Community Calendar? What’s the big deal?

Here is why a calendar is getting a bullet point on a résumé:

Building a new community calendar system from scratch solved multiple logistical, efficiency, financial, administrative, and even political problems simultaneously. The project was a tremendous technical challenge, and the end result was a very visible success for the organization.

The new calendar system was color-coded based on the type of event, and whether it was family friendly. Among the most useful features was intelligent scheduling, which detected conflicts and automatically generated emails to alert organizers when certain types of events overlapped.
The new calendar included event cards which allowed organizations to jazz up their presentations with images. I created custom event blocks like this for organizations to showcase only their own offerings on their webpages.

The Problems

The Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts (“the Federation”), among its many other roles, is a convener of the Jewish people and organizations throughout the region. It has historically hosted a community calendar, and sent out biweekly email newsletters to a broad audience.

Problem 1

Dozens of Jewish agencies and synagogues throughout Hampshire, Hampden, and Franklin Counties are constantly hosting events open to all, but each struggles to reach the larger community beyond its own organization’s membership. Attendance dwindles. Programs are cancelled. Organizations fail.

Problem 2

The Federation community calendar system was inefficient, difficult to use, entirely ignored as a marketing tool, and used only by a small sector of the community to avoid interagency scheduling conflicts.

Problem 3

The calendar was expensive to maintain. It was a built-in component of the Federation’s externally-managed website and the only aspect of the website infrastructure that prevented the Federation from moving all website management in-house for a huge cost savings.

Problem 4

The Federation’s biweekly email newsletter was extremely time-consuming and difficult to compile. It relied on bi-weekly solicitations and timely responses from the Federation’s constituent agencies. The end product was typically an incongruent patchwork of agency flyers. Worse, most of these flyers included multiple events across several days, so it was impossible to present all community events in chronological order.

The Solution

I met with community leaders throughout the region to solicit feedback on the existing community calendar. I identified how each agency used the calendar, pinpointed the problem areas, and generated a wish list of new features.

I searched for out-of-the box calendar solutions, but in the end realized the only solution was to program a calendar from scratch. This would, in the end, require integration between five software platforms: The Federation website (WordPress), the event submission form (JotForm), the event database (Airtable), the event-handling engine with a custom scripted JavaScript program (Zapier), and the newsletter integration (Mailchimp).

  • The new community calendar solved ongoing political issues for the organization’s leadership, stemming from interagency conflicts related to event scheduling.
  • The new community calendar had a much friendlier user interface, so the Federation’s constituent agencies submitted more events (500% more). And agencies that had never used the Federation’s calendar system began using it to communicate their events to the community.
  • The old calendar was used solely for interagency scheduling. The new calendar became a marketing tool. It provided organizations with the option of submitting marketing material for automatic inclusion in the Federation’s newsletter. Reserving an event time on the calendar and broadcasting all the event information to the community became a single, easy step. Participation was so great that the Federation needed to change from a bi-weekly to a weekly newsletter because of the sheer volume of events.
  • The newsletter became more efficient to produce and more functional and useful to its readers. Before the new calendar, every newsletter was essentially a patchwork of flyers submitted by organizations and manually pasted at the Federation into a lengthy email that was time-consuming to read. Under the new system, the events in the newsletter all had a uniform design. Function buttons allowed readers to RSVP to events, save the event to their personal calendars, download flyers, etc.
  • Because event notifications went directly from the calendar into the newsletter, the constituent agencies no longer needed to submit flyers to the Federation during a tight publication window. An event on the calendar submitted months in advance was automatically included in the appropriate newsletter based on the event date and any RSVP date. This completely eliminated all the efficiency and logistical problems associated with collecting marketing materials from dozens of agencies on a biweekly basis.
  • When the Covid-19 shelter-in-place order began, I was able to quickly adapt the calendar to accommodate virtual events, making it easier for submitters to include registration and connection links, which then appeared in the form of buttons in the newsletter.

Behold! The New Newsletter Events:

The new community calendar automatically generates event blocks like the one above, which are inserted directly into the Federation email newsletter. Each block includes a group of functional buttons based on the information fed into the system by whomever submitted the event. Each event is displayed chronologically.

The new system is less expensive, much more powerful, and easier to use at every stage, from event submissions, to back-end administration, to consumption by the public.

This string of jumbled flyers is an example of the old email newsletters.

Uniform and functional newsletter generated by the new calendar