Harness the Power of PR Writing for Your Nonprofit

Last week, PRSA Houston led a workshop: “Write the Right Way: A PR Writing Workshop” and we brought back a few takeaways on how to harness PR writing for your nonprofit.

The workshop was hosted by the Holocaust Museum Houston and featured Julie Fix, An Instructional Assistant Professor at the University of Houston and Ted Moon, founder of Launchpad Writing + Research.

 

julie-fix-headshotWrite The Right Way – a PR Writing Workshop

“Public relations is about winding a compelling story” – Julie Fix

Successful PR writing comes from good storytelling. Stories simplify the complex, make intricate ideas understandable and accessible and do two important things:

  1. Deliver an organization’s message
  2. Create and reinforce opinions, attitudes and beliefs

 

With Great Writing, Comes Great Responsibility

As a public relations writer, you have two responsibilities:

  1. Communicate Accurately
  2. Communicate Appropriately

Communicate Accurately

The first step is research.

It’s important to have the pertinent facts about a story before moving forward. If you’re wondering, “Should I include this?”, err on the side of collecting too many facts. You can always put them in a fact sheet if they don’t fit in the release.

Better to over-prepare and be safe, than under-prepare and be caught off-guard. Then, if a question comes your way, you’re equipped with an answer. Also, be clear. Don’t muddle your message with too many words.

People have short attention spans, so if you want an effective message, take time to polish and edit.

“I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” – Blaise Pascal

Communicate Appropriately

Whether your writing is proactive or reactive, it’s imperative to speak to the situation. Use timely, relevant examples and appropriate behavior. Jokes after a tragedy are not appropriate behavior, but being light-hearted about a family-oriented fundraising event is. Use common sense and think how you’d feel if you heard your message.

You can have good paragraph structure, great sentences and an excellent press release, but if the right message goes to the wrong audience, it still falls on deaf ears. Think about what problem you’re solving and who benefits from your message. Tailor your writing to these people.

Finding the Right Audience

ted-moon-headshot“Everyone is pulled in a hundred different directions at once.” – Ted Moon

According to research, the average attention span in 2013 was 8 seconds. That means if people aren’t interested, they stop reading.

They want to know, “What’s in it for me?”. So next time you write, do two things:

  1. Recommend the solution to a problem
  2. List benefits not features of your product, event or service

 

What Else Can I Do?

When you write for PR, be sure to practice good PR writing techniques:

  • Write a great headline
  • Use good grammar, spelling and punctuation
  • Communicate clearly

Write a Great Headline

The headline is your first and last chance to grab your reader. If you don’t have a good headline, people stop reading and your message is lost.

Use Good Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation

Nothing says, “I can’t write” like bad grammar, spelling or punctuation. Practicing good grammar makes your writing easier to read, which reinforces your message.

Communicate Clearly

Always polish and edit your writing. Don’t muddle your message by using more words than needed.

“Focus more on the nouns and verbs. Leave out the adjectives.” – Ted Moon

 Improve Your PR Writing

The key is practice. By using these tips you can learn to self-edit and consistently produce quality content. You can also improve your skills by reading good writing. Read/subscribe to sources like PRSA, PR Week or PR News.

If you’re interested in more topics related to NPOs, technology or open source, leaf through some of our other categories and feel free to share the knowledge!

contributed by: Alec Bieniawski

New Webinar Recording: Optimizing Your Tendenci Site for SEO

Photo Credit http://flickr.com/photos/twonickels/309295507/
SEO is baked in to Tendenci! Photo Credit:  flickr.com/photos/twonickels/309295507

One of the benefits of the Tendenci CMS is that SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is baked in to the code. Also, Tendenci allows you control over backend SEO tags like Meta, Alt tags, and Title tags from the interface with no coding required.

This webinar video is about 40 minutes long and covers what you need to know when it comes to optimizing your Tendenci site for SEO!

  1. The automatic SEO features built into Tendenci
  2. What custom SEO features are available in Tendenci
  3. Tips for optimizing your content in Tendenci

Check out the full details of this webinar in our helpfile [VIDEO] Optimizing Your Tendenci Website for SEO!

Recorded Webinar Video

 

Slideshare Slides

Read More About SEO in Tendenci

You can see the full details of this webinar (including a video synopsis) in our helpfile: [VIDEO] Optimizing Your Tendenci Website for SEO

More Resources on SEO in Tendenci:

Video: Tips for Transitioning Your New Board to Tendenci with Brian Potter

We work with a lot of Nonprofits and Associations, who often have Boards and volunteers who are responsible for keeping the website up to date. As these board members change from year to year, we want to make sure they are able to get up to speed on the website software as seamlessly as possible!

We work with a lot of Nonprofits and Associations, who often have Boards and volunteers who are responsible for keeping the website up to date. As these board members change from year to year, we want to make sure they are able to get up to speed on the website software as seamlessly as possible!

