Reading time: 10 minutes
Every day is a holiday to somebody. What’s one more to add to the list? Let me give you a little background.
Often, I work with clients who have previously had a volunteer run some important part of their arts marketing arsenal — usually their website, or their email marketing. In many cases, the volunteer is a friend or family member connected to a board member, and the organization is drawn to the promise of free technical help. “My brother is a web developer; let me see if I can talk him into running our website for us!”
The concept of free service because of a good connection is incredibly attractive to some arts groups where money is especially tight. And sometimes it works out really well for a long time. But it can also easily lead to disaster.
When the board member leaves the board, often the strength of the volunteer connection leaves too. Oh, that free web developer can stick around for awhile, but in many cases the response time to get something updated gets longer and longer. Finally it starts to damage the organization’s ability to manipulate their own marketing information, such as being able to update the website, send out the email, etc. And in the worst cases, your volunteer website updater just disappears into thin air, taking your logins and passwords with them. That’s bad. But it is not as rare as you might think — I’ve now worked with four clients who have had it happen to them. The most recent two needed to register totally new domain names and set up brand new websites at considerable expense, because they couldn’t get access from their previous web developer.
Volunteering isn’t a bad thing. Many arts groups wouldn’t be able to get by if they didn’t use volunteers to get things done. But volunteers need to be managed, and they shouldn’t ever have access to things we don’t have access to ourselves. And that means access to all of your login information to your website, Facebook/Twitter, email marketing software, etc., or what I call “the keys to the kingdom.”
If they have passwords, you should know them too — they should be stored in a word document somewhere and marked “to be used in the case that our web developer disappears.” How do you get this information if you don’t already have it? Simple: ask your developer. But do so carefully.
Now, a lot of developers are a little paranoid about logins and passwords. And you’ll need to be tactful when asking for this information, and do so in a way that does not make the developer feel like you want to can them. Everybody wants to feel useful, and if you put yourself in their shoes, without knowing the reason for the request, you might be a little nervous too.
The easiest way to get this info is to ask for a “check in meeting” with them. First, compliment them on how much they’ve helped your organization, and mention that things are going great, and that you hope they’ll be able to continue to help your organization for a very long time. Then, tell them that the board is going through a process of doing a record keeping/information inventory, and they would like a document with all login information, passwords, urls, etc. so in the *knock on wood* case that something were to happen to any staff member who holds key information, the organization could continue with its work. Then say “Even though it’s a little bit of a hassle for us to gather this info together, I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a reasonable and smart request.” That last part is important to gain agreement, as nobody wants to be thought of as unreasonable. Then, set a date that the information is due by, get their agreement, tell them that you’ll be updating the document every 6 months, and finish off with another compliment on their work. Finally, have the info that has been provided to you examined by a different technology friend of yours, to make sure everything you need is there.
Potential problems don’t just come from the web developer side of things; the arts organization needs to think in advance and do its part too. For example, make sure that your website isn’t hosted by the volunteer web developer. It should be hosted with a reliable 3rd-party company such as dreamhost.com or mediatemple.com (those are just two examples of many), so that a potential problem with your volunteer doesn’t mean a problem with your web hosting. As you make technology decisions, ask yourself “Will I be relying on only this individual to gain access, or could someone else get access if I needed them to?”
Any reputable web developer or “tech person” won’t hold on to your information. It isn’t theirs — it’s yours. They should only be acting as a steward of your data, making updates as needed. If they balk, find out why, and try to talk to them. It’s always easier to blame the request on somebody else (such as your board) so that you don’t get into a shooting match. But if they won’t give it up, you’ve already got a problem, and it’s better to know about it now than later.
At that point, you should try to get the original board member involved and see if they can come to your rescue to help the situation. But if you follow the outline of the conversation above, you should be able to get all the important info you need without causing any problems, and you’ll still have your volunteer working with you.
“Ahh but our tech volunteer is fabulous… he/she would never disappear like that.” Great! In most cases, that will be the case. Then please consider getting this information from them simply a form of digital insurance. Something you know you’ve planned for, even though it may never happen. And this is no-cost insurance — the very best kind!
Personally I think that volunteers should be only used in situations where the volunteer could be easily replaced with somebody else. The very nature of volunteers is that they are more flexible than an employee, but they don’t have a paycheck governing their behavior or trustworthiness. I’m not trying to put down volunteers. Love them, thank them, count on them, but please don’t risk having them be the only ones who can do “that one thing,” when that one thing can break your organization. Most likely, you now have and will continue to have a great, positive working relationship with your technical person, and this article shouldn’t cast a shadow on that. Just have your info stored for safe keeping!
So, to help spread the word that arts organizations should walk through this process and recapture access to their own login information, I am declaring this Thursday, September 24th, “National Know Your Arts Marketing Logins Day.” On this day, across the land, I want arts groups everywhere to open their email, and contact their tech helper to get this information. Store it for safe keeping in a couple of places and/or share it with another staff member in your organization for redundancy. What will take your 5 minutes to do could help spare you weeks of lost time, ticket sales, and happiness.
So spread the word! This Thursday is “National Know Your Arts Marketing Logins Day.” Will you celebrate with us? (And if you’re reading this after Thursday, please just go and gather the info now!)