Monday, January 26, 2009

YMCA web site, make it useful

My first plan of action with our web site was initially to jump in and fix two major things - the content and the "look and feel".  We have very little content that tells you who we are, what we do and whats makes us better than other alternatives (and yes we are better ;-)).  I had (and actually still do) this big plan for creating deeper content that describes our programs, services, philosophy and mission.   All of this would improve our organic search results, provide more information to members-prospects and would (in theory) increase traffic.

Then a revelation came as we talked through some things.  Why increase traffic when there is no real reason for people to come to our site?  Our online program registration is functional, but needs work.  We have an online donation page.  But beyond that, we dont have anything in place to make that increased traffic stay once they are on the site.  Our current members dont have much of a reason to visit the site.

So that is when our plan was rearranged a bit. We are working to create an innovative, meaningful set of online tools that will extend the services that the YMCA offers.  Our first step is to super size our online registration system.  We plan to make finding the class that is right for you much easier and even pointing out ones you didnt know we had.  We also plan to make the whole experience much more enjoyable and effecient.  We still plan to really beef up our content, but that will take a little time.  

So what is unique about that to merit a blog post? Nothing, but it is my blog so PLLTTHH. (is that the sound when you stick out your tongue?)

Just kidding.  This is worth posting and sharing because I wonder how many of us out there focus on spending so much time getting new traffic, recruiting new members, pushing SEO and such that we forget to make the experience meaningful to our audience.

Too many YMCAs are just OK with mediocre online registration and membership management tools.  Their web site is just there as a reproduction of their brochure and a cash register to accept payment for classes.  I am sure this is true with other orgs as well.  My thought is to offer a set of tools like no other YMCA that adds real value to our members.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Love the YMCA? Love Technology? work here, please

For the last few months we have been on the lookout to hire a project manager here at the Chicago YMCA that would focus on Applications.  I need a partner in crime, yes, you would get to work with me (not sure if that is a plus or not).

We are being very diligent to find "that right person". We are looking to make a large cultural shift within our organization to an understanding of how to improve business processes and some very large software changes that will require a very strong leader.  The technology has a role in all of this, but is not the focus.  We want to change the way people work.  One of biggest challenges within our department is that we are a small team (arent most nonprofit IT groups) and need a person that can own this and be a real champion.

Here is the job overview.

Since 1858, the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago has contributed to the lives of girls, boys, women and men of all ages, races, religions and economic backgrounds. 

Whether teaching children to swim, rescuing young men from gangs, training adults for the workforce, providing expectant mothers with prenatal care or serving transients with housing and supportive care, YMCAs collaborate with public service providers, government agencies, churches and neighborhood associations to improve life quality and encourage individual achievement. 

The YMCA is equipped to serve a range of complex, contemporary family needs through our 21 fitness centers, 4 year-round resident camps, 7 human service centers, 5 Single Room housing residences, 4 Senior Housing centers, and 1 Supportive Housing for young adult males. The YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago is also one of the largest providers of licensed child care in the mid-west. For 150 years, the YMCA has been serving the diverse needs of each community through programs ranging from child care, affordable housing, street intervention, sports and fitness, and various programs for children, teens, adults and seniors. Through these sites and more, the YMCA touches and strengthens the lives of hundreds of thousands of people each year.

Job Description

Principal Accountabilities: Dedicate yourself to the department’s vision to be the premier provider of trusted, innovative, and sustainable technology services and solutions which contribute to the building of the spirit, mind, and body of the communities and employees we serve. Posses the ability to work on multiple projects simultaneously, independently, resolve project issues, meet deadlines and escalate issues to senior management. Lead initiatives to improve business processes with and without the use of new technology. Lead and effectively complete business process improvement initiatives. Assist in the education of departments in the BPI methodology and encourage participation in the process. Identify opportunities for making business processes more efficient and for improving internal and external customer service. Analyze the costs and benefits associated with business process improvement initiatives. Lead initiatives dedicated to the introduction of new technology that promotes an innovative and expansive web presence; increases the use of state-of-the-art enterprise applications, and eliminates inefficient, redundant, and costly business processes. Develop and execute plans for making improvements to technology. Identify system requirements by working with peers and stakeholders. Evaluate software products and make purchasing recommendations. Manage the application procurement process from Request for Proposal development through contract negotiations. Continually manage project expectations. Build relationships and communicate effectively with customers, clients, employees, campers, and external vendors and consultants. Stay abreast of current and emerging packaged applications and be an information resource for employees, customers, clients, and campers. Function as liaison between end user departments and the Information Technology Department when implementing new technology. Manage vendor relationships during and after application implementations. Monitor progress and quantify the benefits of each technological improvement. Assist with the development of training plans as part of process changes or new technology rollouts and any other duties as assigned.

Experience: Must have a Bachelors Degree in Information Technology, Project Management or related field. PMP Certification a plus. Must have 5 plus years experience with in Information Technology Project Management and 3 to 4 years of prior supervisory experience.

Direct, proven, and relevant experience with leading, scoping, planning, tracking and executing large-scale, multi-tiered, and cross-departmental technology and business process improvement projects. Direct, proven, and relevant experience with managing project teams in an organization the size and scale of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. Direct, proven, and relevant experience with completing major enterprise-wide projects on time and within budget. Superb communication skills – significant business writing and presenting experience is mandatory. High degree of comfort and experience with the Microsoft Office suite. Must be self-motivated, dependable, creative, detail-oriented, and a self-starter.

