ready to take advantage of these new tools to achieve their visions.”
The grant applicants are all participants in URJ’s Social Media Boot Camp, a year-long program currently engaging more than 450 staff and lay leaders from Reform congregations across North America. The recurrent boot camp includes 12 webinars, as well as coaching, consulting, and knowledge-sharing among participants. The applicants were judged on forward-thinking ideas, an alignment with digital culture, and an understanding of how their online efforts will affect their local communities. Participants from the four winning synagogues will share their learning with others in the URJ Social Media Boot Camp and through posts on the URJ blog.
“We are looking forward to providing this valuable service to URJ congregations,” says URJ’s chief operating officer, Barbara Saidel. “Social media tools and strategies are essential for congregations to better engage their communities in this new technological age.”
B’nai Israel’s social-media undertaking began two years ago, when board president Dawn Tendler suggested that the congregation launch a Facebook page. The shul’s Incoming vice president Dr. David Hill recommended updating the synagogue’s website to be more user-friendly, and spearheaded the redesign effort, drawing inspiration from the book, “The Networked Nonprofit.” The synagogue also added a podcast feature to its website, and joined the URJ boot camp last year.
“Social media is a two-way conversation,” says Hill. “To embrace it, we realized that we had to adjust our culture, human resources, and strategies to meet the new needs of our congregants. The idea is, ‘If I subscribe, they’ll hear me.’”
BI plans to open a Twitter account and to tie its social media to that of the Jewish Federation of Western Connecticut, with whom the synagogue shares a building. Hill is also incoming president of the federation.
The other three grant recipients are Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor, Mich.; Temple Sinai of Las Vegas; and Congregation Beth Israel in San Diego.
URJ will open a second round of coaching and consulting grant applications in May. Info: www.urj.org/cong/technology