Manager of the Month: Stephen Lake of the H28 Association of Australia

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“If you are not a project manager, then find one quick.” This is the very first piece of advice Stephen Lake offers leaders of non-profit and/or community organizations. As a professional management consultant/project manager and active committee member of a number of community organizations, Stephen Lake is something of an expert on coordinating people to work towards a common goal. “The challenges,” he recognizes, “are many. Changing technologies, the constant pressure to cut costs, leaders who lack vision, the nature and politics of voluntary organization, I could go on…” Yet Stephen manages to meet those challenges, whether he’s consulting for Governance Today and Advantage International or volunteering for The Rotary Club of Melbourne or the Institute of Management Consultants.

One of Stephen’s tenets of good management is never letting yourself become indispensable – to do so, he explains, creates a risk for your organization. Which is why it was so important to use management software that is accessible and easy to use. It is a testament to Stephen’s thoroughness that he only decided on GroupSpaces after completing “a detailed analysis of 15 vendors found on the internet or from past experience and word of mouth. GroupSpaces ticked most of my ‘boxes’.”

Of all his groups, Stephen has been especially pleased with the success of the Herreshoff H28 Association of Australia, Inc, an association which supports a fleet of classic wooden and modern fibreglass yachts throughout Australia. Stephen was tasked with implementing a website for the association when he joined the Committee. He began with a Google Website but quickly made the upgrade to GroupSpaces where he is able to maintain a website, a membership system, a subscription system, and event management system from a single place. “GroupSpaces has revolutionized the organization. We have gone from a state association, struggling to get subscriptions in, with multiple versions of membership records, to a simple-to-manage and efficient organization which attracts members whose yachts we never knew existed. We started with 70 known yachts and now have over 150 in just 12 months.”

Although GroupSpaces is a big help, Stephen has many years of experience to aid him in managing organizations well. What are some of the insights he’s developed over the years? “Be clear on the benefits you expect to realize,” he begins. “Actively practice risk management, check your assumptions regularly in case they change. Never run an implementation longer than 9 months – by then the world will have changed. Don’t forget to document – wiki’s are great for this. No matter how much you have emotionally invested in a solution, be prepared to listen to and learn from all criticisms.”

You can get a first-hand look at how Stephen is making use of GroupSpaces on the websites for Rotary E-Club of MelbourneGovernance Today, and the H28 Association of Australia.

Customize Your Group’s Website in 5 Steps

Your website is your group’s online home, and while there’s certainly nothing wrong with the out-of-the-box design, it’s definitely worth taking a few minutes to really make it your own.  Here are five ways you can inject your site with some of your group’s unique spirit and personality.

1) Upload a custom header image.

Pawnee Environmental Society _ GroupSpaces

This the quickest and easiest way to personalize your site.  We recommend uploading a 955px wide image – all common image formats are supported – that will span across the top of your website, but you can also upload a smaller logo that will occupy the top left-hand corner of your site.

You don’t have to be graphic designer to whip up a basic header image for your group. If you have it,  PhotoShop is great, otherwise basic, free image editing programs like Skitch or even Drawings in your Google Drive will allow you to paste an image into a 955px sized frame and overlay text on it.

2) Pick a default theme, then customize it.  

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Themes allow you to apply a variety of color schemes to your site.  Once you’ve picked out your preferred theme, tweak it further by selecting the Custom option.  You can select colors for specific elements of your site this way, and even upload background images to wallpaper your site.

3) Configure your Homepage layout.

We populate your homepage with some content to get you started, but managers have full control over what does and does not appear on their homepage.  Drag and drop the content you want to share and remove what you don’t.  You can use the Rich Text/HTML box to add any   custom content you want – text, images, embedded video content, anything!

4) Add Custom pages.  

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You’re not limited to the pages we provide you with.  You can create as many additional pages as you like.  Click on the green Create Page button to setup a new page that you can title and use however you like.  They are blank pages that you can populate with copy, images, videos, or anything you have in mind using the Text Editor.

