It has been twenty years since Rotary Clubs began creating websites. When I began using ClubRunner in 2010, many clubs in my district were using that platform.

In the process of learning to use ClubRunner, I reviewed those websites and what I found was a discouraging lack of quality. When I brought this to the attention of the District Governor, he simply showed no interest in the issue. More than a decade later, that attitude still prevails.
 
Personally, I find this puzzling. I really should not because, although Rotary International has had many workshops on setting up club websites, they have never dealt with the big questions on club websites. In fact, in recent years RI has put less emphasis on club websites than it did between 2010-2015.

Is it any wonder then that District Governors pay little attention to their District’s club websites? This does not mean, however, that DGs should continue to ignore the issue. In fact, just the opposite should occur. They should double down, discuss the issue with one another and either assign responsibility to their communications director or committee or hire an outside expert to review the state of the district’s websites annually.

So, what kinds of questions should they investigate and where should they start.

The logical place to start is with their own district website because every ClubRunner district site has an overview page with each of the club’s names, and icons linked to the club’s website even if it is not a ClubRunner site. It also shows those clubs with no site at all.

Analyzing the page is no easy task. Just opening each link to see if it in fact works when 40 to 50 sites need to be tested takes considerable time. To date, I have not found a district without a few error codes such as 400 or 505 errors or a statement stating no site could be found. I have even found sites linked to a club of the same name in another country instead of the country of origin. Doing the forgoing is the least a Governor can do to get an overview of the district clubs’ status while ensuring that the district site is accurate.

A more serious analysis needs to be executed, however. Governor’s need to ascertain how up-to-date each site is. Some clues to look for are, the template and/or widgets used on the home page, the date (if there is one) on the most recent “news” story, and the year of the presidential theme logo if there is one, on the page. A slightly more in-depth investigation would also look at the calendar, and speakers’ widgets.

Often sites are purposely designed like a static paper poster and simply remain unchanged. This requires a minimum of upkeep for the club but is not making effective use of a website’s potential. Ideally, a website should be updated frequently. One way to determine the frequency of posts is to determine the number of stories that have been posted. Going to the stories page will tell the Governor how many stories have been posted since the site was begun. Even, if the term “stories” is not found on the menu putting in the site's URL ending with “/stories” will reveal the stories and their total number.

The governor should also attempt to determine at what audience is the site aimed: the non-Rotarian public, the members of the club, or a mixture of both, and if both, does take precedent over the other. One sign that the public is the main target audience is the presence of an invitation to join the club. Another is a focus on informing the local community about what the Club does in the community. If members are the focus, a site works in a fashion of a weekly newsletter.

While the Governor is viewing the above, they should be aware of the layout of the material on the home page. Does it look crowded together? Are there many different items or just a few key items? Is there consistency within the site? For example, are headlines always the same size in the same font and case? For stories are the same font, size, and format used. They should be. Do pictures appear in each post and are they properly positioned and has space been inserted between the picture and text or do they touch each other. Does the club website manager use the ClubRunner two-part editor to create introductory invitations to read the article or is everything placed in the first editor with the result that the home page scrolls on for what seems forever? These are but a few of the poor layout choices which appear on club website homepages.

Ideally, a Governor should do the above analysis while they are the DG Elect, then when they make their annual club visits, they could talk knowledgeably about each Club’s website. At the same time, visits could and should be the time to inquire about the use of the securely closed club management portion of the site.

This would provide Governors with the opportunity to learn if the treasurer is using the financial module to assist them in issuing invoices and tracking payments. Other questions they could ask are: Are the secretary and archivist maintaining an electronic filing cabinet of documents and correspondence? Are membership profiles being completed properly and are they current? Is the club using ClubRunner’s membership success module or an electronic payment option? Does the website manager use Google Analytics or Statcounter to monitor visits to the site, and what percent are from the local community?

Finally, a District Governor ought to explore how the club website is related to a Club’s social media and communications campaign. Do articles posted to the website get “shared” on the club’s Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn portals. Do they lead people back to the full article on the website? Does the club use the full potential of ClubRunner to create its newsletter so that material does not have to be created twice as happens if a PDF is used instead?

It ought to be clear that today, a Club’s website is at the heart of both the club’s management structure and its communication plan. The reality, however, as the first generation to have this “toolbox” we still have a long way to go to take full advantage of its power to communicate and its ability to generate management efficiencies. Hence, it would help if our leadership at all levels, inspired us to achieve a club websites’ full potential.
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