Tech Update 4.1 - COVID-19, Donations, Email Reminders, Routes & Places

Because of and in response to COVID-19, we added a few small features to our website and improved a few of our processes. Read on to learn more about what we accomplished in round of technology development.
Jeff Bowman Jeff Bowman
IT Manager
June 29, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the game for many organizations, including ours. In this technology update, we improved a few of our processes, added a few small features, and made changes to build in safety measures for COVID-19.

Activities, Courses & Events

The safety of our volunteers, members, and guests is our top priority. The COVID-19 pandemic brought us many new challenges and quickly changing information. To keep everyone informed, we added COVID-19 Code of Conduct and COVID-19 Response pages.

  • To help more broadly disseminate this information, we added notices to all our activity, course, and events pages.

  • As part of adding activities and events, we required leaders to check a box acknowledging that that had reviewed these resources.

  • As part of registering for activities and events, we required participants to acknowledge they had reviewed these resources.

With a new features in our Salesforce platform, we were able to improve the process for sending our email reminders. We took the opportunity to do this along with adding a few reminders.

  • The day after an activity, course, or events ends we send an email requesting feedback. There were some issues with our old process for sending these reminders, most importantly that once established they were nearly impossible to edit. So if an end date changed, we could not easily or automatically update the email send date for the feedback request. Learn more from our How To: Giving and Receiving Feedback blog post.

  • To ensure that participants on a waitlist are prepared or cancel if they are no longer available, we send an email reminder. For activities, we send the reminder email ten days before the activity's start date. For courses and youth programs, we send an email reminder 30 days and ten days before the course's or youth program's start date.

  • To help us collect accurate data about our activities and ensure that participants receive credit, we send a reminder to leaders to close their activity seven days after the activity's end date if it is not yet closed. We also send a quarterly reminder email to all leader who have activities that need to be closed.

Donations

Along with the information about the COVID-19 Code of Conduct for activities and events, participants now have the option to make a donation while registering for free activities and events. The donation request is part of the registration dialog (pictured above). This update was inspired by volunteers who creatively embraced the idea of inviting donations as part of free online events using Eventbrite. We noticed that participants were eager to offer a donation at a value that felt right for them. With the influx of donations from these early events, we created a feature for the same capabilities on our website and a few other improvements.

  • This donation option will show up automatically for free activities and supports The Mountaineers Annual Fund. To enable this feature for events, simply turn on the RSVP feature when you add free event. This will save you time, because you won’t need to also set up an Eventbrite listing to collect donations. Learn more about scheduling an managing activities and events.

  • While working on new donation feature, we added a checkbox where we invite donations that offers the option to include 3% of the donation amount to cover the cost of credit card fees.

  • We added a checkbox called "Interested in legacy giving" to indicate your interest in receiving information about setting up a gift in your will or estate plan. If you check this box, one of our development team will reach out to you. You can also learn more on our Summit Society web page and our recently launched legacy giving website.

We hope that as you participate in our programs and engage with our educational resources you may use these options to contribute a gift amount that is meaningful to you. As 501(c)(3), gifts made to The Mountaineers are 100% tax-deductible. Thank you for supporting the ability of our programs and publishing to thrive beyond the pandemic.

Curbside/In-Person Pickup

We could not open our office and bookstore to the public during the worst part of the pandemic, but we did develop a way to allow members and guests to order books and merchandise online and pick them up "curbside" at our Seattle Program Center. Now that we are open we continue to offer this service and allow you to pick up books and merchandise you ordered online in-person in the bookstore or "curbside" by calling when you arrive. Visit our bookstore web page for our hours of operation, and look for the "curbside/in-person pickup" option when ordering online. To help with expenses, we reduced the subtotal threshold for free shipping from $100 to $40.

Branch & Committee Reports

We recently implemented a new tool, G-connector, that allows us to connect data from our Salesforce platform to Google sheets and Google Data Studio. This greatest power of this tool is that it allows us to update a Google sheet and elements in Google Data Studio with data from Salesforce, our customer relationship management software, on a set schedule.

We're working on building our branch dashboards  in Google Data Studio. Once this is complete, we will replace the dashboards that are PDF files extracted from Salesforce reports and uploaded to our website with direct links to the Google Data Studio dashboards.

If you need a report, whether is is a one-time export or periodically updated Google sheet, send an email to info@mountaineers.org with the details of the data you need.

