Event Registration CiviCRM Case Study 2

Event registration represents a fundamental need for many of our users. So many small entities need it that an entire category of websites exist just to provide third party registration. What makes CiviCRM better than Eventbrite or Sign Up Genius for your events?

Event Registration Data Opens Doors

Family Cafe accomplishes a lot with a small staff. They came to us many years ago needing a website that could process online event registrations for their conference. Previously, they had operated with a static HTML website. We put them into Mambo for content management and later updated to Joomla with a home grown registration script. It managed but it also managed to stress everyone on the project and on registration day, it stressed the server too.

Their website grew with us and when we adopted CiviCRM, it felt like a whole new world opened for everyone. The data gathered for event registration feeds activity throughout the year. It drives emails and grant writing. It provides insight into their clients’ lives. Ultimately, planning decisions can be based on information initially gathered from event registration data and completed at their annual conference.

The beauty of working with a complete Constituent Relationship Management tool means that names and demographic data can be gathered at registration time. Household relationships can be stored and tracked to minimize unwanted email and to make sure that the appropriate head of household contacts get recorded for future contact.

More than Attendance

Vendor registration for the event adds another layer to understanding the landscape of end users and the people who serve them and their interests. Historical data recorded in user profiles, provides insights into how individuals benefit from services offered and their needs change over the years. Those contacts can then be sent relevant emails and updates by adding them to profile groups.

When Family Cafe reaches out to youth, parents or vendors, they never need to search further than their own website. CiviMail even processes bounced mail from abandoned accounts, and allows users to subscribe or unsubscribe own their own. That way the staff remains free to work on tasks other than maintaining their mailing lists or shuffling reams of paper registrations.

What starts with a single user signing up to attend a conference, becomes a well documented relationship. That relationship gets nourished with communication tools which remain at Family Cafe’s fingertips through their own website.

Time Saver

What’s better than having your attendees do the bulk of your registration? Once you have that data, CiviCRM uses that data for reports. It even creates your attendee name tags, mailing groups and smooths the flow of attendee checkins. If you want to know more, please give us a call or  fill in a sales support ticket. We’d love to hear from you.

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Digital Storytelling with Adobe Spark

Digital storytelling with Adobe Spark makes the process easy. Spark is a new product for creating online content. I created and presented a Spark video to my Monday leads group. The experience made for a great test drive. Spark is easy and a lot of fun to use.

I made this video in a couple hours, I made a couple other projects in less time, but I wanted capture some specific images for my presentation. This is also the first project that I narrated.

Domain Registration Can Bite You Down the Road

Domain registration problems disrupt everything. Imagine that you wake up and find your website and email completely offline. A call to your host brings more bad news. Your domain name expired. No one knows who registered the name and what email address was filed with the registrar.

Domain Registration Continuity

Everyone urges small businesses to make continuity plans. Unfortunately, domain name registration gets overlooked. We seldom consider the long term impact of relatively low cost items. “Hey, a domain only costs six to twenty dollars annually, why worry?” As I wrote in an earlier post, DNS controls every aspect of your Internet presence. If your registration expires, there is no domain name for the domain name server.

Scenario 1: You stop using the email provider connected to your registration. We see this frequently, when people get comfortable using their own domain name for communication. Sometimes you change Internet service providers, or your provider merges and changes your address. Sometimes users abandon providers and email addresses over time. However it happens, the whois record no long matches any person’s actual email address. Renewal notices go nowhere, unseen. Your domain nears renewal and no one knows.

Scenario 2: Convenience and simplicity motivates a lot of choices. Why not register a name for ten years and annual renewals cease to create stress. Apply the hazards of the first scenario and you will return to an ugly mess a few years down the road. Who registered the name? Which registrar holds the name? If a reseller agent sold the name, does that reseller still keep a current account to access the renewal of your name?

Scenario 3: Inevitably, some businesses or assets move because of death and injury. Unless you plan ahead, your domain regsitration is lost.

