Most community website groups start out by focusing on developing a website as quickly as possible. However, it is equally important that the website serves as a long-term asset for the community. Research has shown that both the website and the management committee must be continually refreshed to ensure long-term sustainability.
In order to prepare a comprehensive Business Sustainability Plan, the community website group needs to consider:
policies and issues
marketing (launch and ongoing promotion)
This section offers some guidance on how to plan for and manage the long-term sustainability of your community website.
There are a number of initial issues that the community website group will need to discuss and resolve so that all members and the wider community understand what the website will and will not provide.
How will the community define 'local'? This is particularly important when deciding which local businesses and common interest groups are eligible for inclusion on the website. It may not be such an issue in smaller or more isolated communities as it is for larger towns or cities that include a number of localities. You will need to agree which localities will be included in your 'local' area boundary.
Your community website is more likely to be sustainable if it accepts funding in the form of sponsorship or advertising. Generally, sponsorship covers donations of time, money, goods or services; advertising involves direct payment in return for publishing advertisements.
Businesses who sponsor the website are usually acknowledged in some way, which can be anything from listing their name somewhere on the site through to a prominently displayed logo on the home page and inclusion in promotional literature as well. If you have numerous sponsors there may not be sufficient space to display all the logos on the home page and the community website group will have to devise alternative means of accommodating these sponsors, such as allocating a sponsor to each page of the site, or rotating the home page sponsors.
Organisations who advertise will pay to have their logo and advertising message appear on the website. The community website group will need to structure advertising rates for various ad sizes, position within the site (e.g. home page, first level pages, second level pages) and the time that the ad is displayed.
The community website group may decide not to accept sponsorship or advertising from certain types of business (for example: those offering adult products). So, it is advisable to develop a sponsorship and advertising policy that outlines the basis for rejecting a potential advertiser/sponsor, as well as establishing guidelines for acceptable advertising content.
Refer to the Trade Practices Act 1974, which specifically prohibits false or misleading claims about the goods or services that a company offers (see http://www.accc.gov.au/, 'Business Rights & Obligations' for more information).
There are privacy laws in Australia designed to safeguard the use of personal information for communication or promotion purposes. Therefore it is important for your website to carry a privacy statement to advise site visitors that information supplied by them will only be used for the purpose for which they provided it, and not for marketing purposes. Most websites carry a privacy statement which outlines:
- what personal information is collected
- what technical information is collected
- what this information is used for.
The aim of a website disclaimer is to protect the community website group from loss or damages arising from information presented on the community website or from information contained in linked websites. It may be useful to read disclaimers on other websites to get an idea of the type of information they provide. It is recommended you seek legal advice in drafting a suitable disclaimer for your community website.
In larger communities with a diverse and active community website group, it may be useful to develop a media policy. The aim of this policy is to establish which community website group members will speak to the media on behalf of the group to ensure a consistent message is being relayed that is truly representative of the vision and objectives of the community website group and the website.
For a website to be sustainable, it must maintain relevance for its target audience. Factors that contribute to making a website sustainable are:
- The target audience is aware that the website exists.
- The website contains information relevant to the community and is easy to use.
- Website content is kept up-to-date to encourage repeat visits.
- The website has been developed in such a way that it is easy to manage.
Potential visitors can be alerted to the existence of the website through advertising or promotional activities, or by holding a launch event to generate media interest as well as word-of-mouth advertising.
Research shows that websites that create a good first impression encourage return visits, which in turn makes your site more attractive to sponsors and advertisers.
Keeping website content up-to-date also encourages repeat visits – no-one wants to see last month's news. The information must also be relevant to the whole community and not just some groups. In larger communities there may be many different audiences – youth, indigenous, seniors, various ethnic groups – so think about having specific information for each group.
Having reciprocal links with the websites of other organisations in the community is an inexpensive and effective way to increase the number of visitors, and will also increase the website’s visibility in search engines such as Google and MSN.
Lastly, the functionality of the website contributes to how easy it is for visitors to use and for the CWG to maintain. You will need to consider how much time is needed to keep information relevant and ensure that this task is can be managed easily.
Refer to Developing a Website Plan for more information
As outlined previously, your website might be as simple as a few static pages of information hosted for free by a local ISP. However, this type of website doesn’t encourage repeat visits and will quickly date and therefore of no value to the community. Also, you may find that your local ISP cannot continue to provide free hosting so you will need to start paying for this service. You may decide to add more functions to your website, requiring the purchase of software or web designer services to make this happen.
For your website to grow and continue to meet the needs of your community, it is essential that the site is able to generate some form of income. Income can be generated through a variety of sources such as: sponsorships, donations, advertising, directory listings, email subscriptions or grants.
Sponsorships & Donations
Sponsorships cover donations of goods or services or money in exchange for acknowledgement. Sponsors can be acknowledged on the website, by being mentioned in media releases or having their logo on promotional literature or merchandising.
Some individuals or organisations may prefer to support the community website through donations. They may give money, services such as web design or hosting, their time to load and edit content, or undertake administrative tasks, and not expect anything in return.
When seeking donations or sponsorships it is often easier to get products or services rather than money. For example, a local ISP may provide free or discount hosting; a web designer may provide an initial interface design for nothing; or local media may be willing to provide free advertising or promotional items such as T-shirts or mouse pads.
Individuals are more likely to volunteer their time and skills, while local business and community organisations usually prefer sponsorship opportunities. Consider approaching major local industries, community groups like Lions or Rotary Clubs, the local Chamber of Commerce or traders' association and other local businesses.
