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!

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 is reasonable.

CMwD podcasts can be found there. 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..

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

Gretchen, CMwD communications coordinator

Where do we go from here? Some musings from Ian Evison:

Our district is now—officially—virtual. The mega-load of paper files has now been scanned. Outing is now online. We have paid the last rent check. And the team that made it happen has had a great celebratory lunch.

What’s next? The answer—in short—is to figure out how to give a digital “face” to our programming. In some instances this will mean adding new programming (like our Fall series of online workshops ADD LINK). More often, it will mean asking ourselves how we can use the occasion of a face-to-face gathering to capture material that we might share more broadly.

Increasingly, the congregations of our district have been challenging us to move away from the focus we have placed on large face-to-face events like District Assembly (or—implicitly—General Assembly). Lest our conference junkies get anxious here, nobody is suggesting that we do away from such events (heaven forbid). Rather, the congregations of the district are increasingly raising to us the question of the focus we have placed on such events which only serve directly a few hundred of the many thousands of UUs in the district and where much of the time and money of participants is spent on travel and lodging.

Moving towards putting much more content online is going to be a special challenge in this year that will be tight financially for the district as it is for many of our congregations. We plan to make a virtue of this by challenging ourselves to do this within the resource restraints of congregations. We plan to spend no more on this than what the average congregation in our district might be able to afford—between a few hundred and a couple thousand dollars. And since we will have no many to spare in the upcoming budget we have taken a little piece of money left in last year’s budget to buy a couple of electronic toys (digital voice recorder for $200-300 and a digital video recorder for about $400).

We are now busy playing with these toys and if you come to events this Fall you may get a chance to see them in action. We know that many of our congregations are now playing with similar toys and we look forward to this being a year for learning together what works and what does not. So, if you want to listen in on our work, I encourage you to come back to this blog.

Ian

We’ve done it! The Central Midwest District office is fully virtual since June 20. The last furniture was donated to congregations around the district who could use it, and “stuff” that had accumulated for six years was trashed.

Items that need to be stored have been moved to a secure, climate-controlled storage space, where I’ve installed a small desk and portable lamp for searching if necessary. When we have time for deeper organizing we may find we can go to an even smaller space, perhaps just a single cabinet and a place to put our materials used once a year for District Assembly.

We have our telephone system, a cell phone set with “conditional call forwarding” (which will forward to another line when busy); our secure online file server which allows designated users to access files; our online accounting with limited access (QuickBooks Online); and our vendors for major printing and mailing needs. The only office function yet to be established is our fax line, which should happen on Tuesday, July 1.

Are there issues still to be addressed — absolutely! But these are larger things that need to be addressed no matter what form the office systems take.

The most important one on my mind right now is accounting controls. As a very small staff that has always been distributed around the district, it has always been difficult to establish GAAP controls. Now it is even harder. At the UUA General Assembly in Ft. Lauderdale I’ve had the opportunity to discuss this problem, among many others. As was suggested by the incoming Treasurer of the Ballou-Channing District, we have to look at our procedures and at the people available to do them, and we have to distribute the tasks among them in such a way that the people who control the receipt and depositing of income, the entry of accounting, the processing of checks and the oversight of accounts are different. I believe it can be done here, but may require some procedural changes and the willingness of people to pitch in and take on some tasks they may not have done before. Stay tuned!

Peggy Boccard CMwD District Office Manager

We’ve just sent out our Spring Chalice Lighter Call to some 1300 folks. To see how it would work, I’ve just used an outside service in Evanston, IL that provides work for disabled folks, to stuff, seal, post and mail the letters. And it worked very well indeed. They couldn’t be friendlier, more helpful or more professional, and they got it done in just two days, whereas it would have taken two of us working about four half-days apiece to do it in-house.

But what of costs? Well, I’ve just gotten their bill. It was about $500 for the postage, and about $225 for the work. However, let’s put that in perspective: If we did it in-house, it would cost an average of $15 for 32 person-hours of work, totaling $480 for personnel time, plus $546 in postage stamps. The total cost to do a full Chalice Lighter mailing in-house would be $1,026.

 

In-House

Service

Savings

Postage

$    546

$  500

$     46

Labor

480

225

$   255

Total

$ 1,026

$  725

$   301

That’s a savings of $301, or a full 30% less than the in-house cost! Not to mention the intangible cost of using higher-paid staff to do clerical work when they could be doing other, more effective tasks.

Peggy Boccard
District Office Manager

I had originally hoped to be able to use my own fax machine for the office faxes, but because my home phone uses Voice Mail, and it goes to Voice Mail after 4 rings, while faxes won’t go to the fax machine until 5 rings, I would never be able to get faxes. Or if I made the Voice Mail 6 rings, voice callers would never be able to get through but would go to the fax machine directly.