Our latest video features Account Exec Brian Potter as he outlines tips for transitioning new board members to Tendenci. Read more about these tips in our latest Help File: Transitioning Your New Board Members to Tendenci

7 Tips for Transitioning Your New Board Members to Tendenci:

1. Use a Shared Google Doc to Document and Save Important Information About Your Website

Get started at Google.com/docs

2. Attend Our Next Intro to Tendenci Class!

See the full training calendar at tendenci.com/events

3. Get to Know the Tendenci Help Files

Visit Tendenci.com/help-files and click on a Category to see all of the help documentation around that category

4. Check Out Our New Users’ Guide for Getting Started with Tendenci

 Our New Users’ Guide to Tendenci lists the top 10 help files that cover the main modules of Tendenci to get you used to working with your Tendenci site

5. Subscribe to Our Newsletter to Get the Latest On New Features and Updates 

Want to get the latest on new features we’re rolling out? Sign up for free at Tendenci.com/newsletter!

6. Consider Personalized Training Options

Tendenci Support

To learn more, contact us for pricing options.

7. Get to Know the Support Portal 

Contact our support team by logging on to our Support Portal at support.schipul.com! Our support time is billable, but we can always provide a quote for how much or how long we think your request will take.

Read Full Details of these tips in our Latest Help File!

10 Things Nonprofit Marketers can Learn from Packaged Goods Marketers – AMA Houston Panel Recap

AMA Houston NPO Marketing Event

Our team spent yesterday morning with the American Marketing Association of Houston (AMA Houston) as part of their Nonprofit Special Interest Group on the topic 10 Things Nonprofit Marketers Can Learn from Packaged Goods Marketers.

The panel was comprised of Suzy LaForge (Principal, La Forge Consulting), Michael Hagan (Consultant & Coach, Marketing and More), and Lynda Sanders (Marketing/Communications Director, Boy Scouts of America Sam Houston Area Council) sharing lessons and case studies of nonprofit marketing inspired by the for profit packaged goods industry.

Why Packaged Goods as an Example?

As Suzy put it – “Packaged goods is the grand daddy of marketing.” Many case studies in business schools and MBA programs revolve around these highly targeted, high budget, high volume campaigns.

Crowd - Houston AMA NPO Nonprofit Marketing Panel

Ten Things Nonprofit Marketers can Learn from Packaged Goods Marketers

1. Have a Plan

Suzy recommended NPOs use the same framework that for profit companies use when running a campaign. Know your:

  • Objectives
  • Target Audiences
  • Strategies (product, price, place, promotion)
  • Tactics – message, media, promotion

Be sure to think both external and internal (don’t forget internal!).

2. Know Your Audiences

In packaged goods, your audience is made up of buyers, your salesforce, and the store. For nonprofits, your audience may be your board, donors, community, etc.

Focus not only on the question “Who are they?” – but also “What’s important to them?” Dig into their motivations of  why they donate, volunteer, purchase, join, etc.

Spend time to determine how they perceive you – this may be something you think you know, but you really can’t without an objective survey or focus group.

3. Know Your Competition

For non-profits, your competition may not just be other non-profits. Your competition includes other people competing for your audience’s attention and time.

4. Identify Your Brand

Who are you? What makes you distinctive?

5. Develop Your Message – the “Elevator Pitch”

Your elevator pitch should be:

  • Short, scripted
  • Put the “Why” before the “What”
  • Tell a story
  • Include an ask

6. Build Relationships

In packaged goods marketing, loyalty programs make people feel valued and invested in your product. Think of how you can build relationships with your audience by providing more value for them.

7. Recognize the Value of Word of Mouth

Create content that people will want to share. The example Suzy used here is a video Dove made as part of their “Real Beauty” campaign called Dove Real Beauty Sketches.

The video shows a woman behind a curtain describing herself to a forensic scientist who draws a picture of her based on her description, and then cuts to him drawing her based on a stranger’s description. In every case, the image the stranger described was more beautiful. The video and drawings got buzz in the media and has been viewed over 35 million times!

8. Use “Free” Samples and Promotions

Free samples in packaged goods marketing serve to engage people with your product with almost no effort from them. Think of ways you can engage people with your organization to “get them hooked” – for example, Houston’s Neighborhood Centers allows anyone on their board to invite friends or new supporters for tours of the facility to engage them with the organization.

9. Learn from Traditional Advertising

Things Traditional Advertising does that can inspire NPOs:

  • Use Testimonials
  • Show, don’t tell
  • Offer a benefit
  • Grab attention quickly
  • Use emotion
  • Consider non-conventional media

10. Never Underestimate the Power of PR

Find the story people can relate to and tell it!

11. (Bonus!) Keep Track of How You’re Doing

Be sure you are measuring your success!

Case Study :  Lynda Sanders of the Boy Scouts of America

Three Channels to Serve

In packaged goods marketing, there are three channels to serve. These also apply to NPOs:

  1. The consumer
  2. The sales force
  3. The store

But First, Start with “The Product”

Ask yourself: Does it meet the consumer’s needs?

