Over the years, I’ve lived in a lot of different Baha’i communities and every one is different. My current community is especially interesting to me because it’s quite tech-savvy. In particular, we use Google’s Apps services to organize a variety of administration and activity. So I thought I would share some ideas on how to do this for your own community.
As you may know, Google offers a ton of different free services beyond its core search engine product. There’s a whole suite of products which are useful to Baha’i community administration and organization. In particular Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Sites. Here’s how you can use them:
Creating a Google Account
To begin with you need a central community Google account. This shouldn’t be a personal account of someone in your community because when they leave it will create problems, plus you are going to want to share access. So begin by creating an account at Accounts.Google.com or if you are a little more sophisticated and have a domain name (e.g. somethingbahai.com) then you can set up a proper Google Apps setup.
Once you have the central account, you’re ready to start using the various products!
1. Community Calendar
Google Calendar is perfect for keeping a central community calendar. You can put in recurring events like Feasts and Holy Days, as well as specific events like a community Deepening or get together.
You can set up a Calendar event so that it automatically emails everyone in your community an invitation with time, date, address (with a link to a map) and other details. The invite will also allow them to Accept or Decline – which can be useful for planning events.
The calendar can be imported to people’s phones, personal accounts and so on. So your community can see at a glance what events and gatherings are coming up.
2. Community Documents
I’ve been to a lot of communities where there was a constant stream of paper or emailed documents for things like Feast Rosters, Contact Lists and so on. Using Google Docs can make this stuff a breeze.
You create a document using the main google account and then ‘Share’ it with all the email addresses of people in your community. If anyone leaves the community you can remove them off the access list, and if someone joins you can add them on. You can also make the document editable by anyone, or restricted so they can only view it.
This means you create a single Feast Roster and a single Contact Sheet and then community members just open the document and see the latest version of it. When people with write access make an update, it automatically updates everywhere so you never have people with old copies and versions of things.
In our community we have documents for things like Holy Day hosting ideas, Feast hosting information, a Community Plan and a Feast Roster that is accessed constantly.
Google Docs lets you create not just word documents, but spreadsheets, presentations (like Powerpoint) and forms. So, for example, you can create a Form which you give to new members of the community which they fill out and it automatically updates the community contact list!
3. Community Intranet
Google Sites lets you create a website which can either be private or public. It doesn’t make the best looking sites in the world, but they are functional and very quick and easy to make. I think if you want to make a really attractive public site you are probably better off using something else. However if you want a private community hub then this is perfect!
Google Sites allow you to create a website that embeds your community calendar, links off to Google documents you’ve created and put up announcements, photos, downloads and so on. In other words you can create a little intranet hub for your community.
This way when new people join the community you can send them a link to the Google Site and share access and they’ll be able to find all the bits of information they need, photos of community events and links to the calendar of events.
Once you have a calendar, a document store and a community intranet site set up, there are lots of other more advanced Google services you can use for a very tech-savvy community. For example you can create Group Mailing Lists, Project Blogs and Photo Libraries.
And Google isn’t the only provider of community enhancing free online services! Facebook is another great option for organizing community events, groups, photos and pages.
The big caveat to using Google services (or Facebook for that matter) is that your community must be reasonably tech-savvy. The last thing you want is for members of your community to feel excluded because they don’t have access to the internet or aren’t great with computers. So make sure there is a viable non-tech alternative for staying up to date if that’s the case!
Does your community use services like Facebook and Google to organize itself? What’s your experience been?