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Why would you want to use credit cards?

Here’s an example: In the church where I’m a member, we wanted to allow people to use their credit cards when paying for Service Auction purchases a couple of years ago.

How would you go about that?

In a small group where a small number of transactions will be processed, it often doesn’t make sense to set up a merchant credit card account. Beyond the per-transaction fee and the percentage of each transaction taken by the processor, nearly all charge some kind of monthly fee for the service, ranging from $20 to nearly $50 per month.

Where do you start?

In this case, one of the church’s members offered to run the purchases through their business credit card merchant account and write the church a check for that amount less the processing charges.

The auction went well. Several people did opt to use their credit or debit cards. We wrote down all the information and handed it off to be processed.

Unfortunately the member’s business started to go through some changes. Several calls from the church went unheeded. The church didn’t have the money from those Service Auction purchases. Eventually it all resolved but it took several months to collect the money from the transactions that had been processed. It turned out to be a strain on finances and on relationships within the church for a while.

What else might work?

The wiki at www.uuism.net/uuwiki/index.php?title=UU-Money has some questions and a few answers about ways to take donations online, including a write-up on the popular PayPal service. PayPal has been a division of EBay for several years now.

Here are some examples of how it has worked in our District:

1. My church had another occasion to use credit card processing. This time the treasurer and the office administrator set up a PayPal account. Money from this event was available within a few days and was transferred into the church’s bank account. They’re looking at more ways to use PayPal.

2. In 2008, two District groups started a short-term project. The UU Women’s Connection (formerly UU Women’s Federation) and the Women and Religion Committee collaborated, then teamed up with 5 churches spread out across the District to conduct facilitator training sessions for the new “Cakes for the Queen of Heaven” curriculum. There was a small fee to register and they wanted to collect answers to two questions: childcare needs and food allergies. So they set up a PayPal account and a web page where women could register to attend the training sessions. A mail-in form was also available. It turned out that over 80% of the registrants used the online form with the PayPal purchase option. In addition, the information the group wanted was collected. With each registration, PayPal sent a notice immediately so the group knew right away. That made tracking the registration information easy.

3. CMwD office manager Peggy Boccard set up a PayPal account for chalice lighter donations. I set up a page on our website for the “DONATE” button. That makes donating convenient for the people who have pledged to make Chalice Lighter donations.

4. At our District Assembly, we set up a satellite UUA Bookstore. In response to requests to process credit cards, we first tried to use our online registration system to process purchases. While at first it seemed ideal because people who had registered that way would have their information already in the system, the big disadvantage to that was having to log each person in and go through several pages of the registration process to get to the purchase area. Last year we set up a PayPal button for the Bookstore purchases, and with wireless access at the convention center, we were able to process those credit card purchase in a quick and easy manner.

So one good possibility is to use PayPal. With their new recurring payments (subscription) option, it might come in handy once again.

Gretchen Ohmann
CMwD Communications Coordinator

I’ve discovered recently that it’s even EASIER to phone into a conference call with Skype. Then all you have to do is set up the open source Audacity audio recording program (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/) to record audio from “stereo mix” rather than microphone. Et voila! No extra equipment required. Then you can save the Audacity file and edit at your leisure without having to transfer a file from another device. DO mute your microphone on Skype though, since it does tend to create echoes and other unwanted sounds. You do have to have the landline feature on Skype enabled — it takes $10 to buy a bunch of minutes or somewhere around $30 per year for unlimited long-distance dialing.

I get better sound quality and connection on Skype than I do on my [major carrier] cell phone!

In the July Midwesterner I started an article called Ten Practical Things to Tell a New Administrator. I invited readers to share their ideas for practical advice for someone who is new to Church Administration. Please share with us your thoughts.

Peggy Boccard
CMwD Distict Office Manager

When we began the project to find ways to provide Central Midwest District Workshops and other content through the web, Ian challenged us to do so on the same kind of budget that a congregation might have. That is in part because the district only has the kind of budget a medium sized congregation has!

So, instead of going with the high-cost, high-technology options that are available to organizations with much larger budgets, we decided instead to find what would work for what we needed, and keep our costs down.

After a lot of research, and conversations with a few tech-savvy members of district congregations, we chose the following pieces of new equipment for recording audio and video.

Samsung Zoom H-2

This handy little recorder has been exactly what we were looking for, and if I remember it cost us right around $200 Zoom H-2 next to a 10 cent Euro coinbrand new. We did have to buy a cable and an adaptor for it, specifically so that it could be used to record from a telephone.