Example of a Tangible Product: Coupon Pack for the Boy Scout Fair

Lynda discussed a Boy Scouts Coupon pack that scouts were selling to their 16 counties as a “ticket to the Boy Scout Fair + coupons.” Many of the coupons were focused in Houston-only locations and the ticket was positioned as the main benefit (even though a ticket to the Scout show is free).

Lynda’s team refocused the product to position it as a coupon book (because that is what her target audience really cares about) and cover coupons from all 16 counties to attract more interest.

They also changed salesforce incentives to give each year’s book a theme and got the prizes for each year donated from corporate sponsors around that theme.

Example of an Intangible Product: Boy Scout Membership Recruitment

Sometimes it’s more challenging to sell an intangible product like membership. Lynda also discussed the Boy Scouts partnership with the Houston Grand Prix to drive membership.

The Grand Prix has a partnership with BSA National and has an official BSA car. This national partnership does not include much for the local chapters, so the BSA of Houston worked to create their own partnership with the Houston Grand Prix. They positioned scouts as the salesforce to help launch the Houston Grand Prix and to recruit BSA members.

What’s in it for the BSA?

  • A “Scout Day” at the races, including a booth, PSA playing on the big screen, and a flag ceremony featuring local scouts (enhance the brand with a cool event)
  • An Automotive Merit Badge sponsored by the Houston Grand Prix
  • Donated tickets for new BSA members (“Gift with purchase” for joining the Boy Scouts)

What’s in it for the Houston Grand Prix?

  • Information about the event given to kids and their parents area-wide from the Boy Scouts
  • Partnering with a strong brand
  • Increased awareness and attendance at the event

Advice on Forming Partnerships

  • Don’t wait to ask them what they would like out of a partnership – be prepared and tell them what you can provide them
  • When forming a partnership – ask your partner to do what they are really great at, don’t try to force them to do things they don’t usually do

Case Study: Mike Hagan on YMCA Houston Cool Days

The Situation

Summer is a big time for Houston families, and it is also a big time for the YMCA Houston programs.

This summer was different, gas prices had increased dramatically and many families were option to spend more “vacation” time in town.

As far as brand recognition, most everyone has heard of the YMCA. But people tend to think of the one piece of the YMCA that they are involved with (i.e. the gym, childcare, etc.) The YMCA wanted to be more than a “gym and swim.” The YMCA team set out to bring the brand alive by institutionalizing the brand into the community’s everyday plans and actions.

Introducing Cool Days

The YMCA began the program Cool Days – a value added program for YMCA Houston member families of fun, free things to do during the summer. The program included great things to do at the Y including special family events, and provided free things at other partner organizations (the Houston Zoo, Children’s Museum, etc.) with a YMCA membership card.

Getting the Word Out

Partner Participation was Key

The Y partnered with other brands to expand usage occasions for more interaction with YMCA members. They began by looking at companies who had value-added campaigns or programs like museums and venues. Almost every partner organization was also a nonprofit.

Other Ways they Got the Word Out

  • Billboards (PSA)
  • Magazines
  • Spanish language ads
  • Got internal staff involved – printed Cool Days tshirts and buttons that said “Ask me about Cool Days” for staff to wear
  • Posters in their YMCA locations
  • Banners
  • Microsite website

Measuring Success

When it comes to measuring success, Mike recommends starting with your membership because you can have the most impact over that group. The YMCA sends out surveys to their members before and after a campaign. They focus on what their membership might not know about the YMCA and educating them on those things.

Panel - Houston AMA NPO Nonprofit Marketing Panel

Takeaways!

The top takeaways of the panel for me were:

  1. Nonprofits need a strategic plan in the same way product companies do – start with Objectives, Target Audiences, Strategies, and Tactics
  2. Look for strategic partnerships that are mutually beneficial
  3. Take inspiration from packaged good advertising and distribution

Thank you again to AMA Houston for a great program!

Want more? Check out our photos from the panel!

Tendenci In-Depth Feature Guide – Help Files Module

help files angled with borderThe Help Files Module is included with all Tendenci websites, and is a Tendenci module that I use daily for documenting training guides, tips & tricks, and standards/best practices for Tendenci client websites. I was surprised to discover that many of you aren’t using or fully utilizing this module on your Tendenci websites. So I thought I’d provide an in-depth look into the Tendenci Help Files Module, and show you how other associations are using this built-in ‘Wiki‘ tool to engage with their community and succeed in their online fundraising goals.

Let’s dive in and get to know Tendenci’s Help Files Module!

Why? –> Wiki’s Increase Participation!

help files admin top bar blue menu drop down

Wiki, Help Files, Resource Library, Knowledge Base… these are just a few names that people commonly use to refer to a web application that allows users to add and edit content through their web browser with the purpose of collaboratively managing knowledge online.

The best reason your Association should be using some kind of Wiki tool is because it provides more opportunities for your members and donors to interact with you and feel like they’re really part of moving your mission forward.