The only answer is to have a separate fax phone line, and in discussions with AT&T we’ve come up with an answer that will work very well. When the Hillside phones are cancelled, the DSL line will not be cancelled, but will instead be transferred to my personal office, and my original DSL line will be cancelled. The DSL for the CMwD is cheaper and faster, and, best of all, the line itself can be shared with the fax system. Faxes will then be handled on my computer by the Windows Fax and Scan system. Assuming the number works when tested in installation, the CMwD Fax number will be xxxxx. (Update 6/15/11: )

Peg

We’ve discovered a couple of things in our researches on telecom:

  • Skype is great — but, if you allow it to automatically log in when you start up your computer, it will slow it to a tortoise-like crawl. You’re better off allowing your regular startup to run, then open Skype manually.
  • We finally realized that we were being more complicated about the phones than we needed to be. All we really need is an office cell phone that has “conditional forwarding.” Conditional forwarding forwards the line to another line, but only if the first line is busy. This is unlike automatic forwarding which forwards all calls to a second line, and which is all that’s available on the land line. We have our office cell phone now, and when we go fully Virtual, and Peg is out of the office, the main CMwD number of 708-236-0831 will be automatically forwarded to the new cell phone, 312-636-9724. As of July 1, this will be our new number. When necessary, the new cell phone can then be conditionally forwarded to go to Ian’s or Dori’s lines.

Peg

District Assembly 2008 has just ended, and the Virtual Office was formally introduced and enthusiastically received. Now we’re thinking about our Virtual future and what it means for DA. Now we welcome any thoughts on What would it mean to have a Digitally Accessible DA? What would it look like?

Peg

I talked to Verizon this morning about having a call coming into an unavailable cell phone number forward to another number. It turns out this is available on any phone that has forwarding on it. It’s called “Conditional Call Forwarding.” Therefore, there’s no reason we couldn’t have a CMwD cell phone and have my, or Ian’s or Dori’s phone permanently set to receive the conditional forwarding – and I or Ian or Dori could then have their phone conditionally forwarded to one of the others, and so on. So, unless we come up with something even more simple and elegant, getting a CMwD cell phone and having our existing main number set to it, and then having it conditionally forward to another phone if busy sounds like a pretty good solution for CMwD phones to me.

Peggy Boccard

When the idea of going Virtual was first broached, it seemed like a good idea to think through the implications for daily operations. Following that I thought about the logistics of actually making “Virtuality” happen. The results of those two activities represent areas of issues that may be of interest to congregations, so they are going to be the Categories that this Blog will be organized under.

How to handle operations in a Virtual Office:

OPERATING FUNCTIONS:

* Bookkeeping
  • Already done online; location is not an issue;
  • One potential problem is separation of income accounting & deposits processing;
    Need to set regular meeting time for check (& other document) signatures
  • Regular Congregational Statements mailing
* Web site
  • Already done online; location is not an issue
* Shared Server Files
  • Explore shared file space online
  • Explore shared files on web site
  • Explore use of PC Anywhere or alternative
* Fax service
  • Could use an all-in-one fax/printer if we have our major printing tasks done by a mailing service
* Mail / Shipping
  • P.O. Box in Evanston for incoming;
  • Any USPS mailbox for outgoing;
  • UPS Store (if need a box) or call for UPS pickup using our account
* Storage / working space
  • Rent a nice climate-controlled storage locker for files & put in a table & chair for working with files;
  • See if UCE would rent space a day or so a week and space for a file?
* Staffing
  • All staff working virtually
  • Regular (weekly) face-to-face meetings w/ all local staff; 2x/yr for all staff
* Office Equipment
  • Postage meter – P’s house?
  • Use Stamps.com?
* Photocopying
  • Kinko’s, Copy Cat?
* Telephone
  • Use answering service, cell phones;
  • use service to roll calls over to all three cell phones (P, I, D)
* Database Maintenance / Update
  • Changes go to Office Asst to be done at their virtual office.
* Filing
  • Fewer hard files maintained
  • Current
  • Corporate files stored in one cabinet
  • Maintain a portable Office with files used daily, necessary tools (calculator, office supples)

PROGRAMS:

* Chalice Lighters

  • Documents published in-house as now
  • Printing & Mailing handled by a mailing service

* Consulting Program

  • Most contacts by email already
  • Hard documents continue to be done as now; office location is irrelevant

