Five volunteer Commissioners and a professional staff advisor work with PTC volunteers and professionals to meet Technology needs.
Pine Tree Council
Pine Tree Council is volunteer-led, professionally-guided. Here's the buzzword bingo to describe the key elements of our approach:
Our History on the Web
Pine Tree Council is volunteer-led, professionally-guided. Our first website was volunteer-launched in October, 1997. Shown is our website from 2003. Long-term Webmaster Dean Zaharis was recognized with the James E. West Fellowship Award in 2013.
Birth of Current Tech Program
In 2013, Pine Tree Council hired two web design firms to produce a WordPress template for the Council. Shown is the v1 website (2014).
ACC Jacob Moorman signed-on to complete the initial implementation of that template and to address other technology needs. Noting that one-person Technology operations become a single-point-of-failure (SPoF), we held our first Tech Muster in 2013 and began to form up a cadre of technologists to collaboratively design, implement and maintain the Council's technology stack.
Technology and Marketing functions have been separated in Pine Tree Council. Commissioner-based Technology functions are populated with seasoned technologists. District and Council Committee-based Marketing functions are populated with seasoned marketeers. This separation allows Technology to work more broadly to serve all disciplines -- Marketing, Advancement, Training, Unit Service, etc.
PTC's implementation work was slowed from 2014-2017 by lack of robust Council Marketing. When this was resolved in November 2016, work began to form a new web strategy to better meet the needs of internal and external audiences.
Our new strategy shortens the path to information by providing shallow-depth portal sites on Council subdomains for each key Council process.
Pine Tree Council's new website was launched January 2017, the first component to launch in the new v2 strategy. Using guidance from PTC Marketing, ACC Jacob Moorman's company 6XIS, LLC prepared the design shown above. Per guidance from PTC Marketing Chair Michelle Libby:
- The target audience of this website is new Scouts, parents, and donors. This site is focused on external audiences.
- The top half of the site is imagery-heavy and contains direct calls to action. The lower half of the site is an index to other resources.
Nonprofit organizations tend to get the worst end of the bargain when it comes to technology. Rather than fielding solutions designed for nonprofits, we generally build solutions using the same best-of-breed tools used by commercial companies, and to industry best practices. Our newest sites:
- Are mobile responsive (work on phone, tablet and desktop) and lean, which means they work well from home, from the field, or in a literal field.
- Provide a clear point of contact for questions, allowing folks to use the site to get the info they need, and bridging the analog gap by allowing folks to make a phone call for help.
- Leverage SSL for delivery and extensive peer review of content changes, helping ensure the integrity of the information provided.
Working with PTC's Marketing Committee, press release format and workflow has been standardized. Three press releases are showcased on the Council website at a time. Historical releases are found on the Press Releases page.
Leveraging Google's Custom Search Engine platform, Pine Tree Council has prepared a search which includes all Pine Tree Council websites and data from the external PTC Events platform.
With an externally-focused Council website, it is critical to have a suitable internally-focused website to support the need of the Council's volunteers. Our PTC Leader Resources site was prepared to:
- Align to the information conveyed during leader training.
- Serve as an index to all information, contacts and forms used by leaders.
- Eliminate duplication of general Scouting knowledge from other Council sites, e.g. the four District sites.
When data needs to be presented in multiple formats, we use automation to eliminate the need for manual upkeep. Such overhead-reducing and accuracy-increasing automation is in place for our Forms Page, which is autogenerated using the data on the Leader Resources site.
Advancement contacts and program information are included on our PTC Advancement site, launched in 2017 as a joint project of PTC Technology and PTC Advancement. Principals were PTC Advancement Chair Melissa Medina and ACC for Technology Jacob Moorman. This site uses the same template as our Leader Resources site.
Recognizing we need to answer critical purchase path questions for parents while not providing details that erode the magical surprise of the camp experience, we launched the new PTC Camp Site in 2017. The design concept was formed by PTC Program Director Ken Sparta and ACC for Technology Jacob Moorman, with support from Ranger Scott Martin, and Camp Directors Leah Barry, Michelle Lefebvre, Jack Waite and Butch Dawbin. This site uses the same template as our Leader Resources site.
Using the same code used to produce the Leader forms, we've also made it easier to find essential Camp information.
Unit Service contacts and information are included on our PTC Commissioner site, launched in 2014 and revamped in 2017. Principals were Council Commissioner Lynne Picoraro and ACC for Technology Jacob Moorman. This site uses the same template as our Leader Resources site.
Popcorn powers Scouting. Since most Units participate in the annual Popcorn sale, in 2016 we prepared a new site to provide Popcorn sale contacts and information. Principals were (former) Assistant Scout Executive Matt Randall and ACC for Technology Jacob Moorman. This site will be refreshed before the 2017 sale, including a template refresh to align to new Council branding.
