I think we can all agree that a good website can help your club in many ways.
Some clubs do a good job on the web. Others could use some help.
New clubs need to set up a new website and existing clubs may need to make changes to their existing site.
Whatever the case, you club needs to decide on a set of goals.
What do you want the web to do for you?
Better, reverse the question!
What does your club need to do and how can the web help?
Prioritize the following list at your next board meeting:
- Attract new members
- Build your marketing list
- Keep current members informed
- Increase participation from current members
- Generate revenue
- Generate publicity
- Generate interest in the aquarium hobby (or hobby segment)
- Provide hobby information
- Create an on-line community within your club
- Elevate the stature of your club (how your club is perceived by others)
The web site you build must reflect the prioritized goals of your board.
These goals affect more than you think! They touch everything from the layout of individual pages to site structure to the technology platform to the ultimate cost in dollars to your club.
Get this part right and rest is a lot easier.
Here’s a hint— look at your club’s mission statement or purpose. You should find this in your organization’s constitution.
What are your top three goals from the list above? You can’t do everything on the list, at least not in your site’s first iteration.
A Case Study
In late 1998, I prodded the board of the Greater Chicago Cichlid Association to get on the web. The GCCA board was receptive and a committee was formed shortly after. Eight members met and went through the goals above.
Like virtually all clubs, we suffered from too few people doing too much work. We wanted to reach more people. We wanted to attract new members. We wanted to be seen as a “cool” club that offered a lot. We wanted a central place where everybody could find information about our club.
Here’s some truth that’s difficult to swallow.
Individual club members cost more than their memberships. If you are going to attract new members, it will cost your club more money not only to “sign” them, but to maintain them as members. Benefits such as publications, good speakers, quality meeting space, holiday parties, outings, books for the club library, etc. are expensive.
Like most clubs, GCCA holds regularly scheduled swap meets and auctions. These activities make up the bulk of the club’s revenue.
It was our idea to use our web site to gather names of cichlid-fanciers who would attend our events. By increasing attendance, we’d create more revenue and be able to deliver additional benefits to members.
Thus, the number one goal of the site was to acquire names (email addresses) of potential “customers”. What would we have to do to earn the trust of our site visitors so that they’d give us their email address? Would they keep coming back?
Our second goal was to make the site a place where current members could get access to forms and other information necessary for the day-to-day business of the club. We spent a lot of time discussing what and where information should be organized.
The committee members were all avid cichlid hobbyists who felt strongly about promoting the hobby. Indeed, promoting the cichlid hobby was a core mission of the GCCA. Our third goal, then, was to fulfill this mission through the web. Interestingly, there were committee members that needed to be convinced that this was a good idea. Essentially, the argument was: “Why create all this content (that’s what we web folks call the information we put on web sites) for some guy in Australia to read about? We’re only interested in cichlid hobbyists in Chicago.”
The challenge and beauty of the web is that once you’re on it, you’re global. It’s impossible to “narrow-cast”. You have to share with everybody, or not share at all. Your job is to create something a global audience will appreciate, but a target audience will act upon.
Our website then, and today, still reflect these goals. Prominent on every page of our website is a place to sign up to get on our Email newsletter list. We have expanded the services we offer through the website to:
- Membership sign-up and renewal
- Forum community
- Auction Seller Number system
- Online BAP submissions and historical data
- Event sign-up and payment
In 1998, I used desktop software to maintain the website. I made several changes over the years to the look and feel of the site. Today, there are much better ways to manage websites.
As a site gets larger, you will need multiple people to help maintain it. You'll need a Content Management System for this such as Joomla or WordPress. Both of these are free products and there are many free and low-cost applications built on these platforms to manage membership, collect information, manage forums, etc.
I don't recommend that you run your website exclusively on a forum platform. This was popular a few years ago and offered folks a sense of community, but most clubs have found that Facebook has greatly taken away the need for a social "Aquarium" web experience. I find most forum-based club sites difficult to navigate.
In addition to web hosting which is often only $50 to $100 per year, you need to keep in mind that your CMS platform likely has a lifespan of only two years.
You'll need an active and expert webmaster to keep the software updated and upgraded for both new features and security. Many CMS plug-ins are sold on a subscription basis. If you use quite a few, the cost can add up quickly.
by Rick Borstein, GCCA Webmaster