By Cory Granholm
It’s hard to believe, but just a few months ago NIRSA very quietly, and with very little fanfare, won an award for its website, www.nirsa.org. The award itself is a small glass monolith sitting here on my desk. It was presented to us last September from ASI, the company that develops our association management software, iMIS. This is the software that we use to both run our membership database as well as our website.
At the time we received the award, nirsa.org was experiencing some growing pains. We had just updated to the latest version of our database system and immediately began experiencing an abundance of site downtime. Some sort of errant bit in the software/server configuration wasn’t working.
After a few weeks of testing different solutions, and with the bug only getting worse, our IT department made an impossible decision. After a call with our website development partners and server hosts on Wednesday, December 3, it became clear we had to take the NIRSA website offline and rebuild it.
Down but not out
Suddenly, NIRSA HQ was in crisis management mode. We found ourselves in an environment often faced by our members: how to deal with a new problem with limited resources, and a crunch time.
What happens when an association that manages some 5,000 members can no longer communicate through its primary channel? What information do we need to get out into the world? — and how do we do that? What’s the priority list? How long will we be down? hours? days? weeks?
Within the first eight hours of the site going dark we had a bare-bones backup site running at nirsa.net, analytics reporting. We had loose contingency plans for how and what to communicate to our membership depending on how long the website might be down. We set up a feedback form for collecting concerns as well as documenting short- and medium-term website needs.
Bad and badder
On Friday, December 5, it became clear that the initial estimate of a 2-3 day downtime had expanded to a 7-10 day downtime. Possibly longer.
As upsetting as that news was, it was also very clarifying. Suddenly, loose contingency plans became solid communications plans. Our temporary fold-out couch at nirsa.net became more of a vacation home — complete with a smart search function and keyword system to help users find the information they need. Announcements that were in a holding pattern were launched into full flight. We developed a plan for publishing the year-end issue of the NIRSA Know, our association newsletter. We started our backup plans for announcing and holding NIRSA elections. We found alternate ways to solicit volunteers for our committee/work team application process. We posted interactive PDFs in lieu of online registrations.
Most importantly we began compiling a list of what staff can and can’t do, and what our website users and members can and can’t do.
Where we’re at
The following comprises a full summary of our website/database-related services.
- Users should be able to log into the website
- Users should be able to retrieve lost passwords or reset passwords
- Users should be able to log into NIRSA Discussions (hosted by Higher Logic)
- Users should be able to log into Abstract Manager (abstracts.nirsa.org) to either submit or check on presentations
- Users should be able to update profiles or institution rosters
Registering for Events
- Users should be able to register online or PDF
- Users should receive a confirmation email for Conference with hotel info
Purchasing or Renewing NIRSA Membership
- Users should be able to join/renew online or by PDF
NIRSA Foundation Donations
- Users should be able to pay online
- Users should be able to pay for materials online
Books & Publications
- Users can browse and purchase books and publications at the NIRSA Education & Publications Center, nirsa.humankinetics.com
- Users can post and review jobs at BluefishJobs.com
Awards Applications and Nominations Forms
- Award applications and nominations forms are temporarily located at nirsa.net/nirsa/grow/awards-deadlines/
Changes to Professional Development
- Users should be able to access the CEU tracker
- Some professional development opportunities have been affected by the website downtime. Details can be found at nirsa.net/nirsa/category/professional-development/
- Shortcut URLs that pointed to pages like www.nirsa.org/nirsa2015 won’t work and will not redirect to their counterpart pages at nirsa.net.
Finding Other Information
- nirsa.net contains about 50 pages of our 1,500-page website
- Use nirsa.net for important information and updates as well as links to application and registration forms and PDFs
- The search function at the top of the page should be very helpful
- Most articles and pages include keywords to help users find information
- Contact NIRSA HQ with specific questions
- Please note that NIRSA Headquarters will be closed for a holiday break starting Friday, December 19 and open again on Monday, December 29. We’ll be closed again on Thursday, January 1, 2015.
- Call 541-766-8211 or fax 541-766-8284
- All NIRSA email addresses are working just fine
We’re still testing the functionality above, but so far all signs point toward being on the right track. Naturally, we’ll keep the homepage at nirsa.net updated as we learn more or as conditions change in the coming weeks.
As we finish up 2014 and head into a new year, it’s safe to say that the team here at NIRSA HQ will continue to strive to make the best website we can in order to meet that very simple goal: to provide our members with the information they need to get better at what they do. We have all spent these few tough weeks working in concert with one another to keep business running as smoothly as possible, and we’ll keep on collaborating as we move forward towards a fully-functional NIRSA website.
On behalf of the team at NIRSA HQ, we truly appreciate your patience — and feedback — as we work through this short-term problem to find a long-term solution.