Answering a Few “Frequently Asked Questions”

This post is part of a weekly series exploring the “Better Together Branding Initiative” a diocesan-wide project helping parishes refresh their brands and digital presence.

Answering a Few “Frequently Asked Questions”

Readers, it has truly been another full week of projects, and progress. I am so grateful for this platform and the opportunity to provide insight into the day-to-day work we’re tackling in the Communications office. Our Bishop’s goals for the diocese are ambitious, to say the least! Our efforts in diocesan and parish branding, parish website development, strategic communication plans for ministries across the diocese and future-planning for the support of parish communication goals is no small feat.

Your patience with me as I comb through many emails, voicemails and phone calls is deeply appreciated. The response to these updates is encouraging; so many of you are asking insightful questions, reaching out for suggestions to better reach your communities, and sharing helpful suggestions and stories with me. I greatly value your feedback, and am striving to respond as quickly as possible when those roll in!

Today, I want to walk through a handful of “frequently asked questions” I’ve received in phone calls with parishes and by email. While I am typing-typing away at my desk, many of you are eager to hear about timelines, next-steps and details; many of these items are coming into focus now, and I’m happy to share what I know with you!

Are we changing the parish bulletins or redesigning them together?

Parish bulletins are an important communication tool in our parishes, and typically the main (sometimes the only) way parish news, ministry, prayer requests and events are shared. I know parish bulletins are a staple, and a “labor of love,” for the many talented bulletin editors and parish secretaries in our diocese.

Many parishes have inquired about updating or improving their parish bulletins. Last week, Helen Osman shared some thoughts on how we’re using data to inform our communication efforts; and she included some specific numbers on parish bulletins, which you might find as a helpful starting point.

Looking at parish bulletins through this lens, we’re exploring which vehicles best disperse important information to parishioners, a complex audience containing a very wide range of ages, backgrounds and interests.

This is one reason I am so excited about the parish website development project and database management options we’re developing with Blackbaud – because I truly believe using that website as a hub of information will extend our parishes’ reach and expand the capabilities of using digital platforms, such as email, social media, or even texts as more engaging ways to get the right information to the right people. Relying on an updated website as that hub will simplify the workflow for many parish office staffers in getting that next event, news piece or request to parishioners in the quickest, most efficient way possible.

That doesn’t mean parish bulletins are to be overlooked; but it does mean our sights are currently set on designing the most user-friendly, effective and beautiful websites possible that are also easy for parish website administrators to maintain. This is taking up much of my focus this summer. Having said that, I am documenting how parishes are currently designing and producing their bulletins to better understand which options may be available to our diocese as a whole. If you would like to shoot me an email explaining your parish bulletin workflow, I would very much appreciate that!

As I work on that list and get my bearings on bulletin options, I am especially cognizant of the effort and work that go into these pieces.

As the Director of Parish Communications, my main goal is to improve how we connect with parishioners, reach out beyond our Sunday Mass-goers to those on the edges, welcoming them back into what Bishop McKnight fondly calls our parishes: centers of mercy and charity. Bulletins are certainly included in that, and I am folding them into the larger picture we’re working with.

If you’d like to learn a little bit more about our communications strategy, I recommend this presentation put together by the Director of Communications for our diocese, Helen Osman.

What progress has been made on parish websites, and when can we expect to get ours?

The parish website development project is moving right along! We are on-target for our build-out of what we’re calling the “Parish Template Website,” and it is looking great!

Developing this template site has been complicated, challenging and fruitful. We have pulled together best practices and top content from parishes across our diocese and strategy & insight from developers at Blackbaud to provide a very comprehensive template which will be then customized for each parish.

Here are a few perks that come with using this template:

  • It is attractive, easy to navigate, optimized for website and mobile viewing, and will work in concert with the new branded logos that our first-wave of parishes have developed.
  •  It “links” back to this diocesan site in a way that allows us to share news, events, church teaching and diocesan-wide initiatives automatically. This cuts down on the time website administrators need to spend on high-level content.
  • It comes pre-loaded by us with a LOT of helpful content, including church teachings and diocesan articles that are accurate and relevant to your parishioners and others visiting your site.