* District Assembly

  • Annual Report production & mailing + Document published in-house as now + Printing & Mailing handled by a mailing service
  • DA Brochure & Flyer + Documents published in-house as now + Printing & Mailing handled by a mailing service
  • DA Congregational Mailing + Documents published in-house as now + Printing & Mailing handled by a mailing service
  • DA Delegate Mailing + Documents published in-house as now + Printing & Mailing handled by a mailing service + Provide online copies of documents for printing on site for delegates who need them
  • DA Venue Preparations + Planning & documents done in-house with at least one trip to venue

* Annual APF Pledges & District Directory

  • Document publishing in-house as now
  • Printing & Mailing handled by a mailing service
  • DB Changes to Office Asst to be done at their virtual office

* APF reporting

  • Done by Office Asst at their virtual office with info received through email
  • Think about entering APF payments by congregations through one system (QuickBooks) only rather than two, so that data is only entered and stored once

* CMwD Kiosk -- If we continue to do this, we will have to have a place to do the copying and collating. We could copy at a copy service, and could probably do the collating at UCE. If worst came to worst, we could do it around my dining room table.

How to get from a brick-and-mortar office to a Virtual Office

* Scan all files

  • Put in order to get Ricoh to scan
  • Temp Emp to start scanning
  • Organize files logically & burn to DVDs
  • Determine offsite storage options

* Shred files

  • Call Vendor(s) and get bids
  • Gather & get trash files to vendor
  • Get certificate of destruction

* Decide which furniture & equipment to keep

  • Make an assets inventory
  • PB make a first cut on what office needs to keep
  • Others to opt what remaining items to take
  • Dispose of furniture & equipment not being kept
  • Research options for disposal
  • Decide on disposal methods & make appointments
  • Dispose of furniture & equipment
  • Set up movers to deliver furniture & equipment where it goes

* Cancel Leases

  • Find leases & find notice dates
  • Cancel lease on photocopier
  • Cancel office lease
  • Cancel Phone & DSL line
* Equipment for Offices -- Emps to decide what they’d need to work virtually optimally

* Set up online storage; Dell Optiplex as a server?

* Rent storage space

  • Life Storage in Morton Grove (Oakton & Nagle, just east of Caldwell): 10?x10? space $150/mo; 10?x15? space $185/mo; 10?x5? space $79/mo)

* Rent a mail drop with a street address

  • UPS Store on Sherman in Evanston
  • Send notice out to all contacts

* Set up Skype accounts for conference calls, videoconferencing

* Consider BaseCamp for projects & active storage

* Figure out what additional equipment needed

* Consider changing bank accounts to one that will let us do online bill payment

* Close Office & Go Virtual on July 1, 2008

There’s been a lot of discussion about how to handle telephone contacts for the CMwD office. Our first experiment was simply to add Forwarding to our existing service in Hillside. This worked very well at first, with the phones forwarded to my cell phone. However, then we discovered an issue withi older telephone switches, such as the one in Hillside — forwarding cannot be changed remotely, only at the originating instrument. If for some reason the person to whom the calls are forwarded are unable to take the calls, then they just pile up in voice mail if there’s no one on site to change the forwarding. This situation actually occurred recently.

So we explored other options that we feel must be out there. One that looked very promising to me was a product called Gotvmail.com, which is used by a number of small businesses. It works exactly like a PBX switch, which allows you to have a menuing system. If someone calls in, they get the option of being forwarded to an individual on the menu. The problem here is that it is pretty complex, even though we wouldn’t have to actually program the system ourselves (and I have programmed a PBX menuing system, and it’s a nasty job), and at the number of minutes we use, it would be more expensive than we had hoped. It just didn’t feel right.

We also found that AT&T has something called “Unified Messaging”. As I understand it, this will allow one incoming line to support a number of voice mail boxes. While this wouldn’t be as convenient as a menu, and while staff would have to check their mail boxes regularly, it is tried technology. However, it’s an expensive add-on to already expensive land line telephones, far more so than Gotvmail.

Finally, we realized that we don’t have to do anything more complex than what we already have, and the most elegant solution is also the simplest: just get a CMwD cell phone. It can live on the main contact’s hip or be passed along to someone else if necessary, and it can itself be forwarded; and if the forwarding has to be changed, whoever has the instrument can do it.

One key question, of course, is who is going to do what jobs to keep the CMwD office functioning, even virtually. Every year for the past years, the CMwD office has hired a 3rd or 4th year Meadville-Lombard student to be our part-time Office Assistant. The Office Assistant has a set of specific tasks, plus as time is available, works on special project. This year’s Office Assistant is Karen Mooney. Karen and I sat down on April 1 and worked out a plan that would allow the OA to take on current tasks while working Virtually for the most part.