Here is a link to learn more about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoom_H2_Handy_Recorder

It has four microphones, but it can also record in either two mic-mode or one mic-mode depending on what we are doing with it. It can record in both stereo and mono, and in both the sound quality has been quite surprising. One of the lessons we learned early was that we needed to record in mono when recording workshops on the phone. We also learned that the 4-mic mode was great if you were trying to record a group conversation, but the two-mic mode was much better for recording a presentation and questions (fewer sounds of chairs creaking and feet shuffling). It is in some ways a better recorder than we need for workshops, but it will allow us to record things like music events and the like.

It also plugs directly into every congregation sound system I have found, and allows us to digitally record through their system. As far as I know, the Unitarian Church of Evanston is using the same recorder for events in their church.

Canon ZR-950 Digital Video Recorder

Canon ZR-050 Digital Video RecorderThis camcorder is mid-range in quality, but it appears to do everything we have asked of it so far. It takes both still-photos as well as video with decent sound to Digital Video tapes. It cost us around $250 brand new, but we did need to spend another 12 dollars on a cable to transfer the video to a computer.

We are still learning to use the Digital Video Recorder, but it has become our primary tool for taking still-photos. We are also currently doing the configuration to be able to use it for streaming video… more later on this.

We also bought a tripod for about 20 dollars that works for both the Video Recorder and the Audio Recorder.

I will put up other articles on some of our other equipment later…

Yours in Faith,

David

As we have been partnered with the Prairie Star District in presenting online workshops on many different topics, one of the most important parts of our providing online access to audio content has been in recording these and presenting those recordings as podcasts…

Sounds simple, right? Well it was… once we knew what we were doing.

The first problem was mine… I never bothered to check my office phone to see if it had a headset jack. I just went out and bought a cable and adapter that would allow us to plug our Digital Audio Recorder (see the previous article) into a headset jack on my phone. Lo and behold, when I got home there was no such jack! Luckily, my phone system came with two cordless phones, and they both had headset jacks.

So, the phone you hold has a headset jack, but the one at my desk does not. Counterintuitive, right?

The next challenge was one that has come up several times. We missed a whole recording because we did not know that you have to press record twice in order to actually be recording anything. Tricky…

The next challenge with recording from a telephone was that the recorder needs to be set to mono. If it is not, you only get one channel… and not the channel that is published when we used our software to turn it into an MP3 file for the web. So, we had a recording, but I had to do a lot of fancy editing to make it work.

Also, mute your own phone when you are recording and don’t try to talk on the phone during the recording. It makes for all kinds of interesting sounds if you do.

So, here are the lessons learned for our congregations seeking to record telephone workshops and meetings…

  1. Make sure your phone has a jack
  2. You need both a cable, and an adaptor for a telephone headset jack.
  3. Make sure you are set to mono.
  4. Make sure that you are recording in MP3.
  5. Mute your phone, and if you participate in the call do so from another phone, possibly in another room.

Such is what I know so far. If you have other suggestions, please add them. I think you can even do such recordings with most laptop computers, but I have not done that yet.

I will say this though, it has been fun!

Yours in faith,

David

Probably the greatest bottleneck we have run into in our Virtual Accessibility project of getting audio and video recordings of district workshops and the like has been editing. Part of the reason for this is that I had very little experience at doing this kind of editing when we started.

The other reason has been learning to use the software we had, and choosing to spend a little more money to buy some new editing software.

We began (and I am still using, because I like it) a free audio editing software called “Audacity”. You can find it here: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/

I will be the first to admit that when you look at it, it is a bit intimidating. I have found some tutorials on how to use it online, but there is not a tutorial in the software. When I got familiar with it, it is really simple to use and does not have a lot of bells and whistles to confuse you. It allows you to import the recording, edit out parts you don’t want, add in an introduction and closing recording, and do some basic clean up on the sound.

It is a great tool for congregations to use… but it only does audio.

As we began to need to work with video, we choose to purchase a fairly inexpensive software package that does both audio and video editing, called “Roxio Creator.” You can find it at http://www.roxio.com/

This software does about everything a congregation would need to do with audio and video media, to get it ready to share on a congregational website or to give CD’s or DVD’s to congregation members. It edits audio, Video, and even burns DVD’s and CD’s. It even has a photo editor.

We are just now getting to play with this software, and will let you know more about it later… but it appears to be just about everything a congregation would need to do virtual accessibility… and unlike audacity and many of the other software sets we looked at, it has excellent tutorials and is really easy to use.

