WAA’s Website: Time to Redesign
The Challenges of Becoming (Staying?!) a Component Executive
Finding a Balance and Managing Growth in Sweden
Event Risk Management: Are You Covered?
The Wisconsin Arborist Association (WAA) launched a new website on August 29, 2019. The overall experience was a lot of work, but we now have a site our members love and that works for us.
Our previous website was not mobile-friendly, had security issues, and was not intuitive for members to navigate. Additionally, despite the last overhaul being in 2015, it looked and felt outdated.
Responsive design - Knowing that our members would access it for a variety of devices – laptops, tablets and phones - we needed a responsive web design that looked great and functioned well however it was accessed.
Decluttering - Our old site housed too much information, looked cluttered and functioned at a snail’s pace. Making things easier to find was key, and to do that we needed to dramatically pare down what the site housed.
Improving the user experience – Our old processes around event sign-up and payment were confusing and clunky. We used Constant Contact with PayPal, but the user experience was confusing and the credit card processing fees were high. Users needed a more streamlined form where they could see the options clearly and where paying us was simple.
Finding a right support - One of the most imperative reasons for the new site was our website vendor was unresponsive to updates, changes and catastrophes. It was unnerving that if the website ever went down (and it did on several occasions), we were relying on one person to help us, and if that person was not available, we had no recourse.
We decided we needed to choose a design company that had a support team, rather than one individual. That way, if we are ever in a bind, someone will always be available to help us.
Our internal process
Once the Board of Directors approved the budget for the new website, WAA staff reached out to get design proposals from three vendors. We chose the one that best suited our needs based on cost and the time‐frame to get the work done.
When our new site launched, we received lots of positive feedback. Our new website is now more consistent with fonts, colors, images and formatting on all pages. This has made navigation a lot more streamlined and much easier to maneuver throughout the website.
In addition to having information available to the public, our new website now has a “member login” experience. All current WAA members received an email describing how to set up a profile using their email addresses, allow them to access exclusive access to membership benefits and resources like marketing materials, our quarterly newsletter and our membership directory (the directory was only available in printed form prior to launch).
We improved upon the online registration process for conferences and events using Authorize.net as our credit card processor, and we made it much easier for them to post job opportunities or advertise services on the updated Certified Arborist for Hire (CAFH) page. Previously, the CAFH listings showed up in alphabetical order - which was not quite fair to those companies whose names started with letters at the end of the alphabet. The search is now based using a map to search by location.
Another new feature on our website is a blog for the public. We are using our blog to post a few articles from our newsletter and other information that is important for the public to know. We hope to keep the public informed on any new pests arriving in the state and on other current industry happenings.
The new website is in an updated version of WordPress, and using the Beaver Builder plugin, which uses drag and drop elements to make edits, it is much easier for staff to manage and make changes. Our designer made templates for us to use with Beaver Builder, and they saves us a lot of time.
The overall process of redesigning a website may seem pretty daunting. However, when you decide you need to improve what you have for visitor usability or for whatever reason, it is well worth the investment of time and monies. Start by figuring out what you achieve. Then, find a company that is right for you. Also, remember, your website can be updated/edited at any time, so don’t worry about being perfect before launch but don’t rush it either. Take your time to think it through and develop it carefully with your web designer so your new website has the best user experience possible.
On June 1, 2019, I was blessed with the opportunity to become the new executive director of the ISA Southern Chapter.
The organization’s territory stretches across the southern United States, covering eight states and two territories, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Geographically speaking, we are big! If one would drive from Lake Charles, Louisiana to Greenville, North Carolina, the trip would be 1,129 road miles and take 16 hours.
While the geography of the chapter is one challenge, the toughest one is succeeding Dwayne Carter, who served as executive director for nearly 30 years. While I am excited to provide service to an organization with an excellent foundation and an engaged board and membership, I can’t help but feel that I have a tough road ahead. The assignment reminds me of when, in 2003, a sportscaster was hired to replace the legendary Jack Buck as the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals. I am an avid baseball fan and rarely miss an opportunity to watch, listen to, or attend a game. But even as a rabid fan, I could not tell you the name of the man that replaced Jack Buck. Why? Because he replaced a legend. And no matter how good of a job he did (and, actually, he was very good), in my eyes and ears he was not Jack Buck. Essentially, this is how I feel about being asked to assume this role of executive director. I am truly following a legend! Dwayne Carter guided ISA Southern to become the organization it is today. Big shoes to fill indeed!