Prevention is Better than Recovery

Keep bank accounts, passwords and your domain registration safely for transition. Whatever documents you value most, include your domain registration in that group. The alternative is worse.

The Ugly Alternative

This post is inspired by a client dealing with the alternative. We located the registration first for our client. Fortunately, the domain did not use a private registration or key information would have been unavailable. Using the whois record, we knew who registered the name, the email address where the renewal notices went, and the registrar. From there, the process will vary from registrar to registrar for their own internal security. However, the process will boil down to proving a legal right to access and alter the whois information. Essentially, prove that you represent the company that owns this record. If a corporate name changed over time, good luck. If the name registration only includes a person’s name without the corporate entity, I wish you luck again.

Cybersquatting for extortion provides revenue for a less savory part of the Internet. If your name expires and transfers to someone intent on squeezing every possible dime from the transaction, you face a tough choice.

When all else fails, buy another domain. Chalk it up to a lesson learned. It will mean rebranding all of your marketing materials, notifying your contacts and building your SEO from the bottom up again. I think of this as a last resort. The silver lining on that cloud will be that your website content and email data can be recovered but not your time.

Five Things You Should Know About Email

Email stands at the center of a number of news stories and recent scandals. Despite Bernie Sanders comments, it seems that people do want to talk about email servers. Because of my business and experience, I find that many of the people making the most noise on the topic fail to understand, or at least to communicate any real information and succeed only in stirring up a hornet’s nest of confusion on a rather complex topic. I’m going to make email a little less complex and mystical so that you can draw your own conclusions.

The Panama Papers, Secretary Clinton, and the DNC stand as the latest high profile victims of email controversy. Yet, I strongly suspect that even though most readers already formed opinions on these issues, the vast majority know very little about how the mail servers really work and what it takes to keep that mail secure.

1-Not in the box

A mail server don’t always exist in physical box or even a virtual server. Mail servers run as software as part of a larger server ecosystem. If you have one of our shared hosting packages, your email server runs on the same virtual server as your website, FTP and firewall. Each of those services take turns sharing resources with the same operating system and hardware components.

2-What is secure mail?

You find security central to all email scandals. When most people imagine security, they get a picture of muscular guards, or super genius computer nerds in turtlenecks, keeping a vigilant eye on a server. A puzzle box makes a more accurate image though. The truth about secure mail remains tied to the same issues that kept communication secure over centuries, putting it in a safe place with limited access, make it hard to understand and  don’t tell anyone about it if they don’t absolutely need access.

Consider the first rule, if your mail needs the highest level of security because of potential scandal, identity theft concerns or federal regulation, you shouldn’t keep your email in the same space as your website. You want to keep a physical barrier in place so that a breach of other Internet services doesn’t expose the contents of your inbox as well. Free email providers, like Google, Yahoo or  Microsoft stand out as such high profile targets that they may not be any better. Sarah Palin learned that when family details were shared from her Yahoo mail account.

3- I can’t read that!

Encrypting mail makes the job harder for outsiders to read the contents, even if they get it. Using a secure connection protects you while the mail moves between servers. A secure connection doesn’t mean that your server encrypts the stored data. A secure connection means that connections between you and the server get protection, for example on public wifi. If someone hacks the server, your mail may be sitting there in plain sight ready to copy and search for credit card, medical or other personal data.

The highest level of security, requires a secure connection and adds the extra requirement of encrypting/scrambling the stored mail. If a hacker, corporate spy or even a system administrator gets nosy, they can’t read the mail without valid login credentials. Doctors and people who handle sensitive financial data  follow federal guidelines requiring this level of security.

4- What kind of host do you think I am?