Yours in Faith,

David

I had a most interesting conversation yesterday with Stefan Jonasson, the UUA Large Congregation Expert, concerning consulting via webcam.

He mentions that in recent months he has had occasion to experiment with connecting via webcam instead of traveling. He reports that his experiment with this has gone surprising well. Though his travel schedule initially forced him into this says he finds great advantages—beyond the savings in time and travel expense. While not all kind of work could be done this way, the work he tried in this format went very well. The webcam provided a sense of connection and immediacy that one does not get with a telephone conference call. Something about the format seems to enforce efficiency into the work. If you travel a day to get to a consulting engagement it seems inevitable that the consulting itself take a day. A telephone call does not tend to expand in this way. Also, there is great flexibility in this format. Face-to-face consulting tends to force a consultant to do all of a project on one visit or, at best a limited number of visits. This is not ideal for some processes. Often it is best to check in at a number of points in a process over time. This can much more easily be done in a series of convenient meetings rather than in a compressed day or weekend timeframe.

Ian

Here’s a way folks can have convenient access to information they need, continue the crusade toward greenness — and start to gain control over all that paper in their offices! I’m talking about creating an organization’s member Handbook online. Ian talks about one use for this in his post below about the first Virtual Board Meeting held on Saturday, November 8, 2008. (See “First Virtual Board Meeting” below). As he mentions, there is almost always one member of a group who has all their reference documents with them — and a great many who don’t. Well, if you have the information online, everyone with a computer has it with them always! For a virtual meeting, such as the one last Saturday, if someone needs to reference, say, the By-laws, they’re right there without having to shuffle through briefcases, or search files or, gods forbid, tackle piles of paper.

Recreating the CMwD Directors Handbook online was very simple. Many of the documents, such as the By-laws, the Strategic Plan and the Minutes where already uploaded to the Web Site, and all I had to do was additionally upload the remaining documents and organize them all into a new Handbook Web page (called an “article” in our system). If you’d like to take a look at the Directors’ Handbook, it is HERE.

I opted to upload all the documents as separate PDF files to prevent them from accidentally being modified when used. In the Board Handbook, each document is referenced in a simple list. However, if you wanted to make available a more textual manual, there’s no reason the handbook couldn’t be created as a simple long document (might be awkward to reference, though).

Even better, in our system we have something called the Acajoom Newsletters function. It is what we use to create the CMwD Central Midwesterner. We have this set up to show an index of articles at the top of the publication with Hyperlinks to the individual articles, which are stored as separate documents in the system. A manual could use a similar system, creating a Table of Contents with hyperlinks to the chapters, so that users only have to click on the Table entry to go right to the chapter they want.

And best of all — the manual takes up no space in your office and doesn’t have to be carted around to meetings!

Peggy Boccard District Office Manager

We had our first virtual district board meeting last Saturday. From nine to noon Saturday we sat on a conference call with each other. We accomplished a lot. We had also reserved the time from one to three but, in the end, we did not use that. We won’t do this every meeting. We like holding our meetings in congregations around the district. We decided not to hold our Winter meeting online. We will finalize our budget then. And we like seeing each other. But we did decide that as part of our reinvention we would try it out.

What impressed me was that virtual was not second best. It was just different. Some things worked better. Non-profit boards who draw people from a distance are finding that those they want most to serve are just too busy to spend all that time traveling. It was indeed a wonderful gift—to wander from my breakfast table to my home office for the call and then at the end of the meeting to be home, not to face travel. A couple of our board members said that they would have missed this meeting had it been face-to-face.

Something about only connecting through the sound of our voices seemed to focus us and to speed the work. Since almost all of us were sitting at our computers, people had all their stuff and not just the few papers they had brought to the meeting. And we were able to pass documents and pieces of information much more easily. Some of us, including me, invested part of the time we would have spend traveling in making sure we had acted on all our action items (there you have it—a confession than I am one of those who do their homework the night before it is due).