So, what’s the timeline? We’re wrapping up the development of this parish template site, and then it will be handed back over to our Blackbaud development partners to test the usability and compliance with ADA and other factors. This is good news, because that means we’ll be not only presenting well designed, helpful relevant content, but it will also meet all standards for security, accessibility and optimization needed.

I am anticipating this part of the project being wrapped up in July, and then we are on to the next step: rounding out parish-specific content for the parishes that have signed up to be included in our “first-wave” of parish websites!

What kind of training or support will be provided by the Diocese for these new websites and Blackbaud databases?

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Blackbaud is heavily invested in handing us products that work FOR us, not products we have to work hard to understand or maintain. We are working with them now to set up a training plan for parish website administrators and other staffers who will be working within Blackbaud systems in the near future. Blackbaud’s training is hands-on, facilitated by experts on their end, and will be supported by Chancery staff members.

Remember, one of the major advantages of rolling out diocesan-wide, well-built systems is that the Chancery office becomes well-positioned to serve parishes as a supportive resource. Because our staff will be well-trained in the processes that parishes will also utilize, we become more useful as a resource to pastors and parish staff members; and we are looking forward to our workflows and tasks being stream-lined and easy-to-understand for all!

I say this a lot to the people I get to touch base with over the phone or see in person: I view my own position as a supportive role to each parish. While the “Director” portion of my title does carry the responsibility of seeing the big-picture of parish communications, I believe it also carries the responsibility of seeing our initiatives succeed in each parish, and I am personally invested in ensuring the success of our parish website administrators and communicators.

I want to provide training and support that helps each of these positions feel confident and knowledgeable about their tasks, and provide materials and continued education opportunities to keep us all up-to-date and well connected with each other as we travel down the road of digital communications.

How I my parish get involved if we’re not in the “first-wave”of new parish websites?

Many new inquiries for getting involved in parish website developments are rolling into my office lately – which is so wonderful. We are going to open up applications for a second round of parish websites at the end of the summer, and establish a date for completion of that second wave at that time.

If your parish is interested in applying to that second round, here is a loose idea of the steps we’re following in developing a new parish website:

  1. Complete the Parish Branding Process, which includes working together as a parish in a discovery phase to determine how your community comes together to establish a mark, logo and style guide that unites your parish visually.
  2. Apply for parish website development and designate a parish website administrator to work directly with the Director of Parish Communications.
  3. Walk through the discovery process for your parish website, which includes an inventory of your parish’s current website, or the development of content “from scratch” if your parish does not currently use a website
  4. Designate who will customize the parish website template, receive training and best practices to maintain that site, and attend training sessions or meetings to stay on course for best practices and updates as needed.

If this is something you feel your parish is ready to explore, I’d encourage you to reach out to me! I am keeping a running list of parishes who have not yet walked through the branding process, and am organizing a way for them to begin the brand discovery process. I’ll be transparent here, much of this process feels like laying down track as the train rolls along, but so far we have been met with patience, understanding and excitement from the parishes on this list!

What can my parish do in the meantime to prepare?

For parishes in our “first-wave” of branding & website development; I encourage you to hang in there and follow this blog along as we post updates on projects. Also, be on the lookout for a newsletter from me soon with a few next steps and considerations regarding content for your parish websites.

For parishes who are not in that “first-wave” I would encourage you to begin exploring these ideas with your pastors and parish staff members. Feel free to show them the articles coming out of our Communications office and direct them to me with questions or for more information.

At the core of each of our initiatives is a vision of parishes united, no longer feeling like islands separated from each other, and operating as the center of Christs’ mercy and charity for their communities. If we are to be “fishers of men” then how we communicate, connect with and engage the faithful, the lapsed, and the unreached deserves our full attention.

I would encourage each parish to get the wheels turning on this: does our parish understand our mission? Are we united with a common vision for the church in the modern world? How are we communicating that mission? How are we reaching out beyond our flock to welcome the stranger?

I will be ruminating and praying on these questions as well.

Until next time!