The Scout Patriot Award began as a program in the K-Valley District, maintained by District Advancement Chair Chuck Mahaleris. Recognizing that an expanded web presence would allow the program to expand Council-wide and drive easier adoption and administration, Chuck and ACC for Technology Jacob Moorman prepared a new portal site for the program. This site is designed to be available both to youth and adult leaders, and extensively uses public domain images to promote the program.
Training contacts, programs and "Trained" leader information are available on our PTC Training site, launched in 2017. Principals were PTC Training Chair Jim Thomas and ACC for Technology Jacob Moorman. This site uses the same template as our Leader Resources site.
Our ptcbsa.org domain is served using Google's G Suite for Nonprofits, providing email and document sharing.
Account rollout started with PTC's Technology volunteers and the professional staff team, and has been followed by Commissioners, Training, Advancement and Camp Directors. Accounts are available to all Council and District level leaders serving in a Chair, Director or Commissioner role. We also maintain Google Groups to aid communication to and within teams, such as the PTC Commissioner Team.
In addition to Council-level sites, each District maintains a website to serve the immediate information needs of all leaders within the District. These sites serve as the authoritative home for details on District-level events such as Camporees, Merit Badge Colleges, and Klondike Derby.
Shown here is the Abnaki District Website, maintained by the Abnaki District Committee with support from ADC for Technology Matt Dubois.
Shown here is the Casco Bay District Website, maintained by the Casco Bay District Committee with support from ADC for Technology Jason Medina.
The Distict websites currently leverage the WordPress platform and template previously used for the Council website. Working with the KValley District's Webmaster the Technology Team plans a major technology, template and content refresh for all four District sites to occur in 2017.
Shown here is the KValley District Website, maintained by the KValley District Committee with support from Webmaster Pat Couture.
Shown here is the York District Website, maintained by the York District Committee with support from ADC for Technology Tim Guerrette.
Pine Tree Council has adopted Black Pug Software's 247Scouting events management platform. Within our Council we refer to this as PTC Events, with redirects to important platform pages via the events.pinetreebsa.org subdomain.
PTC Events is used for all event registration at the District and Council levels, including training and summer camp. The use of a single platform aids accounting and reduces administrative overhead.
Camp Rentals will be evaluated in 2017. A solution for rental management is available on the same platform.
In the v1 web strategy, Pine Tree Council leveraged the Google Calendar platform to provide Council-level and District-level calendars which were website integrated. In our v2 strategy, we have elevated the role of the District websites and leverage the PTC Events platform to provide District-level calendars which integrate District-specific and all Council events. A changeover to the v2 calendar model is planned for 2017 and will include population of comprehensive event calendar data in to the PTC Events platform.
We're past the halfway mark in launching our new v2 web strategy. In coming months we will launch:
- recharter.pinetreebsa.org to lift the administrative burden of the annual recharter process
- join.pinetreebsa.org to tie together beascout.org, online registration, and other recruitment-focused information
- friends.pinetreebsa.org to support the Friends of Scouting donation program, showcasing Pine Tree Council program and outcomes
Pine Tree Council leverages DreamHost Shared Hosting services, available for free to 501(c)3 nonprofits. Among a broad range of capabilities, this service supports WordPress (as was needed in our v1 web strategy) and static hosting (as is needed in our v2 web strategy). Administrative overhead of using this platform is very low.
Our web delivery is performed using CloudFlare's free service tier. CloudFlare provides a layer of protection to our service delivery and allows SSL delivery (https://) to our end-users.
Testing - SSL Configuration
Pine Tree Council sites leverage SSL to ensure delivery integrity. The SSL Server Test from Qualys SSL Labs is used to confirm correct SSL configuration.
Testing - Mobile Responsiveness
Pine Tree Council sites are designed to be mobile responsive, working correctly on phone, tablet and desktop. Google's Mobile Friendly test is used to confirm responsiveness.
Testing - Page Performance
Pine Tree Council sites are designed to deliver clean render and performance. GTMetrix is used to repeatedly obtain YSlow and PageSpeed results.
Pine Tree Council has operated a regular newsletter since at least the 1930's. Our current format is the Pine Spills electronic newsletter, delivered by email several times per month. Pine Spills reaches approximately 5000 parents and leaders in Pine Tree Council, including 70% of registered leaders (per 2016 measurement).
Pine Tree Council has used a number of newsletter delivery platforms including Mailman mailing lists, Google Groups, Vertical Response and MadMimi.
Our current newsletters platform is MadMimi, with our accounts and services maintained by PTC Technology. Discounted pricing is provided by MadMimi to 501(c)3 nonprofits. MadMimi is also used for various District newsletters, and targeted communications by PTC Training and other teams.
