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Websites within service organisations

By Advice, Advice for Not-for-profit Organisations and Charities, News No Comments

This evening I unveiled the Rotary Club of Ringwood website to the members of the club.

Rotary is an organisation comprising of more than 32,000 services clubs and over 1.2 million members. Each Rotary Club operates on a largely autonomous basis and is responsible for its own participation in community projects and initiatives.

A website has significant potential in promoting service clubs such as Rotary, both in terms of promoting the work undertaken by the organisation but also in facilitating membership recruitment.

For this to succeed the website needs to be viewed as part of the overall marketing strategy for the Rotary Club. The Rotary Club of Ringwood has a number of projects each involving different members, these people need to ensure that the website is part of their overall strategy to promote the organisation.

As an example an organisation would not produce brochures or banners that are inconsistent with its message or branding and it is important that websites share this consistency.

A website helps serve as an entry point into an organisation, as well as reinforce the overall message and branding enticing further involvement and interactivity. It is generally accepted that someone needs to experience a marketing message five to seven times before they will be inclined to act and it is therefore important that a website is consistent with other promotional tools.

In regard to a voluntary based organisation, the Internet and a web presence can assist in reaching increasingly time-poor volunteers and prospective members through making it is easy to learn about the organisation.

The Rotary Club of Ringwood website provides functionality for each member to include details on their particular projects, with the officebearers being able to approve information for publishing.  This encourages a sense of ownership of the website and helps ensure that it will remain up-to-date and relevant to the organisation.

The Demonstration of the website also included a series of slides to provide some context for the role of the site.
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Interlinking your website with Social Media

By Advice, Advice for Businesses, Advice for Not-for-profit Organisations and Charities, Government, News 2 Comments

The Internet through interactive technologies, such as web 2.0 and social media sites, has immense potential to reach new volunteers or customers if harnessed to its full potential.

One of the challenges facing an organisation is the need to ensure that their website, as well as social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, are maintained and kept up to date. Unfortunately, this duplicates workloads and creates silos of information, making it difficult to establish and leverage connections across these various Internet technologies.

This also causes ongoing costs and delays for an organisation since their website is often outsourced to a web designer who may not always promptly add new content.

One of the most powerful benefits of the Internet is the immediacy of content but this can be a drawback for an organisation, if their website is not maintained on an ongoing basis. A website is often the first point of contact for a prospective volunteer, member or client and information that is out of date will deter these visitors from investigating further.

Social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter are becoming increasingly important in exchanging information and reaching new volunteers, members or clients.

Internet technologies and their usage rates in sharing information

Internet technologies and their usage rates in sharing information (from The Business Insider)

The graph indicates the dominance of Facebook over email when exchanging information and shows that Twitter is experiencing solid growth.

While email is likely to always have a role in Internet communications, it is clear that social media technologies, like Facebook and Twitter are becoming increasingly important. This is because people choose their connections when using social media, meaning they connect with people they know. This has benefits when exchanging information since it operates like an Internet equivalent to word of mouth referrals.

The result is a community that has been formed around your organisation, strengthening the ability to recruit volunteers, members or new customers and reaching a new demographic that tends to not respond to traditional marketing. The Internet, like all forms of marketing, needs to complement your other activities so that you provide a consistent message and focus.

Many organisations are keen to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter but duplicating content is tedious and time consuming since it stretches already limited resources.

The solution is to separate the design of your website from its content, using technology known as a Content Management System (CMS). A Content Management System empowers an organisation so that they can add and modify content on their website, while their web designer develops templates to ensure a consistent layout across the site.

The system we use is known as WordPress, which is a content management system and blogging platform. This system allows for the easy publishing of information and operates similarly to a Word Processor.

Furthermore, this content can be replicated across other technologies, such as Facebook, Twitter and other websites. In addition, relevant stakeholders, such as media outlets, volunteers or customers, can receive updates via email.

The end result is one of lower ongoing costs since an organisation only requires design and not ongoing maintenance from a web developer. In addition, there is a decrease in workloads since Facebook, Twitter and subscribers automatically receive new content when it is published on your website.