Should anyone else want to “try this at home” a few suggestions:

  • Prepare carefully. Our board president, Daniel O’Connell prepared the agenda and we sent out our board packet as usual in PDF format.
  • Ask each person to weigh in on each issue. Before concluding each item on the agenda, Daniel asked each person to say briefly where they were on the subject. This compensated for the fact that we could not see facial expressions but it also insured a more even contribution to the conversation than we might have had face-to-face.
  • Say names before speaking. Our board knows each other well. Yet, when people failed to say their name before speaking, things got confused. Just make your name into an introjection you place before each thing you say.
  • Use the mute feature on the conference call or, even better, on your telephone. The mute feature provided by our conference call service caused an irritating delay. Those of us with phones that had a mute feature did not have this problem.
  • Include all the features one would include in a face-to-face meeting. We did include the opening and closing readings but somehow forgot to appoint a process observer. With the new format a process observer would have been particularly good—and we forgot. I suspect we forgot, in part, because a virtual meeting has an what one might call an “instant on” feature. Our face-to-face meetings have a gradual build up of people arriving. Frustrating as it might be to wait for late-comers caught in traffic the slow opening gives space to remember last minute details.

Most congregations are not going to hold virtual board meetings but I do see increasing questioning of the face-to-face norm for meetings. Congregations are finding that the pattern of meetings that they have set for themselves is becoming unsustainable. Leaders say “ I have been here at the church four nights this week”—and this is not a good thing. Virtual meeting can relieve the pressure. Our leaders tell us that this is crucial at two points: Many of our congregations have board or other committee members who live a long way or for whom travel is cumbersome—using a conference phone within a face-to-face meeting to include these people can mean the difference between a “yes” and a “no” when the leadership development committee is looking for people to serve. Also, boards are realizing that to make their meetings more effective they really should hold an executive committee meeting in advance of each board meeting. Wise as this might be, the thought of another night out of the house is hard. Here again virtual meetings might relieve the pressure.

Also, we all want to go green. Truth is we are going to go green a lot faster and more painlessly if we reinvent the work that if we press for efficiencies within old paradigms. If we all had tied our schedules into pretzels to car pool or take the train we would have lowered our carbon footprint by perhaps a third or a half. Holding our meeting virtually cut it to zero.

Oh yes, and we saved a bunch of bucks.

Ian Evison
Congregational Services Director

P.S. It turns out we’re not alone in discovering the advantages:

Thanks for this write up — I liked your summary of how you did it — actually the PSWD has been meeting like this for three years and it works well, we also like the focus that comes with these meetings as well as the money we save. And our lawyer said that at least since we are incorporated in CA these are legal meetings at which we can transact any business.

Ken Brown, Pacific Southwest District

And…

Thank you, Ian.

Good stuff.

In the OMD, we are going to video conferencing on Oovoo for at least a quarter of our staff meetings.

And we already held our annual Committee Chairs meeting in September on Persony with conference call for voice and online Persony powerpoint to display relevant parts of the Committee Chairs Handbook.

It also went beautifully. And attendance of committee chairs was the best in history. Feedback was excellent.

I will be suggesting that the OMD Board might like to try either Persony or Oovoo for a future meeting – perhaps the winter meeting where weather usually prevents 1/3 of the members from driving in anyway.

thanks

Joan Van Becelaere, Ohio-Meadville District

Tech Talk!

We’ve been working on our podcasts page. Many congregations around our District are already podcasting and there are several ways to go about it. CMwD chose to use Libsyn.com, a podcasting subscription service. One advantage is the storage of the media files on a server apart from the main web site. Cost of a subscription for space on Libsyn is reasonable.

CMwD podcasts can be found at http://cmwduua.libsyn.com. We’re also using a free audio editing tool called Audacity.

Some things we’ve learned:

  1. IMAGES. When uploading a file to Libsyn, there is no way to resize images, so you have to do that before you upload them. I’d uploaded a large logo which made the whole paragraph hang off the side of the column. Not a great look, so I had to go back and fix that.
  2. AUDIO FILE SIZE. At one point we had a 66 MB mp3 file that wasn’t uploading. It had been recorded in 192 kbps Stereo. I tried using Audacity to reduce the file size and couldn’t quite get that to work. I later stumbled upon the “Convert Media Format” feature in RealPlayer Plus. That was able to take our audio recording down to 32 Kbps Mono and under 17 MB file size. It uploaded fine and away we went. I understand that a newer version of Audacity will have the ability to save compressed files. In the meantime, David has figured out how to make the original recording in Mono. He’s going to post separately on that process.
  3. PLAYING FILES ON YOUR SITE. We happen to be using a Joomla Content Management System on our website. I was able to install a flash player plug-in for viewing of video within a page on our site, and it allows remote files. So rather than having the player try and find a file on our server, it refers to the URL of the audio or video file where it’s stored on the Libsyn site. That way rather than having to download the file prior to viewing, it streams directly from the web page. Here’s an example: http://tinyurl.com/GA2008.

So far, so good. There’s always something new to learn!

Gretchen, CMwD communications coordinator

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