I recommend you check out a terrific presentation, by Julie Spriggs, that gives you tons of insight into how Nonprofits can use a Wiki for different collaborative projects including:

  • Maintaining a central repository of knowledge that your Association has amassed
  • Managing large projects that involve lots of moving pieces and diverse people/roles
  • Collaborative document creation and management
  • Planning large events like your annual fundraising Gala or membership drive
  • Organizing your knowledge base by department and committee groups
  • Connect with and involve  your constituents in your association’s activities
  • And more…!

Wikis For Nonprofits from Julie Spriggs

Wiki’s provide a platform for everyone involved with your organization to come together and communicate, collaborate, and share their knowledge and ideas.

Wiki or Help Files…?

Tendenci websites all come with the module called “Help Files”, but we know you probably want to pick your own name to suit your organization. You can easily change the label of the module that displays on your website’s public pages inside your Help Files site settings.

help files settings and place to change name

What’s Included in the Help Files Module?

Tendenci’s Help Files Module gives your organization a built-in wiki tool as part of your association management platform, and we’ve built Help Files flexibly so you can use it for different purposes depending on your unique nonprofit’s needs.

Here’s my top 3 Neatest Features of the Help Files Module

You can try out all the features on our Live Demo Site. Just head here: http://www.tendenci.com/try-now to get Super User access!

1) Use the Selective Permission Controls for tiered access to different Help Files, enabling everyone in your community to collaborate to your knowledge base securely and privately as needed by your association’s procedures and polices. Check out the screenshot below that demonstrates how easy it is to selectively share access for viewing and making changes to individual help files.

help files permissions advanced options

Tendenci organizes your User permissions by Users, Memberships, and User Group types. You can create custom User Groups and add individual users and then provide them with secure access to only the files they should have access to.

2) Tendenci makes it easy to Automatically Filter and Promote your most important Help Files with the Help File Sidebar.

is featured is faq help files add front end checkbox

The Help File sidebar provides quick access for your site users to Request a Help File as well as a menu for Help Files that have been marked as Featured, FAQ (stands for Frequently Answered Questions), and Most Viewed. When new help files are added to your website and include one of these three tags, they’ll automatically be displayed on the sidebar.

3) Use Topics to Organize and Segment Your website’s Help Files Module. Only Super Users can add new topics and at least one topic must be selected when adding a new Help File. This helps you keep your online community resource files organized and easy to find.

add and change topics for help files

Whenever a member adds a new help file and selects the topic, then this help file will only show under that topic. Topics that don’t have help files won’t be displayed on the main menu, so you can create your Topics using a predetermined structure before you’ve had any files added. Another nifty feature, to me, is that Tendenci recognizes who has access to help files within certain topics and your members won’t ever see the Topics label for your internal staff files when they login. Users only see Topics and Files that they have permission to view, and nothing more.

SEO Bonus!

By including your association’s wiki within your Tendenci site by using the Help Files Module, each new page created counts as new content to search engine crawlers! If you foster an online wiki for knowledge sharing and encourage your members to participate and contribute, they’ll help you with your online marketing efforts naturally.

Ten Benefits for You and Your Members!

private staff only internal files
Create a Private Resource Repository using Help Files

Here’s 10 great ways you can take advantage of the cool features included with the Help Files module and boost your association’s online community participation:

  1. Enable members and registered site users to collaborate on your wiki – this saves your staff time and makes your members feel included!
  2. Create an Internal Repository for your staff and/or Board – use Tendenci’s selective permissions to control who has access to each individual help file. Create on boarding guides for new staff members that only your association’s key personnel can see, without effecting public help files.
  3. Setup Help Files and topics based on user groups – group members can view and collaborate on knowledge specific to the group purpose, and as group members change, the history of the group’s knowledge is available on your site.
  4. Post important local community resources – include things like your organization’s emergency preparedness policies, how to take action in the case of a crisis, and information about other local organizations and groups that support your mission.
  5.  Create a place for event participants to add session notes and takeaways – Create a new topic or Group for event attendees and let them add and collaborate on help file notes from the different sessions. After the conference, embed the presenters’ slides and any other rich media (ie videos and photos) inside the help file.
  6. Offer training guides for developing new professional skills –  Use the selective permissions controls to create members-only repositories and share industry reports and valuable training guides with your paying members and contributors- or make them free for anyone who stops by your website, it’s your choice!
  7. Build a globally diverse resource library – Your website is accessible day or night from virtually anywhere in the world, and with modern day web browser translation options, your International supporters can share their global perspectives on your association’s cause related issues.
  8. Provide getting started guides for your community – new members path, how to volunteer vote for board etc
  9. Think collaboration-both inside your org as well as outside -invite other associations and chapters to contribute on the wiki.
  10. Document external resources and company account information – for tools, like software and vendor accounts, where your staff can quickly access to download, read, learn without the hassle of a search or wondering if the links will be active in a year
project management help files example
Get Members and Volunteers Working Together on Special Projects and Events!