Mail servers commonly get hacked for their clean reputation more than the contents of your mail. That’s why a secure connection alone proves adequate security for most communication. No one really wants to steal your grandmother’s chicken recipe. Controlling the flow of spam, most mail providers resort to black lists to banning mail from servers with bad reputations. Like some 1950s old movie, we constantly watch our reputation. Our mail server scored a 99 out of a possible 100 for clean reputation very recently.

With all the servers blocked spamming, hackers constantly try to control servers with good reputations. They use the hacked servers to send out spam and phishing emails. Unfortunately, many of those black lists stay behind locked doors where you can’t check your own reputation. The rest make a patchwork quilt of independent projects.

5- Follow the bouncing email

Getting a bounce message helps diagnosing mail problems easier. It also helps criminals sending storms of junk. As often as not, many providers simply choose not to bounce mail back at all. Leaving the sender in limbo, wondering where the mail went and why it didn’t get to the destination makes for one kind of torture. Worse fates befall the wayward sender with compromised domains. Like a mammoth on the tundra, tar pits will drag down mail senders who get tagged as problems. Tar pits allow a mail server to connect, but never complete the mail transaction. The tar pit wastes almost no energy keeping the connection open, but the sender eats up computer cycles that could be used on sending more spam.

Mail related issues consume a lot of our time. The many users per domain accounts for much of that. On the other hand, mail quickly becomes complex because it involves networks, senders and recipients. We only see the sender or recipient part of the equation. Like high school algebra, we have to solve for the unknown.

It’s easy to get into trouble with email. This post won’t settle any political debates. I only hope that you learned something that will keep you from making the next headline from mishandled email.

Personal Relationships in CRM

Personal relationships make the biggest impact in sales and organization support. There’s even an old joke about how personal relationships shape our behavior, right down to our most private choices. “Goldberg goes to synagogue to talk to God. I go to synagogue to talk to Goldberg.” You probably know someone who frequents a bank branch, pharmacy or other business because of the relationship they’ve  established with the person across the counter. You probably do it too. It makes us feel grounded in a world where we can only count on constant change.

I talked to a friend about this topic just recently. We both served on the board of the same organization and I encouraged him to really start using the CRM I had installed. His response told me volumes about implementing technology in organizations that don’t focus on technology. He lamented that he didn’t want our organization to become just a website. At our business meeting the next day, he demonstrated how badly we needed to use the CRM (CiviCRM) we had in place.

Where do you start?

I’m old enough to remember when most small businesses didn’t rely on digital technology. Often, smaller operations create problems adopting technology without knowing how that technology fits their own goals. I see this especially with websites. A business owner or manager feels that they need a website, because the competition has a website. They seldom ask how that website performs or what they personally want to gain from their own website.

My friend’s problem revolved around notifying new members that they had been accepted for membership. Internal procedures needed to better definition, but simply logging the activity with a CRM would have shown us, as members of the board, the step by step progression of the membership funnel. Furthermore, each event could trigger calendar and email reminders to follow up, with deadlines. That keeps the process moving.

My friend missed how automating many of these tasks and responsibilities didn’t eliminate the human touch at all. My vision of well implemented CRM puts the focus on reminding people to reach out and maintain those vital human contacts. Honest reflection tells us that we do forget. We get busy and distracted and sometimes things like phone calls or personal notes get pushed aside for the urgent problem solving needed “right now.” CRM bring that focus back to you and your team so those human elements and contacts aren’t forgotten.

The focus is personal relationships

The software doesn’t replace the personal touch. We don’t advocate replacing people with technology. My own guiding rule dictates that technology like CRM enhances human behavior. Using software to enhance those personal relationships doesn’t mean form emails and scheduled social media blasts. The best implementation reminds us to pick up the phone to call or write a quick note for email or a text. Making note of a personal information, means that you can follow up with a get well card or just ask how the person is doing. You can congratulate them on a child’s graduation or a recent wedding. A CRM doesn’t replace the interaction. It can make you and your team better at communicating with the real people you serve. Your members and customers will remember that personal touch when you need them.