As I assume my new role, I am also focused on how to use the traditions that came with strong leadership as a springboard to propel the organization to become bigger and better. I am committed to increasing the services we provide, appeal to a more diverse audience and increase the learning opportunities for our members.
My dedication to ISA comes from the ISA members of the past that were kind enough to guide and mentor me as a young arborist. Consider my involvement with ISA as a kind of “pay it forward” proposition. I have served on many committees writing exam test questions, guiding the credentialing program, assisting with the development of the TRAQ credential and serving on the ISA Board of Directors. You would think that after those years of service I would have seen enough to know what needs to be done to guide a chapter. I will be the first to inform you that I had no idea what would be involved to transition the chapter from one director to the next.
While not a complete list by any means, here are a few challenges that I have recognized during my short tenure:
Communication with members - Transferring the existing telephone number to new digital service, transferring web site access, setting up email and e-blast service and going digital with our newsletter are communication highlights. I wanted to ensure that the changes were all seamless and required no changes for members, so they still had the same phone number and web address. The chapter utilizes a communications specialist to coordinate our efforts. Their expertise is invaluable and helps us to communicate clearly and effectively.
Another task that comes up with new executive directors is establishing a new network of contacts, nurturing developing contacts and caring for established ones. We are only as effective as our network allows us to be. Hence, my advice is to care for it like you would your garden.
Finances – Whew! This part was tricky. The chapter had a long relationship with a financial institution, which I wanted to avoid disrupting. So, we set up full-service digital banking that allows all our transactions to occur remotely. While I live in a different state than the previous director, I expected this to be smoother than it was, but every bank is different and ours required a different form and approval for every type of transaction we want to do. It was (is) time consuming and frustrating. We also had to cleanly and securely transfer all our financial record keeping but managed to find a great service to handle this for us. We have had a few late payments but, hopefully, they are minimal inconveniences.
Liaison Services – I have been heavily involved with ISA’s credentialing program for years. How hard could it be to take on the liaison role for the chapter and assign a few CEU codes for upcoming workshops and events? Southern Chapter has processed nearly 745 CEU hours of activities in the first half of 2019. I have always said that our gracious volunteers that provide this service have paid their dues! Assigning and entering CEU requests is an easy curve to learn. The ISA website makes it very clean, and my questions have been quickly and accurately handled by ISA staff. Did I mention many of them are relatively new as well? You would not know when you call. They are on the ball and have learned quickly! Full admission here - there were a couple of CEU requests and events missed within the first week or two of my term. We are working to take care of those members. The liaison role needs to be taken very seriously. As we all can agree, credential holders can be passionate about their CEUs.
Conferences and Workshops – Well, let’s just say thank goodness for a strong and active board and many volunteers. Within 10 weeks of accepting this position as executive director, the ISA Southern Chapter is hosting the ISA Annual International Conference and Trade Show in Knoxville. Trial by fire! We also have annual events and specialized workshops that are arranged by chapter staff and volunteers. We utilize experts in conference management to make sure we are creating the best environment for those who attend and those who sponsor and exhibit at these events.
Policy and Procedures – Creating a clear set of instructions about the specifics of how to carry out chapter business and activities is critical. The chapter has a policy and procedures document, but a review and update is due. The details and minutia can be daunting, but this document can solve many potential issues before they are even on the radar.
I have compared my first few months as executive director to a giant real-life jigsaw puzzle. Each piece is independent of the others; however, they must fit perfectly within the entire puzzle to get the full picture of how to serve our membership effectively. Becoming a puzzle master creates a smooth ship!
As most chapters of ISA the Swedish Tree Association works on many different levels. I have therefore divided the challenges in three parts: Internal, external and international.