Now you’re equipped with a deeper understanding of ways that you can use Tendenci’s Help Files like any other wiki to reach out to your community, manage volunteers, create a repository for resources. Best of all, the Help Files module comes with Tendenci ready to start adding content to “out of the box”. I’ve added a few help files to the Tendenci Demo site, and you can see that it only takes a few minutes to quickly get your Topics and a framework for adding new content to your site’s Help Files module.

10 Minutes to Set-Up

In about 10 minutes, you can set-up access for your staff and members and give them the tools they need to help you keep up with your online and offline resources. And don’t worry if you aren’t sure how to get started because I’ll help you out!

You can leave a comment below, and include your Tendenci website URL, if you’d like to schedule 10 minutes with me through an online web conference where I’ll walk you through the set-up process. Before our 10 minute training, I’ll send you a quick template that will help you identify the main Topics you’ll want to start building your knowledge base. You can also submit a request using our “Request a Help File” – just be sure to leave your contact information as shown in this screenshot:

tendenci help files request

An Events Calendar Tool Powerful Enough to Handle 2013 – Twelfth Day of Christmas Gifts from Tendenci to You!

merry christmas frame spegcs calendarComing to Tendenci Websites in 2013: Event Management and Registration Features You’ll Love for Your Festivals, Galas, and Fundraising Events!

2013’s going to be a Big Year, and Tendenci’s working on new updates to your online calendar and event registration module because we want to make sure this is your biggest year yet!

On the 12th Day of Christmas, Tendenci’s Gift to You: Twelve New Updates to the Events Calendar Module!

Here’s 12 new features and updates we’re making this year to the Tendenci Events Calendar module to help you manage online registrations for your association programs and fundraising Gala’s.

** We’ve got even more event module updates planned for Tendenci’s 2013 Roadmap, and this list is just to give you a taste of the delicious treats we’ll be adding to Tendenci in 2013!

You’ll Love Creating New Events With These New Features

1) Import and Export Events

events import option coming soon
Soon You Can Import Multiple Events with a CSV Template!

We’re super excited about this feature because it will make it faster for you to create multiple events simply by importing all of the text and dates in a spreadsheet, instead of having to create and type in all of this information manually for each event.

2) Default Custom Event Registration Forms

Now you have the choice of using  the default event registration form, or our improved custom event registration forms. We listened to your feedback this year and the new custom registration forms now have predefined  fields that integrate with the website’s database and user records for reporting and simplify the time it takes you to create and customize a new registration form.

custom event registration form
We’ve simplified custom event registration forms for you!

If you want to use a custom registration form now, you already will find a default form with the standard contact information handy to add or remove to your form simply by checking a box. You can also customize which fields on the custom form also display on the event roster. Now you can ask what t-shirt size or special meal requests your guests have without the time involved with creating a brand new form.

3) Schedule Automatic Email Reminders to Attendees

email reminders automatically when you create event
Upload Images and Format Event Reminders to Match Your Association’s Brand

When you create new events, you’ll find a new option that enables you to send email reminders to your attendees that you create and schedule. Tendenci will automatically send the reminder for you, so you don’t have to remember to remind your registrants!

4, 5, & 6) Three New Ways to Promote, Search and Display Your Eventspriority groups and event type filtering new options

4) More Search Options

We’re adding more searchable field filters to the events module so your members can find the events most relevant to each of them. You’ll be able to search your events by date, event type, membership and user group permissions, and more!

5) New Priority Event Feature

You’ll soon find a new Priority checkbox on your new event forms. When you check this, Tendenci will keep your events on top of your events search list, and add a Star icon to your month view calendar. Now you can highlight your main events each month to help your members decide which events to attend.

priority events search and month views
Tendenci Makes Your Top Events Our Priority Too!

Here’s some fun ideas on how you can use the new Priority Event feature:

  • National Associations can feature a different Chapter’s programs and events each month to increase engagement from your different local chapter members!
  • Use the Priority events to promote membership engagement and offer prizes for those who attend every featured event this year!
  • Increase Corporate Sponsorship and Corporate Membership dollars by offering to add your supporting partners’ events to your calendar with the Priority feature setting for higher level packages.

6) Group-based Permission Settings for Displaying Events

This feature will enable you to designate certain events as “belonging” to certain user groups or membership types and allow you to do some really fun things with how events are displayed on your website. For example, one of your study groups could have their monthly study meetup on your event calendar and you’d assign the event to their study group.

Then, you could create a sidebar or box that would only display upcoming events from your event calendar that are assigned to that study group on the study group’s main information page. Members of the study group could visit the study group page and also see upcoming events specific to the group and you only have to add the event once to your calendar to share it in multiple places on your site!

Better Registration Experience for Your Users!

You want your website to be fun for your users and members in addition to your staff, and we’re making big changes across our website to provide better user experiences for your online community members. Here’s some of the ways we’re making registration for events simpler for attendees.