We are proud to be an EEO/AA employer M/F/D/V. Employment is subject to a background check. 

Apply here:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sidetrack from Web Strategy - Quick Wins

I am deep in the throws of pushing our web presence strategy forward when suddenly I turned around to see a bunch of things that I could do now to make an impact. It seems that we always have to fight for that balance between immediate and long term needs.  (wish I knew where that picture came from).

I had been working off of the idea that we need to put a bunch of things on hold in order to focus on the long term win.  I think many of us get through the day putting out today's fires and dont have time to think about the long term needs. But dont we really need both?

So I took a little time this week and got a couple small, quick wins for the team.  First we used Flickr to upload a couple photos of a Grand Opening of our new Kelly Hall location (very exciting to be serving a community that needs us so much!).

Within a short amount of time we were able to get this up and shared.  But with this came a number of struggles.  One of which was that we had a paid photographer at the event and hopefully they were able to get some great photos.  The struggle is that we are still waiting for those photos, we ended up using a few photos that a staff member took.  (notes for next time...)

Beyond adding that quick page about our launch we also took a step back and are working on content that could be easily added to our current site that will also be reused in future development.

Plus we realized that within the IT department we arent using our own online tools well enough.  We will be launching an intranet this year for the full association with plans to have some great social networking and collaboration integration.  But here is our own team that could use a little bit more of that.  I am by no means dissin (if that is the right word for dismissing) the teams ability.  This is the best team that I have worked with ever, period.  We have a great mix of personalities, talents, focuses and strengths.  But we are all working pretty independently.  How will we get the whole association to work together when my own team isnt completely there?

Anyway, the best laid plans.... so it was a timeout from deep thinking to see if there were some immediate needs to be met.  I didnt mention all of them for fear of boredom, but I think you get the idea.  Plus I was able to use that awesome picture of the soccer cat, please tell me where I found that so I can give credit.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Listen, Act, Share as part of online donation

To provide some deeper explanation of my last post I will use an example of online donation.  

Our current web site provides an about us page that explains our mission and 501c3 status.  We also have some history and information about who we are in some secluded areas.  We have the online donation function with a link on the home page to donate now.  This represents the Tell and Do philosophy of tell the audience some things you want them to hear and then give them something to do.

Listen, Act, Share

Here is what we plan to move it to, Listen, Act and Share.  The biggest addition is the Listen area.  For those people are prospects, not existing donors, we want to engage them in a conversation with us, our staff, our board, our partners, other members, other donors or many other audiences.  We also want to give them multiple ways to provide us feedback and information about themselves.

The biggest shift will be to Share from Tell. We will use language across our full web site to share information about who we are, what we care about, what our mission is and why it all matters.  Rather than saving mission talk for our "About us" page it will be woven across the full site.  We will look for opportunities to showcase ways for use to share who we are, members to share what they think of us, staff to show their dedication, volunteers to show their involvement and more.  Our words will be less about making announcements and more about sharing a piece of who we are.

And finally a shift to Act from Do. In my interpretation do seems like something that is a one time occurence and is more of a transaction.  We will still have those transactions but our bigger goal will be getting people more involved and engaged in our organization.  So we will build some opportunities online that will build or surround the donation process, like joining a community, volunteering, sharing a story, recruit others and more.  In addition we will work purposefully to align our online activity with our in person experiences at our locations.  For example building a process around how we interact with our donors after the online pledge happens.  Or how we will drive traffic to our web site for information about how our donations have impacted the community.

This is just a brief and single example of how we plan to shift the way we leverage the online experience to enhance and expand the impact we have on our communities.  This is more than a web site this is the extension of our mission through an online presence. 

Monday, January 5, 2009

Core of new web strategy

Over the next few posts I plan to share the core concepts that we have decided to focus on as we move from having a web site to having an online presence.  The first thing to note, is that first sentence.  In 2009 the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago will be making a move from just a web site to having a real online presence. What is the difference?

The difference is that an online presence will include much more than a web site.  In addition to the web site we will be launching an intranet and beginning to extend to social networks\media.  It will be a lot of work to launch all of these in 2009 but with a fresh start on all fronts, comes a unique opportunity, we will look for ways to tightly integrate and overlap all of these efforts.  It is too early to jump to some of these ideas, but one example is integrating a purposeful use of LinkedIn into our staff/volunteer intranet.

Core of our strategy - Start a conversation with a call to action

It is as simple as starting an online conversation with a deliberate call to action. I did not invent this concept or idea, I am just applying what I have learned from many smart people.

There is nothing dramatically wrong with our current web site, except that for the most part it is just an online version of our brochures. It tells people things and then gives them few options of things to do.

Listen: Our new strategy will add in the element of listening, we need to provide ways for members to interact with us.  This also means we need to get out where the people already are (like social networks) and listen to the conversations they are having about us.

Act: Act will be an effort to build gradual and multiple ways for our communities to engage with us, rather than only providing things to do (like sales).

Share: Sharing who we are, what makes us unique is much different than telling people about our buildings, memberships and programs.  In addition to changing our content, we will also be moving toward content that is specific to the audience.  The little picture of whispering in the ear for the share column is appropriate.  We want to stop screaming to large groups and not be heard, but shift to direct messages to those who are interested.

So that is what we are calling the core of our online presence strategy.  I dont think there are new revelations here, but maybe the way I shared it will bring it to new audiences or start other conversations.

Happy New Year to all of you.  Watch for the next post where I will give a more in depth example of this core concept of Hear, Act, Share.