Strategies for Policy Development and Adoption

By Advice, Advice for Businesses, Advice for Not-for-profit Organisations and Charities, News No Comments

Policy development is one of the responsibilities of a Committee of Management and ensures that there is clear accountability and expectations within an organisation.

A policy consists of a statement of purpose and broad guidelines to identify desired outcomes. Once adopted, procedures are developed that ensure compliance to the outcomes specified in the policy.

While policy formulation is a committee responsibility, it is important that volunteers and staff have input into policies to ensure that their opinions are taken into account.

Committees should establish a policy sub-committee to write and consider the policies required. The use of a sub-committee will assist in utilizing time efficiently, although the whole committee will need to support policies when they are adopted.

Discussion around policies however should not stop at a committee level. Staff and volunteers should be able to provide input, as often they will be affected by these policies.

Encouraging input and discussion helps ensure relevant policies that have the support of not just the committee but also the wider organisation. While committees establish policies it is often the staff and volunteers who establish the procedures to implement their outcomes. As such it is important that they are accepted within an organisation and that there is an understanding of their importance and objectives.

A workshop can be a useful tool to encourage and facilitate input to refine policies and discuss their effects. Depending on the number of participants and areas of focus, a workshop can be held as one session or split into groups to work on specific policies. Either way, it is useful to explain the purpose of policy that is discussed and the reasons behind developing or renewing policies.

This afternoon I facilitated a workshop for the Maroondah Citizens Advice Bureau so that staff and volunteers could provide input into six policies that have been developed for the organisation. While the participants were in agreement with the intent of these policies the additional feedback provided further refinement and agreement.

Policy formulation is an ongoing challenge for organisations and yet they are required to ensure consistency and good governance. Policy development can be a positive experience if discussion is encouraged and if there is acceptance of their content.

Please contact Syneka if you would like to discuss policy formulation within your organisation.

Open Source Software and minimising IT costs

By Advice, Advice for Businesses, Advice for Not-for-profit Organisations and Charities, News No Comments

Open Source Software, which is where software is provided free of charge has the potential to reduce IT costs and maintenance within the not-for-profit sector and community organisations.

For example, I choose to use Linux and open source software since I find it more responsive and stable than a Windows based system. Linux is an open source operating system that is available in various forms known as distributions.

Linux and the majority of software that operates on it are provided free of charge and are designed, as well as supported through active community participation.

While there is undoubtedly a learning curve when trying anything new, Linux distributions such as OpenSUSE and Kubuntu tend to be extremely user friendly. Linux support for hardware continues to improve and there are many free programs that can easily replace existing Windows based software.

In addition, Linux tends to not have the security and virus issues that are far too commonplace within a Windows based environment.

While Linux and open source software may not be for everyone, I believe there is tremendous opportunity for the non-profit and community sector to investigate the use of Linux within their organisations.

The free cost of Linux and associated programs combined with the fact that it can still easily and efficiently operate on older computer hardware means it has the potential to reduce IT costs.

While there may be a requirement for initial training and configuration, this can be offset by reducing the cost of purchasing new software and hardware.

Free software such as Openoffice.org provides an easy to use Office suite and is largely compatible with Microsoft Office. Mozilla Firefox provides a more secure Internet browser than Internet Explorer and Kontact provides a full suite of information services, including a calendar, notes, email and address book features.

GnuCash, a free accounting software package, provides features comparable to commercial equivalents and is easy to operate and utilise.

Linux provides a choice of graphical desktop environments and KDE with its associated applications exceeds the features and stability found within Windows XP and Vista. XFCE is another desktop environment and is well suited towards older computers that may still be present within an organisation.

If there are Windows based programs that an organisation is reliant upon, there is a program known as WINE which can allow such software to still operate within Linux.

Even if an organisation wishes to retain a Windows operating system, applications such as Mozilla Firefox and OpenOffice have Windows versions, providing additional flexibility while maintaining a familiar operating environment.

