Why Unions Should Provide Free Websites to Their Locals
I want to start out by saying that this isn't just something that is an issue with unions and locals, but is also a challenge with any organization with member groups that end up needing to have a website. This could be riding associations for political parties like the NDP or local chapters of the Sierra Club. There are a number of reasons why national or regional organizations like these need to be investing in the net on behalf of their members.
The easiest way to do this is to offer sub-domains to member organizations so that they can set up a website without having to keep track of the domain names. One would think that the cost of a domain name wouldn't be prohibitive for most small organizations, even grassroots community organizers. However the number of domains that are left unattended and are let expire is considerable. The cost of loosing an established domain is that you are left having sometimes hundreds of links to your old domain pointing to sites pushing porn, gambling or ink jet cartridge sites. By offering smaller groups a sub-domain you have more control of your community and can ensure that you are promoting the people and values that are important to your organization.
Many locals and chapters have sites which were set up by enthusiasts and then forgotten. They often look great when they are first put up, but then members loose interest and you start having very dated information on them. A few years back we worked with Oxfam to consolidate their community sites into a single volunteer portal. This helped to ensure that they wouldn't have the problems mentioned above, but also that they could ultimately change information on a site that was incorrect. If members are encouraged to use a service provided by the larger organization you will have the ability to take down inappropriate content. You want to ensure that your members sites look professional as they reflect how the public/media sees you.
Branding and messaging is also a critical factor for national organizations. If there is a new campaign that you are launching, you want to be able to broadcast that to your member organizations and have that featured on their site automatically. With RSS feeds you can now do this. We have also built tools for Drupal which allow you to scrape images from national sites as well, so that you can have updated images distributed from your latest campaign. Having links to your latest articles featured on other sites will help your search engine placement, but more importantly will help drive users to your site.
Finally, there are economies of scale where it makes sense to centralize the use and control of technology so that you can effectively distribute the publishing of the content. Most smaller organizations do not have the technical resources in-house, experience enough staff turn-over that a well documented user-friendly system is critical, and need systems that can give them fresh content on their site even if they don't have time to maintain the content.
OpenConcept can help your organization provide web support to your locals & chapters in a timely and cost effective manner. We can help set up your server, set up a customized Drupal install, provide training materials and deliver ongoing support. If you have any questions, please contact us.
About The Author
Mike Gifford is the founder of OpenConcept Consulting Inc, which he started in 1999. Since then, he has been particularly active in developing and extending open source content management systems to allow people to get closer to their content. Before starting OpenConcept, Mike had worked for a number of national NGOs including Oxfam Canada and Friends of the Earth.