Last month we received this email from one of our members:
I have to say, I’m confused by the two websites thing (.us and .org).
I can’t make sense of what’s where and it’s certainly not intuitive.
Generally, in marketing, I think the rule is to give people ONE door and many aisles they can choose once through the door, rather than separate doors for each aisle, where they have to know which door to choose.
SO I’m wondering, if we want to grow the organization fastest, wouldn’t it make more sense to have ONE domain (probably .org) and then have password-protected pages instead of a whole separate domain for content you want to limit to members. My web host (Weebly.com) offers me that option, so I assume the Strong Towns host will as well.
When our founding members joined Strong Towns back in 2013, they did so through a very rough portal that we had built. Our idea -- in true Strong Towns fashion -- was to start small and simple, test out the concept and then refine and expand the site over time. Those original members were willing to go along with us on that ride.
As our membership grew -- and our volunteer programmer took a more intense job that limited his availability -- we needed something else. Our needs had grown but, thankfully, so had our budget. We found a system that was, with limited effort on our part, a turnkey upgrade. The monthly cost was manageable and the new site gave us a lot more capacity for communicating with our members and others.
A downside of that upgrade was that it required us to have two sites, the .org and now the new .us. We could have combined them into one, but that would have required us to migrate the media site -- and six years of posts and podcasts -- to the new site and deal with all the formatting and linking issues. We chose not to do that; the effort involved and the lack of flexibility that would result did not justify the upside of having one site.
Over the last eighteen months, we have slowly outgrown the .us site. The site requires us to do a number of things manually, which was manageable with 250 members, slightly burdensome with 500 but now is simply not workable with 1,000+. Of course, we now have a little more budget than we did before, which has allowed us to make this transition.
Last Fall we began researching alternatives. In November, we decided to transition to Salesforce, a move that should be our last platform change. The Salesforce Foundation has a very generous program for non-profit organizations that we've been able to utilize. We've spent the past eight weeks configuring the new system, testing out different plugin services and migrating our data.
Today I'm announcing an end to the .us site (some of you know it as the membership site). It's going to be closed down soon as we complete the transition. New memberships and renewals can now be processed without leaving the .org site. In time, we're going to be able to add more and more member-exclusive stuff here as well, so continue to look for that.
There is a valuable Strong Towns lessons here. While one could argue that it would have been more efficient to simply start with Salesforce (and we looked at that back in 2013), the reality is that we weren't ready. We didn't have the capacity or the budget to do it right back then. Instead of being paralyzed by a perfect-or-nothing mindset, we did what we could with what we had.
Our early members responded and provided us with the capacity to do a little better, which we acted on when we had the opportunity. Now that we're #1000Strong, we are able to do a little more. Small steps. Test, learn and refine. That's our approach and we live it here.
If you can't take a large problem and break it down into small, doable increments, you're not thinking hard enough.
As a nation, our perceived affluence has allowed us to not have to think very hard. The answer to every challenge is simply to spend more money. Not only has this allowed us to avoid actually dealing with real problems, it has locked many of our cities, towns and neighborhoods into inaction as they wait for the large sum of money to arrive and solve their problem.
Stop waiting. Go do what you can, right now, with what you have. It won't be perfect. It won't be efficient. It will be messy and chaotic. So what; it will be progress, and nothing will be able to take it away from you.
Finally, to our members: Keep helping us polish those rough edges. Our goal this year is 2,000 members, which is an impressive number compared to where we are today but still just a modest circle of committed advocates compared to where we need to get to. We're going to continue the chaotic-but-smart refining of who we are and how we do things until we get to a million people who care. And even then, it's who we are.
Thanks for going along for the ride.
If you'd like to test out the new membership page, we're ready for you to give it a try.
(Top photo by Andrew Price)