7) Fewer Steps to Register and Pay for an Event

We’re streamlining our registration form so that event registrants can go through as few clicks as possible when purchasing tickets and RSVP’ing for your association events. For most events, your users will be able to add multiple event attendees, select member versus non-member pricing, and view their total all from one registration page.

Adding new registrants is as easy as clicking a button – literally! Just click “Add Another Registrant” and a new section for the registration form will appear below the first registrant. Click to add as many registrants as you need and then submit just once to register and pay for everyone.

registration form for events default
We’re Streamlining Event Registration Process for Your Attendees!

8) Your Users Can Find and Manage Their Events for You!

With the new “My Upcoming Events” option, your members and regular event registrants can now search for events they’ve signed up for, update any of their registration information, cancel events, and add the event to their calendar using the Event ICS option from one place.

new my upcoming events feature
Your members can find and manage their event registration information!

Bonus for You and Your Staff:  this empowers your members to manage their own event registrations, view outstanding balances, and make payments on your website. This means your event manager doesn’t have to handle as many of these admin tasks and she can focus on all of the important tasks!

9) Updated Email Template for Event Registration Confirmations

We’ve made a few small updates to the default system email template that your website sends to registrants and confirms their registration along with their receipt for paid events.

The new email template includes an image and uses more of the formatting from your events’ description fields to give your event confirmation emails a look and feel that more closely matches your website’s Event Page. We’ve also made some updates to the helpful links section of the email to ensure your event registrants can find all the information about your event details as well as manage their outstanding balances and registration information.

images in email confirmation
We’re Updating the Look and Feel of Event Confirmation Email Templates!

10) Your Event Roster Now Tracks Attendance

Your event roster has a new “Attend” checkbox where you can mark who attended an event from the roster on your website. If you don’t have internet and a web browser at your event, then you can also print the roster with the Attend checkbox. After the event, take your printout and update the roster on your website with who attended so you can better track and measure attendance for your events.

event roster screenshot
Tendenci Event Roster to Manage Registrants

This is a huge benefit for large events where you have a team of volunteers handling check-ins. They can all be logged into your website and click to check off the people who they’ve confirmed at the event simultaneously!  The next day, you can log into your site and see at a glance who attended and didn’t. You can even view what time they were checked in.

11) Search and Manage Event Registrants Individually

The Event Roster is more intended for you to use to manage all of your event registrants in a batch, and when you need to find a specific registration to cancel or edit – you’ll be seeing some updates here also. We’re adding more information about the registrants to the view, and we’re integrating the event registrant’s contact information and site activity with their user profile on your website.

event registrant search
Manage Individual Event Registrations in Tendenci!

12) Improved Batch Management for Events

On the 10th Day of Christmas, we shared our updates coming to your site’s Admin Backend. You’ll love the updates we’re making that enable batch filtering, editing, and deleting event types, custom event registration forms, and discount codes from the Admin Backend.

Here’s a preview of a new feature that will let you reassign event types:

reassign and manage event types
Keep Your Events Calendar Up-to-Date with Your Association’s Many Changes!

You can quickly change all of the events of one type to another type. Most associations experience lots of changes as they grow and we see features like this helping you keep your website fresh and reflecting the latest changes without demanding lots of time from you and your staff.

Sign-Up for Tendenci 2013 Updates

Keep an eye out on the Tendenci Events Calendar because in 2013, we’re adding new training and workshops for our Advanced Tendenci users. We’ll also start posting scheduled maintenance and software updates, speaking events, and major announcements to help keep you in the loop with what we’re doing at Tendenci.

We are constantly exploring new ways to keep you in the loop with what we’re changing here at Tendenci. Let us know how you like to find out what’s going on here at Tendenci!

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM TENDENCI!

We’re celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas with daily previews of the all new Tendenci Features coming to your association website in 2013! Join us each day to “open new gifts” filled with feature updates for your website! Visit our Twelve Days of Christmas Main Page to find new gifts for each day from now until January 5th!

We love to hear your questions and comments about Tendenci, the open source CMS for Association’s – leave a reply below in our comments section or send us your thoughts via email to support@tendenci.com.

Hosting an Open Source Tendenci Website on the Linode Cloud

In the last post, I walked through the steps to install Tendenci on the Rackspace OpenStack cloud hosting environment.  This week, I want to share my experience  with installing Tendenci on the Linode Cloud, another great option for hosting Tendenci websites.

Translating the ‘Geek Speek’ of Linode

It seems like each of the hosting providers have their own terminology for the different pieces involved in web app cloud hosting. For example, I setup a “cloud server” on Rackspace which runs and managed your Tendenci website application.  The equivalancy to a Rackspace “cloud server” is the “linode“, which stands for “Linux Node” when you host with Linode.com.

Think of a “linode” as your own web application server (computer) that comes with your CPU, RAM, disc storage, and a Linux-based operating system.  For Tendenci websites, we use the Ubuntu O/S which is a version of Linux.