Here are our thoughts:

  • Process Congregational Newsletters – Karen suggested we get a mailbox at Meadville for the District mail that would be near the students. She suggested I discuss this with Jim Hobart.
  • CD/DVD Library – Every year the UUA (and others) send us hundreds of CDs and DVDs of programs that would be of interest to Congregations. Mailing all of these materials would be exorbitantly expensive, so we tend to make them available at workshops and District Assembly. Karen suggested we set up “Media Travelers” - boxes of materials for Dori and for Ian to take to keep in their cars and distribute at workshops. They would be restocked in Oct or Nov or when they run low. Or, if they run out, Dori and Ian could contact the OA to restock.
  • Chalice Lighter Checks, Kiosk Mailings, District Directory – All of these items require a period of fairly intense working together, and would be difficult to do Virtually. Therefore, Karen suggested that four times a year we rent space for two days a week for 2 weeks to be spent: 1 two-week work period for Directory & 3 two-week work periods for Chalice Lighter Income processing and Kiosk. If timed it right might be able to do a review & signoff of the Kiosk in those four periods.
  • * January, weeks 3 & 4: Chalice Lighter income; Kiosk
  • * April, weeks 1 & 2: Chalice Lighter; Kiosk (& District Assembly preparations)
  • * August, weeks 4 and Sept Week 1 (and possibly Sept Week 2?): Directory & Kiosk/workshops
  • * October, weeks 3 & 4 (or October, week 4 and Nov, week 1): Chalice Lighter income; Kiosk; DVD Library update
  • * NOTE: Dori has to make these dates stick for CL and Kiosk.
  • * Possibly move all these out a week on the theory that we’ll get the bulk in then. I.e., wait at least a week after the Call, maybe two
  • Weekly Office Assistant work:
  • o Donations entry into APF Master
  • o Chalice Lighter entries into the Access Database
  • o Newsletters reviewed & culled for possible Midwesterner info, DB update, and managing & planning Kiosk mailing
  • o Database Directory updates
  • o Ad hoc requests as needed
  • Get UUA to send out packet by PDF.
  • Directory – We need to take a good look at how the Directory report is generated out of the MS Access database. There are too many formatting errors as it comes out now, and we can’t afford to spend the time to format it in Word that we did last year. Maybe get a consultant.
  • Weekly Tasks by Office Manager for Office Assistant:
  • * Weekly report of CMwD Contributions received by Congregation (out of QuickBooks)
  • * Weekly batch of CL copies (after the first two weeks)
  • Hold a weekly teleconference via Skype.
  • Tasks that the Office Assistant does now that would devolve back to the Office Manager are:
  • * Processing of check for deposit into the bank account
  • * Filing Tasks that the Office Assistant does now that would be done in another way:
  • * Mailing Chalice Lighter Call Letters – done by a mailing service
  • * Kiosk mailing – Copied at Kinko’s and done by a mailing service
  • * District Directory – Printed and mailed by a mailing service
  • * District Assembly Materials, Annual Report – Printed and mailed by a mailing service

The Office Assistant would still be required to work at District Assembly along with everyone else in the office.

Peggy Boccard & Karen Mooney

The Central Midwest District is going virtual. Beginning in the Summer of 2008 the district plans to move out of our brick-and-mortar office in Hillside and turn our attention to creating a virtual office. We plan, not merely to go without a physical office, but to invest in creating a virtual one. We plan to systematically think through each element of our current office work and consider how that might be done virtually. We undertake this project in a spirit of adventure, learning, and exploration with the congregations we serve. Our district office is, in many ways, roughly parallel to the offices of our congregations we serve and to the offices of other UU districts. This means that we have a wonderful opportunity in this project to benefit from what others have learned and to have others in turn benefit from what we learn. If we are doing fewer paper mailings, what are the alternatives to leasing a copier? Is there a cost-effective way for a congregational office to shift to digital storage of documents? What must be saved hard copy? How does a staff remain connected if the office is virtual? If information is stored online, how do you ensure security? Where does a virtual office receive mail? Where do we store the physical stuff we must still keep? Do you lose a sense of place if you don’t have a physical place? What new things can you do in a virtual office that you could not do with a physical one? Where is the phone in a virtual office? Does a virtual office save money? At what point might it no longer be cost effective to have a postage meter?

The proposal to “go virtual” first of all poses these and a hundred other questions. In deciding to “go virtual” we are not saying that we have answers to all these questions or even that all are answerable. Rather we are saying that it is a productive time to work these questions. It is a moment when those we serve have a lot they can teach us about this and when a lot of people might benefit from what we learn.

In this spirit of making this a project focused on learning—and sharing what we learn—the staff of the Central Midwest District establishes here a blog of our adventure and invites your comments.

Peggy Boccard

Dori Davenport

Ian Evison

Karen Mooney

Gretchen Ohmann

Michelle Richards

Kimberlee Tomczak

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