When Heather Tyrrell joined the Water Environment Association of Ontario as their new Chief Administrative Officer, she was handed a monumental task: modernize and streamline an organization that is more necessary than ever in this era of climate change.
The Water Environment Association of Ontario is a diverse group of 1,300 technical and professional individuals working in the water and environment industries.
Many members are engineers or utility operators working in municipal water services. Others hold political or administrative positions. All are passionate about the future of the water environment industry - an industry struggling with succession planning, dwindling public interest, and growing climate concerns.
Heather had been handed some strategic objectives from the Board, but had been given little direction as to how to approach them.
The objectives were simple: increase the WEAO’s membership, provide more value to existing members, and expand the WEAO’s influence in the industry.
She had already begun addressing some of the Organization’s goals like moving to a new headquarters that better served their needs.
Heather retained Arke in June 2016. She knew she wanted to focus her earliest efforts on the presentation of the WEAO. Specifically, the WEAO’s online presence was lacking, their online member portal was finicky, and their website was cluttered and outdated.
An update wouldn’t be easy.
The internal WEAO site had a fragmented structure. The Organization is home to over sixteen committees, and each needed secure hubs for document sharing, event planning, individual calendars, meeting minutes, and communication. There were some committee members who weren’t even members of the WEAO, while others were a part of several. Tracking these committees took two drop-down menus in their old website, which appeared very cluttered.
It also needed a shared calendar, which would include some - but not all - of the committee’s events, as well as organization-wide events.
The Organization faced other structural challenges. Members could either buy a WEAO membership directly, or through the Water Environment Foundation (WEF), their international umbrella organization. WEF has a number of different types of memberships, and it was almost impossible to tell who was coming from where.
At the time, the WEAO had been using MemberClicks, an Association Management System. While it worked well as a database tool, it didn’t offer the functionalities that the WEAO needed. All web changes had to go through an out-of-house webmaster, which was costly, slow, and inefficient. The system itself was cumbersome, and took time away from the WEAO’s small administrative staff.
Their password recovery process, for example, was long and laborious. When a member forgot their password, a frequent occurrence, they had to call one of the two in-house staff members, either Heather (the CAO!) or the Administrative Assistant in order to have them manually reset it.
While this was costly and time-consuming for a small, already-extended staff, it also showed a larger, underlying problem: how many members had lost their passwords, but hadn’t called to have it reset? It was a barrier to participation, and the WEAO had no way to track what was happening.
NationBuilder offered the functionality we needed to meet the WEAO’s organizational goals: growing a membership, inspiring action and adherence, rallying behind a cause, and categorization, lead following, tracking, member directory, and a simple, easy-to-use back end interface.
Our goal was to create a site that was easier to navigate, interesting to use, and to move people from site visitor to member in as few steps as possible.
Their previous website suffered from a very distinct case of Way Too Much. Their Membership information was separated into four different pages, and each one contained at least one (but usually more) PDFs containing redundant, outdated, or unnecessary information.
The old site had two drop-down menus for committees (organized A-M and N-Z), but in these drop down menus were pages that weren’t just committees - some resources and some social groups were included as well.
The site offered a number of resources, many of which lead to broken links, outdated information, or information that wasn’t relevant to the work that the WEAO was doing.
The result was confusing, cluttered, and a frustratingly opaque organization identity.
We scoured their website for their pertinent information, and distilled it down to just a few pages of copy. We re-wrote a large portion of that information in a newly identified ‘voice’ of the organization. We wanted to make the WEAO as clear, concise, and relevant as possible - and attractive to their core audience.
We redesigned their website with user experience as our first priority. We made the navigation bar vertical, cleaner, and more intuitive.
We also made sure every page was accessible in just a few clicks - pages aren’t buried inside other pages, and instead everything is now accessible from the nav bar.
Prior to the switch, their website had a WEAO-wide events calendar. It worked well, but needed some tweaks. We added micro-calendars for each of the committees, so they could add events and meetings that wouldn’t show up for other committees. But any events could be tagged so as to appear on the main calendar as well - no redundant events across calendars.
Before, all updates had to go through a webmaster, which was time-consuming and costly. Now, Heather or her staff can easily make any necessary changes on the site. Heather has full moderator capabilities, and we’re running training sessions to ensure their organization has the skills and tools necessary to independently use NationBuilder as they see fit.
