Award-Winning Volunteer

Date Posted: 7/13/2017

Communication professional Tracy Torma tends to volunteer wherever her membership roots are planted. “I’ve helped my last three churches with their website,” she says, “and I’m excited to learn that my latest project with FUMC Palestine landed an Award of Excellence in digital communication from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Houston chapter.”

A team of church volunteers helped develop the new website last year with the assistance of Mustard Seed Studio, a graphic design firm in Houston specializing in affordable church website development. Tracy appreciates the input of her communication teammates: Jennifer Kimble, Joe Kimble, Barry Mace, Melinda Orsak, Amy Rigsby, Lisa Tang, Vibrant Church Initiative Coach Marilyn Wadkins and Monroe Walker who are thankful their contributions contributed to this honor.
Tracy, the founder of the consulting firm Torma Communications, has been an active member of IABC Houston for multiple decades and knows the significance of this award, particularly for a church. “This is a really prestigious honor, since major companies in town enter this contest, including Shell, ExxonMobil, University of Houston and all the major hospitals in the Texas Medical Center,” she adds. The Houston chapter of IABC is part of a global network of communication professionals with members in more than 70 countries.
Sharing her skill set comes naturally for Tracy, in spite of a busy schedule as a longtime entrepreneur and relatively new grandparent. Notes Tracy, “As Christians, we are called to use our talents. Mine happens to be in the area of communications and it is something I can share with my church to advance our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” 
 Her pastor, Rev. Alex Lupo says, “First UMC Palestine is going through Vibrant Church Initiative (VCI), which has provided us an opportunity to look at our church with fresh eyes. Our new website is the result of a careful examination of who we are and how we can help others in our community know more about Christ and this church.  I am very proud of our communications team that continues to work so hard on this effort.”
Turning Opportunities into Strengths
 “When a VCI team of consultants took a comprehensive look at our congregation’s image, leadership and programs, they noted that our digital presence did not represent the welcoming culture of the congregation,” she explains. “Our static website had a number of outdated events, was difficult to navigate and was not member- or guest-friendly, so the consultant report recommended revamping it.”
The key objectives for the project included:
1. Improve navigation and organization of the website. The new site features a simple design with easy-to-find information.
2. Increase traffic to the site by providing timely content. The new site has simple content management system that allows the church secretary to regularly refresh the site with new activities and photos. 
3. The website features sections targeted to the two key audiences: current members and prospective members. The main navigation bar at the top of the website features a First Time tab targeting newcomers. Additionally, current members are particularly excited about the new Outlook calendar of church events and activities, as well as an events section, and ministry highlights.
The Price is Right
According to Tracy, the volunteer team selected Mustard Seed Studio for website design and development, primarily for its simple, attractive design concepts and editing software, which enables a layperson to update website copy and photos easily. Members of the website team also helped populate the site with copy and photography which was donated, bringing the total cost to under $900.
"Too often churches don’t put enough emphasis on effective communication,” she says, “forgetting that a website is often the first impression a visitor has of your congregation. I encourage church leaders to evaluate their websites often from the eyes of a visitor who is seeking a dynamic congregation that’s making a difference. As a member of the congregation and a communications professional, I was very happy that the VCI team recommended a new website for FUMC Palestine. I believe it represents the life of our church and makes a great first impression on visitors who we hope will visit our church and become active members."
Tracy’s Top Five Tips: 
1. Build a volunteer team with some communications experience. Our team included a corporate writer, a local newspaper reporter and a nonfiction author, as well as several volunteers with no communications experience.
2. Select a digital communication firm to provide support. Our team narrowed our selections by looking at website portfolios and calling references to discuss quality of work. The most important factor to our selection was the ease of updating the content. 
3. Develop an outline that fits your congregation’s needs. We wanted a main navigation bar for first-time visitors that provided critical information, including a map to the church and a guided tour of our facilities. Because we wanted to promote our Preschool Program, we gave this a separate tab in our main navigation bar as well.
4. Populate the site with engaging information. Ask church leaders to provide information about their specific programs, but if possible seek a professional communicator to edit the information to ensure readability and consistency. Hire a professional photographer to come to the church one Sunday to take compelling photos of your church in action. Find a photography student at a local college or hire the news photographer at your local paper to get good photos at a more economical price, or, get a church member to donate the photographer’s fee.
5. Update the site regularly. Nothing is worse than going to a website and seeing outdated information. Update with photos and church activities on a weekly, if not daily, basis.