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.

Stealth Features Available on Request

Can we share a secret?  There are a few “hidden” features that our support team has the power to turn on for individual groups upon request.  If you’d like the team to help you with any one of these things, just get in touch and ask!

Set a max number of ticket purchases for event sales.

Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 5.53.03 PMIf you’re selling tickets to a popular event and are concerned people may get a bit greedy and snatch up all the tickets for themselves, we can limit the number of tickets available per transaction.

It’s worth noting that people can still buy more tickets in separate transactions, but that would require that they return to your event page and go through the payment process again, so this check should be enough in most cases.

Display custom fields in your website’s member directory

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When you add a custom field to your database, you have the option of displaying the information collected in those fields on individual member’s profile pages.  If you want to display that information as a column in your website’s member directory alongside your member’s names and and emails, we can do that for you.

Change your website’s URL

We don’t allow you to edit your website’s URL as a precautionary measure because changing your URL would break any links that pointed to the previous address, including any links sent out in welcome e-mails, e-mails sent to group members, and so on.

That said, if you’re aware of the above risks, we can change your URL for you on request.

Change your website font

We can change the base font on your website to any of following:

Helvetica
Tahoma
Verdana
Trebuchet
Georgia
Times New Roman
Comic Sans
Monospace

Why can’t you make these changes yourself?  In some cases, as editing your URL, it’s because the edit is potentially risk.  In other cases, these features just haven’t been worked into our interface yet, but you will be able to do them on your own eventually.  In the meantime, if you want us to take care of any of things for you, just ask!

Recruitment Tips: Growing Groups Need WOM

Screen shot 2013-03-08 at 15.28.36Someone is talking about your group right now.  Are they saying something good or bad?  That depends on whether you’ve done a good job nurturing Word of Mouth, or WOM as it’s known in marketing circles(you know it’s a big deal if it’s got it’s own abbreviation).  If you haven’t given much thought to WOM, you should start because people are more likely to be influenced by recommendations and referrals from people they know.  Not only is this common sense – whose opinion do you trust more, your friend or a salesman? – but marketing studies back it up.

The reason WOM is so powerful is because it is genuine, but don’t assume that means you can just sit back and hope that it happens.  Here are six ways you can encourage, facilitate, and increase WOM within your organization:

1) Make members happy.  Real talk?  Any efforts to recruit new members will be a waste if your existing members are dropping like flies.  When existing members are happy, they will be more likely to recruit others, which is why investing time in your group is also a major investment in WOM.   Ensure you are always working towards the purpose that members joined for, run operations as smoothly as possible, and keep communication clear and open.  When members feel that their purpose for joining is being fulfilled, WOM will occur naturally.

2) Encourage guests.  Suggest that your members bring along guests to any meetings or events rather than keeping them closed to non-members.

3) Free swag.  Budget some funds towards providing members with stickers, shirts, pins, etc. These items can all spark a conversation members wouldn’t ordinarily have started about their involvement in your organization.

4) Arm your members.  Make sure that there is not only a clear purpose for you group, but that it’s been communicated to all members so they can sum it up easily in conversation.  Do they know what links to send to interested friends?  Do they know who potential members should speak to for more information?  If you haven’t communicated to members how they field questions from interested parties, they may not know!

5) Track referrals.  This is as simple as adding a “Were you referred by someone?” field on your group’s registration form.  If you don’t specifically ask, you may not discover who your biggest promoters are!  Those are the members that you want to work to keep engaged, which brings me to our last tip…

6) Reward referrals.  You could establish a literal reward program where you offer discounts on  membership fees or gift certificates, but you may find that members respond even better to non-material rewards.  An acknowledgement of their efforts – privately or publicly at a meeting or in a newsletter – is often reward enough.  Alternatively, you might consider rewarding a particularly strong recruiter with a title in your organization – Membership Manager or something along those lines – and task them with overseeing group recruitment efforts and developing new strategies for building membership.

Has your group benefited from word of mouth, and do you make any efforts to harness it?

Email Tips: 5 Ways to Work With Spam Filters

Spam filters have a pretty thankless job.  You’re totally unaware of them when they’re excelling, but the second they slip up and prevent an legitimate message from reaching your intended audience, it’s a pretty big deal.

We hear from group managers occasionally when an important email ends up in a member’s spam folder, or worse yet, gets filtered out altogether.  Fortunately, this a rare occurrence as spam filters are usually pretty good at their job, but here are five precautions you can take to work with spam filters towards the betterment of your mailing lists and inboxes everywhere.

Don’t talk like a spammer.  You know, the sort of language that would have you clicking the DELETE button in your own inbox without opening the email.  Act Now!, Earn $$$, and Limited Time – that sort of stuff.  Here’s a comprehensive list of such trigger words – just bear in mind that you shouldn’t agonize over avoiding every single one of these words.  Keep them in the back of your mind, but a mention of a free some-or-other every once and awhile won’t cause a communication disaster.

Don’t format like a spammer.  Would you send an email to your friend in a red font, using all caps, or with invisible (white) text?  Of course you wouldn’t, so don’t do it to a mailing list either!  Not only will these attention-grabbing techniques annoy your readers, they very well might get you filtered.

Don’t include attachments. Many spam blockers see attachments as a potential virus threat, so it’s better to avoid them altogether.  Don’t worry, we have a pretty good workaround that makes it just as easy to share files with your mailing lists without any spam trigger risks.

Ask members to whitelist you.  If you have one member who just isn’t receiving your messages no matter what, ask them to add your list’s email address to their address book or approved sender’s list.  Every email service provider is different, and some are just more suspicious than others and being added to the address book effectively let’s the ESP know that you’re someone they actually want to hear from.  In fact, it you might want to include a request that all members add your address to their address book in your registration form’s confirmation message.

Send messages from a reputable server.  This is actually the single most important precaution, and if you’re using GroupSpaces, then you’re already set!  You’d be surprised how many of the aforementioned no-nos you can get away with if your server has a healthy reputation, which is why we take this responsibility very seriously.  We maintain a good server rep by having internal checks to prevent actual spammers abusing our mailing list feature, including unsubscribe links in  newsletter and email discussions sent by every group in our system, and – to get a bit technical – using DomainKeys DKIM, and SPF.

Remember, spam filters are our friends and they to do a standup job keeping inboxes sane and safe overall, but nobody is perfect,  so help them out by keeping the five tips above in mind when messaging your group.