5) Experiment with CSS.  

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Please note this one is only possible with a Pro subscription or above.  Those groups have access to an open CSS field – any custom CSS they add to this field will be placed above our existing stylesheets, thus overriding the default CSS and allowing for far greater customization.

We recommend using a tool like Firebug or Chrome Developer Tools when working with CSS to identity what elements you want to change.

Bitter Debate Rages Over Forums vs Email Discussions

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Ah yes, the debate over forums vs discussion lists has been waging since the birth of the internet, and for the most part here at GroupSpaces we take a decidedly Swiss stance and say, “Whatever floats your group’s boat!”  That said, one of the most frequent requests we’ve received as of late is for email notifications to members anytime a new thread is created.  We do have plans to develop a solution that will address this need in the future, but in the meantime, if this is a concern of yours you may find that email discussions are a better choice for your group.

To help you make that choice, we’ll go over the benefits and drawbacks of both here!

The Forums

The Forums live on your GroupSpaces website and are best if you need a space to where members can converse when they want, but be left alone otherwise.  Members need to actively visit the forums in order to start or participate in a thread, otherwise they’ll remain blissfully unaware of the forum’s goings on.  This is particularly handy for very large groups or member lists.

Forums also serve as fantastic references for new members with questions as they are searchable and can be broken into categories by managers.

Pros:

  • Not pushy. They’re there when a member needs them and stay in the background when they don’t.
  • Stronger organization. Managers can create categories in the forums
  • Greater Moderation.  Managers can opt to approve each message posted to the forum before it is published.

Cons:

  • Too passive. if you do want to keep members informed and involved, the lack of notifications may rule the Forums out.
  • Too many barriers.  Members have to visit the forums and login before they can post or reply.

Email Discussions

Discussion lists are are a more direct method of member communication as subscribers receive and send messages to a list from their personal inboxes.  With virtually no barriers to jump into a conversation, This is ideal for smaller groups or mailing lists

Pros:

  • No barriers. Members can contribute with minimal action on their part.  Unlike in the forums, members do not need to visit your site, or even have a registered account to participate – they just need to be included in your database/member list.

Cons:

  • Inbox clutter. Some members may object to the volume of emails they (although they can always unsubscribe or opt into a daily digest instead)
  • Less organization.  While an email discussion archive is available in beta on request (contact us if you’d like it enabled), the Forum’s organized structure does make it a better reference for new members.
  • No moderation. Any member on a discussion list can message the other members on the list, there is no managerial approval necessary.

Ultimately, we envision a super powerful hybrid of both features in GroupSpaces’ future, but until  we reach that goal, you now know the advantages and disadvantages of each and may go hence and make the best decision for your group!  

Which do you prefer to use for your group?

Bulk Group Discounts: The More the Merrier!

Screen Shot 2013-04-19 at 4.06.46 PMYour first GroupSpaces group is like a first tattoo. You think that it will be all you need, but once you get one, you’ll love it so much it won’t be long before you’re planning your second and third.  We’ve come across many managers who were so pleased with the efficiency of GroupSpaces that they ended up creating two, three, four, heck, even a dozen groups for all the various organizations and clubs in which they’re involved.

Needless to say, we find those super managers incredibly impressive and the very least we can do is offer them a break on pricing, which is why managers with more than one group are eligible for a bulk discount.  Specifically, we’re happy to offer 50% off your second and any subsequent groups.

Here are the conditions:
- All groups must be billed to the same account/card details
- All groups must be managed by the same user account
- The most expansive plan is full price, and all other plans are 50% off
- You may choose different plans for your second and subsequent groups, but the billing period for all plans must be the same (monthly, yearly or biannual payment).

If you’re considering expanding your GroupSpaces empire, or if you already qualify for a bulk discount, just drop us a line and we’ll get you sorted out!