The committees were very enthusiastic about the idea of updating the site. So much so, that many sent their own specifications and requests for how they wanted their individual pages.
It was a challenge to manage sixteen different microsites within the larger framework of the updated site. Each committee page had to have the same set of tools, and have a consistent look and feel, but still be useful for sixteen different committees doing a variety of different work.
We built a custom API that allows individuals to upload PDFs to their committee pages, shared only between members of that committee.
Now, members can comment, add notes, and share ideas regarding uploads. Essentially, the committees now have their own online forums for knowledge sharing. This is incredibly important to the committees as documents are common and necessary; agendas and meeting minutes, file sharing, and official documentation.
We were able to add an unobtrusive call to action box on every page as well. We wanted to make signing up to be a member as barrier-less and easy as possible, while still ensuring that prospective members see the value that the organization provides front-and-centre.
One of the biggest services the WEAO provides is running an annual conference, called the Technical Symposium & OPCEA Exhibition.
Managing registration for the event was near-impossible under their previous system.
We wanted to make buying tickets as streamlined and simple a process as possible. But the system also needed to be flexible, for discounted or members-only tickets, while also being simple enough that any employee of the WEAO could set it up.
We decided that any member should be able to add an event to the organizational or committee calendar - Heather just has to approve it before it appears. Within an event, ticket types can be added, and a tagging system categorizes the different types of tickets.
Tickets tagged with “YP” are only be available to logged-in members who are part of the WEAO’s Young Professionals group. There are also tags for general admission and members-only. Any purchaser can only see the ticket types that apply to their personalized NationBuilder profile, reducing confusion and clutter.
This member profile system is a big part of why NationBuilder works so well for organizations. The member database is robust and streamlined, and provides a wealth of data for any member or site visitor.
When a member or visitor interacts with the WEAO online, whether it’s through social media, using a contact form, or even sending an email - it gets logged in NationBuilder. This information is used to provide better service to members, track adherence and bounce rates, and better analyze the WEAO’s strengths and weaknesses going forward. Now, we have the data we need to start evaluating how to better meet the WEAO’s goals.
The member portal was the last feature we integrated into the site. Members can log in and see personalized messages (automated, and sent depending on the data in their NationBuilder profile) such as notifications for upcoming events, or membership renewal reminders.
Within the portal is a place to upload and apply to jobs, directly within the site (after approval from Heather). It means the WEAO is now the go-to place in the industry for access to job opportunities.
There’s a similar functionality for volunteer positions as well, which are usually added by the WEAO itself for conference positions, administration, and more. It’s easy to see new opportunities and to apply to them, all within the portal.
Members can upload pictures to their own personal profiles within the site, which show up in the database. They can access their own committees easily, with a pop-up button on their home dashboard. This level of personalization means that members can feel engaged to their personalized WEAO profile, but still maintain their professional appearance within an industry organization.
Finally, we brought the WEAO into the twenty-first century with a blog and social media presence.
A large part of the WEAO’s member value is that they’re a hub for members to get information regarding what other municipalities are doing. A problem for many water environment professionals is that they’re often working within small, siloed departments and have little communication with other municipalities, They rarely, if ever, get to share solutions, problems, or information with other professionals across the industry.
The blog hopes to bridge that connection, or part of it, by passing on what other members are doing, tips on networking across departments, and other information relevant to professionals in the water environment industry.
Their social media, consisting of Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, is our front-line information sharing tool. A barrier for many people to see what’s going on at the WEAO is simply the fact that they have to go seek it out themselves. With a social WEAO, now that information just shows up on their feeds.
We’ve made the feeds as fun as possible. With interactive polls, interesting articles, bad water puns (“What do you call a fish with no eyes?” “A fsh!” Sorry, we said they were bad!) and water-related news. We hope this bridges the I-don’t-want-to-follow-a-work-related-Twitter problem.
We’ve put a concerted effort into social listening, so we can monitor potential influencers as well as other goings-on within the industry. Since the WEAO is - and should be - a guiding influence within the industry, social media is the place where a member should find everything out first.
We launched the site just in time for WEFTEC 2016, a conference held in New Orleans in late September. Many members were excited about the site, claiming it was easier to use, faster, less cluttered and much more modern than the previous site.
Since launching the site we’ve seen a spike in memberships, and the system has received rave reviews from existing members. Heather is pleased about the degree of control she has over the site, as well as how easy it is to move things around and change information without breaking the entire site or having to contact a webmaster.