Linode’s Hosting Options

Linode provides a “Do-It-Yourself”  cloud hosting environment and has a pretty straight-forward pricing plan based on hardware specifications for things like memory (RAM) and the amount of disk storage space included.  Tendenci requires a minimum of 256MB of RAM, and because Linode’s minimum plan begins at 512MB, any plan you choose will give you enough to get started and you can upgrade your plan with Linode as your site grows.

Linode Cloud Hosting Plans

Is Linode Right for Your Association?

Linode has great documentation and I was able to figure out how to get Tendenci up and running with only one quick call to my programming team to find out if I wanted a 32bit or 64bit O/S.  Linode wants you to learn how to do manage these services for your cloud applications, and tries to give you the training and support you need to learn how.

Linode’s hosting plans give you full control over your association’s hosting environment, but I felt like the process was a little more challenging for me since I’m not that familiar with Linux. Particular challenges for me included customizing the DNS, setting up FTP access, and figuring out how to manage server back-ups.  These are all things you’ll need to be able to do in order to keep your website and server running properly.

I would recommend Linode as a great option to consider for associations who have in-house staff or outside IT and developer support that are familiar with Linux and managing servers.  Linode offers a great value with its plans, and is a very affordable option for hosting small to mid-size open source Tendenci websites.

However, if you’re like most nonprofit staff members, then you don’t have the time to manage these things, or even the time to learn how to do it yourself and you may want to seek out a more “full-service” hosting option. Linode may prove to be more costly via time consumption or just too challenging to maintain if you don’t have the IT support available to you.

Steps to Get Tendenci Live in the Linode Cloud

The total time for me to get Tendenci hosted on Linode where I could view the website in a browser probably took about 2 hours and I estimate about an hour of that was reading the getting started guide.  The other hour or so included creating a new account, setting up my Linode Distribution (server), and installing Tendenci.

Sign-Up and Create an Account

If you don’t already have an account with Linode, then you’ll need to first signup and select your plan. Linode does require a credit card to activate your account, and the entire process took me about 5 minutes. If you already have an account with Linode, you can skip this section.

Here’s the steps I took with screenshots for creating a new account with the basic $19.95/month plan:

1) Select the username and password for your account

Fill out the signup form’s fields with your name and billing information.

2) Select your plan

The cheapest option begins at around $20 per month, and has enough storage and RAM to support a small to mid-sized Tendenci website installation. If you’re wondering what size cloud environment your Tendenci website needs, send us an email at support@tendenci.com and someone from our support team will help you out!

linode select your plan

3) Select your payment terms

Linode offers month-t0-month, or discounted plans if you prepay for 1 or 2 years worth of services. After you submit the signup form, you’ll have a chance to review your order before your credit card is charged and you receive your account login information.

linode complete your order

* Don’t forget to check the box next to the Terms of Service agreement before clicking “Complete Order”

4) Log into your Linode Manager Dashboard to get started

Most new accounts are activated immediately, and I was able to login using the name and password I’d created on the signup form before even receiving an email confirmation and receipt.  ** Linode does say that in some cases, new accounts may take longer to activate.

linode manager login screen

Creating Your First Linode

I found Linode’s Getting Started Guide to be really straightforward and I had my server deployed with Ubuntu and ready to Boot up in about 10 or 15 minutes. Here’s what I did to set-up an Ubuntu server on Linode to host a Tendenci open source association website:

1) Pick the location for your new Linode

linode manager welcome screen

I selected London, UK as my location just for fun and because I wanted to spread the Tendenci open source love around the globe and not just stay in Texas.  It really doesn’t matter too much what data center location you pick, and the Linode documentation suggests that data centers farther from you may result in longer download times and possibly latency with remote access and file transfers.

Tip: If you’re concerned about the performance, Linode recommends you perform a Facilities Speedtest:

linode which facility data center do you choose

2) Deploy a new Linux Distribution

This simple means you’re going to set-up a server with the Ubuntu 12.04 operating system so you can install Tendenci on it later in the process.

Here’s a screenshot that shows the options you want to choose for a Tendenci website installation on Linode: linode make your settings look like this new linode

  • Distribution: This is where you’ll select the operating system for your “linode”. Linode recommends 32bit distributions, however for Tendenci configurations, you’ll want to select the 64bit version of Ubuntu 12.04 LTS.
  • Deployment Disk Size: This setting should already default to the maximum size available (about 24 GB with the basic Linode plan) and you probably want to keep this setting at the default maximum size. This will give your Tendenci website plenty of storage space to get started as you add files, images, photos, and user data.
  • Swap Disk: The basic plan defaults this setting to 256MB and Linode recommends you stick to the default setting.
  • Root Password: this will be the password that you’ll use later on to remotely access your Linode and install Tendenci using the Tendenci installation script and you’ll want to make sure it is secure and you’ll need to remember it in a few minutes.