Internal challenges. In February of 2019, the association hired its first executive director. This has helped us become more professional; however, at the same time, it raised questions on which decisions should be taken by the board and which decisions should be handled by the new director. For some board members, it was hard to relinquish operational control where they had previously had it. For others, it was a relief and made it possible for the board to focus on other aspects.
I believe that in the long-run, this change will benefit the association greatly, but it will take some time before the different roles has been described and understood by the board, the executive director and our members.
External challenges. The association is growing at a fantastic rate with an increase of over 350% since 2014, but this growth-rate is also a significant challenge since diverse member expectations are rising. We are now facing a challenge of finding new courses, starting new standardization work and developing educational topics for our annual conference.
At the same time, this fantastic growth has increased the number of members who want to volunteer and help the association. However, we currently do not have a system to handle these requests, which has caused some potential volunteers to feel ignored and less inspired to engage.
International challenges. Although the association is growing, we lack resources to create new qualifications or certifications but have been able to adopt international systems, such as the ISA Certified Arborist® credential and TRAQ course. These have been very successful for us, and they are now used in procurements and by many government agencies. The challenge is, however, is deciding how we handle the different types of educational programs that exist here in Sweden and our neighboring countries. Last spring, we had participants from four countries with ten different types of educational backgrounds that needed to be translated to the pre-requirements set by the ISA. This is a big challenge for the association and this year’s TRAQ course demanded about eight times as much time as any other course we previously offered. This is a deeply-involved, beneficial course of ISA that has to be handled with such great diversity.
I had a strange feeling that luck was running out. So, prior to our February 2019 annual conference, I jumped in and bought event cancellation insurance. I mean, I live in Michigan and had planned an event to occur in February. Good choice, right? Yes, it was. I had danced around this purchase for five years, partly due to the cost (or what I assumed the cost would be). However, that little voice inside my head said this year was going to be different.
The Arboriculture Society of Michigan (ASM) holds their annual winter conference in February. This particular year, it snowed a lot, but not too much near the location of the conference. Surprisingly, we didn’t have to cancel the event, but the weather did cause a bit of a situation.
As any prepared meeting planner, I shared this feeling with the Conference Committee and did the research on the cost. Turns out, the cost was minimal and based on gross profit, whether the event was public or private, number of attendees, and the amount of snow that might fall. We also talked about the ‘what-ifs.’ On one hand, it was easy; bad weather, cancel conference, provide refunds, submit claim. On the other hand, we had a myriad of scenarios where one detail could change a decision in a major way. The Conference Committee opted to purchase the insurance, watch the weather pattern, assign volunteers to be “on the ready” to communicate via all mediums (e.g. web, Facebook, conference app, phone) and work with the hotel and conference center on the logistics.
And then Mother Nature threw us a curve ball. The city where the event was located did not get much snow, but the surrounding areas (1 to 2.5 hours away) got a lot and closed a major highway on the second day of the conference. About 85% of our attendees had made it to the conference the night before. And then a local speaker canceled due to dangerous travel conditions. Then, the phone started ringing with requests for refunds. We had to get creative and deal with each challenge:
- Challenge #1: How to handle a key presentation when the speaker cannot be onsite. We already had one session in which the speaker was using Skype to present. We worked with the “snowed out” speaker to find an option for him to present remotely; we ultimately decided to use Zoom. We communicated the change to attendees and held a successful session.
Outcome: A round of “high-fives!” We learned that Zoom is a better product when presenting a session via WIFI!
- Challenge #2: How to respond to requests for refunds. This was a tough one with many factors to consider, including timing of call, reason for requesting a refund and minimizing our loss of income.
Outcome: We took a member-first approach and offered a cost-sharing refund back to those that had called us 1 to 2 days before the event started to let us know about their situation based on the weather.
It was a challenging 24 hours that consumed us with logistics and member-focused decisions. In the end, ASM learned about the inadequacies in their conference policies, which have been corrected; provided transparency and understanding to a population of their membership which provided value; and realized that having the proper coverage, regardless of the weather, is important in event risk management.