Committee Rosters

When we updated our website to Plone 5, we improved many of the user interfaces for our committee volunteers. However, we missed one—committee rosters. We added that back. If you're on a  committee and looking for the roster, look for the "Committee Roster" link in the "Committee Materials" portlet on the right side of the committee's web page.

Routes & Places

Thanks to Joshua Stein, one of our hike leaders, a photographer, and volunteer extraordinaire, we now have Routes & Places: Data, Statistics, Photo Finder. It is a Google sheet that uses G-connector (mentioned above) to export data from Salesforce and a feature that Josh developed to find Routes & Places with missing or duplicated lead images.

We also note tips, terrain notes, and potential hazards to consider when planning activities in a "Notes" section of many of our Routes & Places.

Do you have a photo for a route/place that needs one? Use our Route/Place Updates, Images & Resources Form to submit it an any corrections, suggested improvements, or resources. There is a link to it under the image on every route/place, and you must be logged in to use this form.

To learn more about the hows and whys of our Routes & Places, review our How to Request New or Updates Routes & Places page.

Infrastructure

We're not talking about roads and bridges, but we do have some facilities and core technology essential to our operations. Here are some that have have improved recently.

  • Our Seattle Program Center has a large television mounted on the wall to the right just as you enter the program center's lobby. Until now, creating the content displayed on it, events in the program center that week along other information about our programs, has been a time-consuming and painstaking task. Thanks to Joshua Stein and our new Salesforce G-connector tool, we have automated this process and minimized the amount of manual effort need to produce the content displayed on this monitor. Data travels from Salesforce through G-connector to a Google sheets, then a Google presentation, a raspberry pi, and finally Chromecast to the television.

  • Since our updating our website to Plone 5, we noticed a small decrease in our website's speed. In March 2021, we experienced a profound decrease in speed after recovering from a hardware issue on web servers. In investigating we found an implemented a few improvements to increase speed generally across our website. We also discovered that, even with those overall gains, the My Activities pages of those who have lead or participated in many activities was still painfully slow to load. We redesigned that page so that it loads the filters and future activities immediately and then  it loads activity history. The activity history can take a few seconds to load, depending on how many past activities you have, but it is much faster that it was, even prior to the Plone 5 update.

  • We upgraded our website's interface with our payment processor to allow for automatic PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) compliance, typically just called PCI compliance. Paying with a credit card on our website has always been very secure—this upgrade provides even more enhanced security. We also added features to the forms on our website to improve security.

  • The phone systems at our Seattle Program Center and Books offices and warehouse on Harbor Island were aging, in one case no longer supported, and in the other was very expensive to support. The had planned to replace them this fiscal year, but the pandemic pushed that timeline with the need for remote communications tools. In August 2021, we launched replaced the phone systems at all our facilities with one hosted VoIP phone system. This new cloud-based phone system come with several benefits—the ability to transfer calls between facilities, direct dial phone numbers all our our staff, text/SMS capability, video conferencing, and remote access via desktop and mobile apps, a great benefit during the pandemic.

  • In late May 2021, we added a WiFi access point in the basement, partly to support Ring cameras we installed for security and partly to support more programs like our Gear Library that operate there.

CMC Technology Partnership

We signed a partnership agreement with the CMC (Colorado Mountain Club) in January 2021 to share our technology. CMC is an organization similar to ours in scope and longevity that operates in Colorado and is also a fellow member of the Mountain Education Alliance and Outdoor Alliance. We have a license agreement with CMC that allows them to use the functionality of our website and Salesforce platform, and for us to provide administrative and IT support for its implementation in their new website.

By contributing to the investment The Mountaineers has already made in our website, this is truly a win-win opportunity. This is an incredibly unique partnership and it's very rare that a non-technology company licenses their technology.

In January to March 2021, we helped CMC with a discovery project to determine what is needed to implement our technology and develop a new website and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) platform for them. In early May 2021, we began the project to develop CMC's new website and CRM. We expect to launch in late 2021 or early 2022.

Our design includes a shared code base that will allow The Mountaineers and CMC to share the cost of adding new features, making improvements, and fixing common bugs. Some new features and improvements will be done this year as part of building CMC's new website, and many more will be accomplished in the years ahead. This partnership will not only allow us to share technology, but also best practices in all areas across our organizations. This is indeed the foundation for a very bright future, one that will hopefully extend beyond technology!


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