In addition to maintaining our presence on MadMimi, the Technology Team supports subscription management, content development, and deliverability practices. This involves periodic creation of new opt-in email distributions, and expansion of our distribution lists to serve new leaders.
Through work by the Technology Team, it has been possible to prepare mailings to leaders who need to refresh their Youth Protection training before recharter, mailings to confirm Unit Key 3 contact information, and mailings to promote the SMLST and ITOLS training courses specifically to the Scoutmasters who need them.
Pine Tree Council operates a Council Facebook Page which is curated principally by volunteer Chuck Mahaleris, and with supplemental content from PTC's professional staff. Chuck works hard to ensure the Council's Facebook presence includes a blend of local, Council-level, United States and worldwide Scouting stories and information.
PTC's four districts also maintain a Facebook presence, allowing leaders to subscribe to local information, and with regular shares from the PTC Facebook page.
Pilots of additional social media approaches are being pursued by the PTC Marketing team. The BSA Social Media Playbook and Social Media Guidelines aid our Social Media approach.
Pine Tree Council's Tech Team does not provide desktop support in the Council offices and camps, or support office and camp networks. While these things are important, the volunteer schedule doesn't support the sort of on-demand on-site service needed for IT and is better served through a commercial provider.
The Tech Team does routinely aid the Council in evaluating, recommending, launching and supporting new Technology solutions. One of the providers we use to serve the Council's needs is TechSoup, which serves as a clearinghouse for various vendors (including Microsoft and Adobe) to offer discounted services for nonprofits. One such service is GoToMeeting conference services, used to support remote meeting needs.
We prefer solutions which are best-of-breed in commercial environments and have not been built for Scouting or nonprofit markets.
Part of the role of Commissioners is to connect Unit need to the resources of the District Operating Committee. Through our work in observing Unit needs throughout the Council and our work with the Council Training Team, it became evident that we needed a path for acclimating new leaders to the resources of the Council.
In addition to the Leader Resources site launched in 2017, the Technology Team has established processes to deliver a series of Drip Mailings to new leaders. Through this series of five mails, the new leader becomes aware of Training, Roundtables, Council websites, and where to go with questions.
Tech Data Products
BSA data systems and data within the Council are extensive but require process and technology support to produce meaningful results. The Technology team has provided support around data extraction, transformation and load (ETL) projects, and in analysis of data. These custom solutions have enabled key realizations about functional capacity needs, guided our approach in lifting the Journey to Excellence (JTE) scores across the Council, and enabled targeted communications. We have also identified and remediated data anomalies which impact report accuracy, and built custom data storage solutions for needs not served by the BSA platforms (such as Commissioner Training tracking). Some key findings:
- Our Pine Spills newsletter reaches 70% of registered leaders.
- Approximately 800 leaders join Pine Tree Council or change roles per year and will require training.
- BSA's my.scouting.org platform reporting fails in the edge case where a leader has two "primary" email addresses.
Though the Technology and Marketing functions of Pine Tree Council have been separated since 2013, Technology continues to serve Marketing as one of our constituencies. Both internal and external Marketing have a direct bearing on the ability of Units to participate in Council opportunities and be recognized as we publish Council outcomes. In addition to our work on web and other communications platforms, we are working with PTC Marketing to meet other needs in 2017:
- Formation of a comprehensive Marketing plan to include external audience communications, internal District and Council-level communications; across the full spectrum of available methods ranging from USPS-delivered postcards to social media.
- Technology will support video production projects, including support in sourcing public domain and Creative Commons licensed auto for use in video projects.
We also anticipate deployment of additional technology infrastructure to support Marketing:
- Workflow automation around Press Release preparation, allowing a broader group of event operators to participate while ensuring the correct approvals occur.
- A new PTC Photo Bank will be launched to collect all images and videos for use in general Marketing and specific event promotion. This bank will allow leader submissions, and will collect photo releases and photographer releases to enable broad reuse.
We're glad to talk with other Councils looking to build their Technology function. Volunteers may contact the PTC Technology Team and Professionals may contact PTC Scout Executive Eric Tarbox for an introduction. Here are the keys to making it work smoothly:
- Separating Tech and Marketing, and placing Tech with Commissioners allows Tech to support the Unit Service horizontal and all of the verticals (Finance, Membership, Program/Advancement, Program/Training, etc.) that work with Units.
- Tech volunteers work with volunteers, Professional staff advisor works with professionals, to push transparency and pull feedback. Remember to market every launch.
- Release early, release often. Testing and UX work are key for adoption. Build clear RACI with accurate RACI-C lists and one RACI-A per project to ensure rapid approval cycle. Make sure folks know changes are continuously accepted via a feedback mailbox, and continuous improvements are made to all sites.
As Commissioners, we're here to serve. Pine Tree Council's Technology Team accepts feedback continuously. Send feedback to email@example.com