Website advertising is an excellent method of generating income, however not all communities will agree. The community website group will need to gauge acceptance of advertising as some people may be reluctant to visit a website with advertising, however other people may view it more positively as a service for the community.
You could consider charging for your business directory listings. Paid listings are essentially another form of advertising but this approach may be more acceptable to the community.
There are several options for directory listings, such as offering:
- a basic listing for free and larger listings at a price
- free listings for community groups and charities but charging for businesses and industry.
Issuing Email Addresses
Another means of generating income for your website is to offer the community their own individual geographic email addresses. This will also encourage community members to visit your site more often, which in turn will make it easier to attract advertising and sponsorship funds.
There are many organisations – corporate, government and philanthropic – which provide money to community groups in the form of grants. Typically, grants will be awarded for projects that meet the guidelines established by the grant organisation.
Grant guidelines can be very specific, for example, to encourage young people to participate in the community through volunteering; or can be interpreted more broadly, for example, to purchase equipment or fund education programs. It is important to read these carefully – assessment of applications will be based on how well they match the criteria.
You will first have to research what grants are available. For more information on grants available in Australia, visit http://www.ourcommunity.com.au. Alternatively, you could visit individual corporate and government websites.
For simple clear advice on the steps involved in successfully applying for grants click on the following link. This overview of the grant application process was prepared by Linda Woodrow, the Manager at the Kyogle Community Technology Centre.
Once development of your website is underway, it is important to consider how you will launch the site and what ongoing promotion you will undertake. As always, you will need to consider your various target audiences – website visitors, sponsors and advertisers. You will also have to market the website for the purpose of applying for funding grants.
The purpose of holding a launch event is to generate both word-of-mouth promotion and media exposure or publicity.
As word-of-mouth advertising is still the most effective and efficient means of promoting your website, invite as many people to the launch as possible, including:
- all members of the community website group
- local media (newspapers, TV, radio)
- local council representatives (both elected representatives and employees)
- local traders and Chamber of Commerce representatives
- any volunteers, no matter how small their contribution
- any sponsors or advertisers.
Depending on the size of your community you could also invite representatives from various common interest or community groups, as well as people from the fields of education and health.
To help the media to understand the benefits of a community website, it is a good idea to have an information pack available which provides background information on the CWG and the site, a list of contacts, the website address and hard copies of some website pages.
There are many promotional options to market the website on an ongoing basis, including advertising, direct mail, merchandising and brochures. You will probably want to start simply with cost-effective ideas such as:
- preparing a brochure to be handed out in the local shopping area or via a letterbox drop
- providing media releases to local media for editorials
- running advertising in local media (newspapers, TV or radio)
- approaching other websites to establish reciprocal links
- undertaking a direct mail campaign either via Australia Post or email
Marketing your community website will mainly be about promotion. Your CWG may have the expertise in this area and be able to develop a complete Marketing Plan for the website.
See Broome's community group's postal drop as an example to promote advertising and business listings (page 1 is the front and back cover, page 2 is the inside –so it folds to look a bit like a bookmark): PDF document
While the community website group is a not-for-profit entity formed to develop, promote and manage a community website, it is still necessary to consider the factors that contribute to a successful and sustainable management committee:
- a shared vision
- adequate leadership of the management committee
- adequate range of skills
- succession planning.
For a community website group to be effective it is important to have a shared vision of the benefits that a community website can bring. The shared vision can be encapsulated in the organisation’s mission as part of the Business Sustainability Plan. This will ensure any new members joining the CWG understand immediately the purpose of the group and the goal they are aiming to achieve.
For any team effort it is important to have someone who knows what the organisation wants to accomplish, how to motivate people, and how to plan and prioritise expenditure and tasks.
An effective leader knows how to develop the organisation’s vision and express this with passion and enthusiasm. They recognise when the vision needs to be updated or recreated to ensure it still reflects where the organisation is going and remains relevant to staff, volunteers and the community. This contributes to good morale and an ongoing commitment to achieving the organisation’s mission.
An organisation that relies on volunteers needs leadership that is strong and supportive to ensure tasks are completed within reasonable timeframes. This in turn keeps volunteers committed and motivated as they can see the results of their efforts.
It is important to acknowledge the contributions made by volunteers and the management committee. This can be accomplished with simple social events such as barbeques or picnics to give people the opportunity to share ideas and experiences in a relaxed setting.
The role of the community website group is to manage what is effectively a small business so the management committee needs to have a mix of skills including accounting, legal, business planning, managerial, marketing and technical.
This may prove difficult in smaller communities and community website group members may need to take responsibility for more than one area, and invite community members to form sub-committees to accomplish specific tasks. This provides opportunities to share experiences and to learn new skills, while also ensuring the community is actively contributing and involved.
Another issue for the management committee is to ensure that when members leave there is someone to take over their role and responsibilities. This is called succession planning and can be achieved by either:
- building redundancy into the committee, or
- replacing the skill set.
Building redundancy is achieved by having more than one person involved in any important task. For example, you might have two people actively involved in preparing financial statements and acting as Treasurer, so that if one leaves, the other can step in because they have experience in the role and an understanding of the management committee’s accounting practices. It also provides opportunities for people to learn new tasks and extend their skills.
Replacing the skill set means finding a new member with the same skills as the person leaving. However, this may be difficult in smaller communities where building redundancy may be a better option.