by David Bergstone
The website committee would like to announce that we have a new and improved page to serve the membership and potential members better. As part of the effort to improve communication, VAF has shifted its entire web presence to a new platform hosted by Wild Apricot, vafweb.org. This new platform provides not only easy formatting and flexibility for updates, but also allows direct electronic communications in addition to complete control of membership information, payments, and events management. After reviewing various options over the past few years, it became obvious that VAF needed a better way to communicate with members (e.g. through emails) and allow online payments. This new system allows those and other features that all integrate into a single system, making it easier for members to find whatever they need.
With the assistance of Amber Wiley and Chad Randl, the website committee has been working on the transfer over the last couple months. The first thing you will notice is that the format has obviously been changed to a sleeker and easier to navigate structure. The new system utilizes templates which can be customized to be consistent across the website. All the navigation and formatting is generated automatically by the system and can be easily updated by adding, removing, or reorganizing pages without having to change any individual page content. Yet individual pages can be edited quickly and easily with new information. This will allow committees to directly manage their own pages and keep information updated, not only streamlining the process but also making sure the content is useful and engaging. Many pages have been updated and there is already new information on the education pages.
Another advantage is that the new system actually maintains membership information, with members able to log in and review/correct their information. The availability of PayPal to process payments means that memberships can be paid online, with that status tracked in the member's record. Manual payments are still possible but many people are now used to paying online and even having the system automatically renew their membership annually. And the system can generate reminders automatically when a membership is about to expire. Of course donations are also able to be accepted. The committee hopes that the convenience of online access will ensure that both long-standing and new members are able to renew easily and keep active in VAF.
A new feature that is long overdue is the ability to email all members, as you have been receiving the digital issues of VAN. VAF previously relied on the listserv to reach members but inclusion on that list was voluntary and took manual updating of membership status. That listserv is being transferred into forums on the new system, which will offer even more functionality for comments and searching for previous posts but still offer subscriptions for notification of new posts. We can now track not only members and reach them directly, but we can also identify people as 'contacts' who are not current members but may attended a conference. We hope that this will increase our retention and encourage conference attendees to join once they see all that the organization has to offer.
Another feature is the ability to manage conference registrations in the system. Not only can memberships and conference registration be consolidated, there are other functions to help accept the conference payments and manage contact to registrants. This will help future conferences (both Chicago in 2015 and the Durham conference in 2016 are already planning to use the system) utilize the VAF website and reduce the complexity of hosting a conference. This will help VAF maintain records on who has attended conferences and not lose contact with those potential members if they temporarily lapse.
We hope you will log into the new system and see some of the new features. If you go into the members only portion of the site, you can also see a current directory of members. (If a member chooses, they can opt out of having their information appear but this information only viewable by fellow paid members.)
We hope the new site will provide more functionality to better meet the needs of our VAF members while we continue to expand and welcome new members to the organization.