Don’t Overlook Invite Tracking

GroupSpaces is such a robust service, it can be easy to overlook certain features.  This week we’d like to bring your attention to something you may have missed – invitation tracking!

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When building your member database, you have two options – you can either add members or  invite them.  Opting for an invitation sends a request to your members asking that they visit your signup page and create a registered account with a login.   But did you know that you can track whether those invitations have been viewed or acted upon?

Your Invite Review page lists every invitation you’ve sent out and tracks whether the invitee has followed through on the invitation.  There are are three possible invitations states:

No reply yet – This means that that invitee has not clicked on the sign up link sent to them in the invitation email

Visited the sign up form – This means that the invitee did click on the link and viewed your sign up page, but did not complete the form.

Accepted invitation / manually added – This means the invitee is now a member of your database – either by signing up themselves, or after being added by one of your managers.

Screen Shot 2013-03-20 at 1.05.52 PMYou can use this information to determine whether it’s worth following up on an invitation someone hasn’t responded to. You’ll find the Review Invites link at the bottom of your group’s Add/Invite Members page.

Are you already making use of invitation tracking or had you overlooked it?

Manager of the Month: Dan Sloss of the Canberra Classical Guitar Society

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This month we get to know Dan Sloss, the manager of several standalone groups for musicians and music lovers in Canberra, Australia.  Dan started the Canberra Classical Guitar Society, an organization of classical guitar players and supporters in Australia’s capital city, in 2007 along with Tim Kain, the Head of Guitar at the Australian National University’s School of Music.  “Most people who learn and play guitar have no fraternity because it’s a solo instrument,” Dan explains.  “I was in need of something to do and I’m a good organizer so I thought what Canberra seems to be lacking is organization at the classical guitar level.”

As a former commanding officer in the US Navy and US Naval attaché in Australia, Dan was more than up for that organizational challenge.  While searching for a membership management solution with an opt-in/out public mailing list for his new society, Dan discovered GroupSpaces.  He found that he could use GroupSpaces to keep members organized and to simplify the distribution of musical scores amongst the society’ guitar ensemble members.   “Personally, I like to manage as simply and efficiently as possible, and GroupSpaces makes that doable.”

When Dan later got involved with the  Canberra International Music Festival, an acclaimed annual art music program organized by the non-profit Pro Musica Incorporated, he knew immediately that he could help streamline their online management processes.  Previously, Pro Musica juggled multiple accounts with numerous services, and updating their website was an ordeal that could only be undertaken by one admin.  With Dan’s assistance,  “Pro Musica has reduced their website administration to a single domain with GroupSpaces. Loading webpages is simple and making corrections on the fly is no longer high drama.”

As with his guitar society, Dan is using GroupSpaces’ file sharing capabilities to distribute music scores to the hundreds of musicians participating in the festival.  They’ll also make great use of the photo gallery, Facebook integration, and newsletter features, and are currently exploring the possibility of selling tickets to the festival via GroupSpaces.

The 2012 Canberra International Music Festival will be held May 10-19th.  Dan’s Classical Guitar Society group can be found here.

Why We Don’t Delete Your Past Members

You may have noticed the Past Members records in your account, but do you know what it is and why we keep these records?

Screen Shot 2013-03-20 at 12.31.17 PMEvery time a manager deletes an entry from the database, or a member decides to leave thegroup, that member’s entry is moved into a Past Members section.  You can find the Past Members section in the left-hand menu when viewing your member database.

The Past Members section serves two very important purposes.

You can use the Past Members section as a reference.  Past members are not counted towards your member limit, nor are they included in any email sends to your group’s address. This section exists so you can keep track of non-active members without having to “pay” for them.

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You can export the entries in your Past Members section.  Why would you want to do that?   Because if you delete members from your database by accident, you can rest easy knowing their information is not lost forever.  You can find their entries in your Past Members section and add them back to your database, either by copying and pasting the information or by exporting your Past Members entries as a CSV file and then uploading it into your database.