3) Click the “Rebuild” button to deploy your new Linode

You’ll be directed to the Linode dashboard where you can watch the different processes for installing and configuring your server in the “Host Job Queue” section:

linode host job queue system boot queue status

4) Click on “Boot” to power up your new Linode!

Once the server is deployed, you’re Linode dashboard will look something like this screenshot below which shows that your Server Status is “powered off” and you have a “Boot” button underneath your Ubuntu configuration profile.

linode dashboard boot server

5) Check Server Status to make sure you’re up and running

You’ll see the system boot progress bar in the “Host Job Queue” section of your dashboard, and then your Server Status will update to “running” once the system boot is complete. linode your server is running

Connect to Your Linode using SSH to Install Tendenci

In order to install Tendenci on Linode, you’ll first need to use secure shell (SSH) protocol to remotely connect to your server. The easiest way for us non-programming types to accomplish this is to use the Terminal application that comes with Macs, however you can also do this from a Linux computer (using the terminal window) or a Windows computer (using PuTTY, a free open source SSH client for Windows).

My instructions here are specifically for Mac users, and if you’re using a Linux or Windows machine and run into any issues installing Tendenci then please contact us at support@tendenci.com and we’ll be happy to get you set-up!

1) Find your SSH root login on the Linode dashboard and enter it at the command prompt (the $ sign) in Terminal.

You’ll be prompted to enter your password, and you’ll use the same password you created for your linode server in Step 2 of the previous section.

linode ssh root access in terminal

* The first time you connect to your Linode using SSH, you will get a message saying that “the authenticity of host … can’t be established” along with information about your public RSA key.  Don’t worry about what this all means – just type in “yes” when it prompts you for a yes/no answer and press ‘enter’.  

You’ll know that you’re connected to your server when you see the Terminal prompt change to something like “root@localhost:~” which means you can enter commands in Terminal on your local computer that will tell your remote server what to do.

2) Remotely connect to your server and install Tendenci.

Enter the script installation code at the prompt inside Terminal and press “enter” and the script will take care of installing all of the different packages for Tendenci, including setting up a PostgreSQL database.

This process will take about 20 minutes so now’s a great time to check your email or get a cup of coffee while you wait.

* Towards the very end of the installation process, you may get some pop-up screens asking about mail configuration for your app. For now, just use the default setting for “internet site” and then you can enter the domain name for your site or just use “localhost”. You can configure this setting later on, so don’t worry about it if it’s confusing.

You’ll need to press the “enter” or “return” key inside of Terminal because clicking with your mouse won’t work for this.  Use your keyboard’s arrow keys to move between options.

linode email config image 1 linode image 2 email config linode email config image 3
 Press the “Enter/Return” key on this Screen With “Internet Site” is Highlighted – Press “Enter/Return”  You can keep this as “localhost” or Change to Your Domain Name

3) Wait for “Tendenci is Setup!!!” Success Message

When the Tendenci script is finished installing your website software, you’ll get a “success!” message in Terminal followed by the login and password information for your website.tendenci success linode installation

By default, your username and password are both “admin” for initial deployments.

It is ** crucially important ** that you change this information immediately upon logging into your Tendenci website for the first time. Failing to change your username AND password can open up your website to hackers.  Read our Help File on User Profiles to learn how to update your user profile information: http://www.tendenci.com/help-files/change-username-password/ 

4) Click the button that says “Reboot” on your Linode Manager Dashboard

Tip: Make sure your server status on your dashboard still says that the server is running.

reboot linode after installing tendenci

5) Open a new browser window and enter the 12 digit IP address that’s listed after the “ssh root@” on your remote access tab.

In my case, that number is 151.236.219.240.  You may need to refresh your browser window once or twice if you get an error or “Gateway not Found” message, and then you should see the Tendenci default theme homepage.

linode tendenci website homepage

6) Login using the default username and password “admin”, and then immediately go and change your username and password.

Tip: Refer to our Tendenci Help File on User Profiles for instructions on how to change your username and password.

Woohoo! You Did It!

You’re now ready to start customizing your Tendenci Open Source Association Website on a Linode Cloud.

Linode Resources for Your Next Steps

Linode offers great resources to help Linux newbies, and I recommend you take some time reading their Beginners Guide and the Getting Started Guide before you set-up your website. Then, check out these more advanced guides Linode offers to help you secure your server and customize your Tendenci site’s DNS/domain name.

Linode Library – This is the main menu for Linode’s help documentation.

Securing Your Linode Server – This guide will show you how to add new user accounts to the server and manage security settings and protocol so you won’t get hacked.

Linode DNS Manager – This comprehensive guide introduces basic DNS concepts and explains how to setup DNS records so your website can have a custom URL instead of sending people to a 12 digit IP address.

Got Open Source Hosting Questions or Suggestions for Us?

We’re hard at work testing and documenting different hosting platforms with Tendenci to give you more choices – if you have questions about installing a site on Linode or another Cloud provider, let us know via a comment below or email me and we’ll find answers for you.