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The topics discussed here grow out of the bread-and-butter issues that confront my consulting and software clients on a daily basis. We'll talk about prosaic stuff like Membership Management, Meetings and Events Management and Fundraising, broader ideas like security and software project management, and the social, cultural, and organizational issues that impact IT decision-making.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Content Management

I see a lot of associations and not-for-profits struggling with their websites.

My advice? As in so many other areas of life, first make sure you are using the right tool for the job. The tool for this job is a content management system (CMS).

Content management systems are software applications for creating, editing, and controlling the information on your website. At a minimum, a CMS will provide you with a word-processing like tool for WYSIWYG editing of your pages. The editing will be done in the browser, on your site, so there will be no need to up- and download pages. A CMS also ought to manage the menu structure of your site automatically.

Just this basic level of CMS functionality will bring a huge level of independence and ease-of-use to your organization. Without consulting with a web professional or learning HTML, you can create a document in the CMS, position it in your menu structure, and have it appear on your site - just about as easily as you can write a memo in your word processing program. I talked to a membership director just today who told me that to edit a page on their site currently they download it, edit the HTML very carefully in WordPad, and upload it back via FTP. What a hassle!

But CMS at its best provides many more tools than just ease in editing. Many such systems will also allow you to create pages and approve them for publication later, allowing you time to get the new pages vetted and checked before making them publicly visible. You may even be able to set the date you want the item to appear or vanish from the site. A good system will allow you to give many users the rights to edit content, while reserving for a select view the right to approve or publish.

A CMS might also provide you with templates for a variety of special-purpose pages in addition to the standard page. I'm talking about tools for building
  • catalogs
  • calendars
  • forums
  • polls and surveys
  • newsletter mailings
  • frequently asked questions
  • download pages
  • member logon
and the like.

At Members Only Software, we've just starting reselling the CMS that we use for our own site, Streamline by TechRiver LLC. One of the things we like about the Streamline solution is that the TechRiver folks work like we do - they see their product as a software application and a professional service. In helping you get the program set up, they assume you may need to work with their design team to get a template and graphic concept that reflects your brand, and you may need some consultation in structuring the information you need to present. They don't intend to leave you alone to figure out how to use the thing. And they know you will have strong feeling about how menus and other aspects of the site should look and feel.

We've also worked with them several times on client projects, so we've established the protocols for allowing MEMBERS ONLY to interact with the Streamline site to integrate registration, online giving, and so on directly into the website. Give us a holler if you'd like to take a look at it!

Once you have your Content Management System in place, you can move on to the really interesting problem: how do you create all that content you're supposed to manage in the first place?

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