Linux distributions such as OpenSUSE and Kubuntu provide an easy to install and operational Linux environment with minimal need for customisation.

The use of Linux with its potential to reduce IT costs is certainly worth exploring, particularly within organisations that are facing increasing requirements to minimise cost pressures.

Councillor Magazine: How councillors can harness the Internet

By Advice, Government, News No Comments

Councillor is a quarterly magazine designed to help educate current Councillors and demonstrate innovative approaches to local government.

I was contacted by Councillor Magazine to write an article on how councilors can harness the Internet to assist in encouraging dialogue with their community. The following is an extract of the article that was featured in the September/October edition of the magazine:

How Councillors can harness the Internet

City of Maroondah Councillor Alex Makin has operated his own website and blog since 2005. In this article, Cr Makin describes how councilors can also establish their own website and blog, and why more elected members need to use the Internet to engage the community.

Compared to the UK and the US, Australian politics has been relatively slow to embrace the capabilities of the Internet and its potential to re-engage the community and our constituencies.

While the use of websites is not new, Australian politics is still typically not using the Internet for more than a digital version of their off-line campaigns. The Internet, through the use of blogging has the potential to be so much more.

As local Councillors, representing the needs of our local constituencies, we are best placed to take a leadership role of embracing the Internet to create dialogue and re-engage with our communities.

We need to move beyond static webpages and move into an era of dynamic blogging and dialogue.

Going beyond a website

Some Councillors already have experience with establishing a website. A blog extends the capabilities of a website by providing interactive content.

A website can be likened to a static shop window, which displays information but provides little opportunity for someone to interact with the content.

Standard websites can also become difficult to maintain over the longer term as information becomes out of date.

A blog, otherwise known as weblog, is an interactive website, likened to a diary, that allows you to post new entries, keeping content relevant and allows people to post comments and subscribe to updates.

Blogs use categories and tags to file new content and provides readers with the opportunities to subscribe to updates so they are notified when new content is posted.

Extending your blog

Comments are usually moderated meaning that they need your approval prior to being included on your blog. This means you have the possibility to prevent inappropriate comments from being included on your site. Likewise spam filters exist which block spam comments from appearing.

While you have the ultimate control over what comments are included within your blog, do not go overboard in preventing feedback.

The purpose of a blog is to encourage dialogue and interaction and all relevant comments should be encouraged. Also make sure that email and phone details are available as some people will prefer these methods of communication.

Once you have established your blog and website it is worth considering ways of expanding its reach. Blogs utilize RSS feeds which allows people to be notified when new posts are created.

RSS feeds operate similarly to email where a subscriber receives the content of the post. RSS feeds are a standard feature of blogs and it is worth encouraging your readers to subscribe to them.

In addition you can also create an email subscription list for people that prefer to receive emails. This way email subscribers can receive an email message of your blog post and raise awareness of the activities you undertake as a councilor.

Just as newsletters assist in informing the community about our activities as a councilor, an electronic newsletter or RSS feeds can expand the reach of your communications with the public.

The web as an accessible medium

The Internet, through accessible web standards, means we can truly create a medium that can be experienced and accessed by all people.

Screen readers, larger font sizes, colour contrast and other technologies are available to assist people with disabilities to view content on the Internet and your website should be mindful of accessibility issues.

For example screen readers cannot read images so any graphics you include on your site should not be used in place of text.

In addition, the layout of your site should be mindful of people who prefer larger font sizes and your site should adapt to these requirements.

Future use of the Internet by councillors

Councils are the closest form of government to the community and we need to consider new methods of encouraging community engagement and interaction. In particular the web has the potential to assist us in communicating with younger people, as well as people with disabilities and the many other people in our community that prefer communication via the Internet.

Just as mobile phones are now considered essential equipment for Councillors, no doubt a web presence will be seen as a necessity shortly into the future. As councilors we have an obligation to remain relevant and keep pace with new technologies.

Creating a web presence is neither difficult nor time consuming and will assist in conveying the work you undertake as a councilor.