As of September 1, I’m planning to suspend the offer of new free club websites until I can identify a source of funding to make that part of the WordPress for Toastmasters project financially self-sustaining.
The existing club websites on toastmost.org will continue to be supported, and the free and open source software will remain available for those who want to add it to an independently hosted WordPress site (see Hosting Your Own WordPress for Toastmasters Website).
Meanwhile, I am looking for help from anyone interested in helping me come up with a workable plan to raise the funds to allow the free websites offer to reopen, or who can contribute other ideas for a path forward. Maybe this could be someone’s High Performance Leadership project?
Offering free Toastmasters club websites was always an experiment, a way of demonstrating the value of the software and making it easier for club leaders who do not consider themselves techies to set up a site. I used the multisite configuration of WordPress, together with my own customizations, to allow club leaders to register sites at subdomains such as mysite.toastmost.org. My own Online Presenters club is op.toastmost.org.
However, so far I have had no luck finding an advertiser or sponsor to underwrite that part of the project. Hosting websites does cost money, and I see the cost beginning to grow beyond what I can subsidize out of my consulting business.
There is still time to set up a free club website, if you do it within the next couple of weeks — part of the reason of this post was to give fair warning — and I will continue to work to help those clubs that have set up shop on toastmost.org to be successful with the software. Some good testimonials from leaders who have made it work for their clubs might provide the momentum needed to take this project to the next stage.
The latest release of the WordPress for Toastmasters software includes an option to show green / yellow / red “stoplight” timing guidelines on the agenda. This was a request I received some time ago from a club that had been doing something like this with a Microsoft Word template. It took me a while to figure out how to pull it off.
The stoplight option is available to anyone who wants to turn it on. When logged in as administrator, go to Settings -> Toastmasters and you will see a place to turn stoplight display on or off.
The other improvements are more targeted to club webmasters with knowledge of CSS stylesheet language, making it easier to change the fonts and alignment of elements within the agenda design.
Here is an example of stoplight colors on the agenda:
Yes, Toastmasters friends, I realize I spent too much time with my back to the audience (or at least to the cameraman, my son, who was all the way over to one side of the room). But the audio is not bad for video shot on a smartphone.
I am writing to ask for your help making the WordPress for Toastmasters project a long-term success, which is something I can’t do alone.
See the Support This Project page for suggestions on how to help by placing an advertisement, making a donation, or contributing professionally by making the software, design, and documentation/tutorials better.
Funding is starting to become an issue for toastmost.org, the site where I invite people to create a club website for free.
If your club has a toastmost.org website, it’s safe: I’m not going to kick anyone off of the service. However, if I am going to continue to allow more clubs to sign up for it, I do need to figure out how to make it financially self sustaining. If we could raise $2,000 by the end of the year, the project would be in good shape.
The toastmost.org site has the advantage of allowing people to take advantage of the software without becoming experts on how to set up and configure web hosting. Working with more clubs and people with varying degrees of tech savvy also forces me to work harder at making the software itself easier to use. (I think it’s getting there). The clubs that have set up their own independent websites benefit, too.
Nobody Asked Me To Do This
Nobody asked me to create this service, but I saw it as the only way to allow the software to reach beyond a limited audience of Toastmasters who are also techies. What I call WordPress for Toastmasters was originally a set of one-off hacks for my own home club, but I got enough interest from friends in Toastmasters that I decided to find ways to share it.
Like a dot-com entrepreneur, I figured the first challenge was to prove I could generate an audience for this approach to managing a club website. I would worry about the money later.
Later is coming. Servers cost money, and soon I’ll need a bigger server or multiple servers to support the application. There are other commercial services I would like to invest in that would allow these websites to perform better, even for people on the other side of the world, or for improving the delivery of notification emails like password resets and role signup reminders. Possibly a nonprofit foundation should be established to manage the money, but setting up a foundation costs money also.
Worst Case Scenario
Worst case, I might close toastmost.org to new signups and continue to support it for clubs with existing websites. The open source software would continue to be available to clubs with the budget to set up their own websites, and districts or other organizations who embrace this approach could potentially set up their own multi-club websites on the toastmost.org model.
In that case, toastmost.org would become a demonstration project that proved the value of running a club website on WordPress, with Toastmasters-specific enhancements. I don’t see that as a bad outcome, but it’s not the best I would hope for.
Best Case Scenario
In a perfect world, someone reading this or someone I’m introduced to by someone reading this would pay $2,000 to be the exclusive sponsor of all the toastmost.org websites (there is a spot for an ad in the sidebar of each site) for the next year. Or a few companies, individuals, or clubs, pay the equivalent in smaller donations or advertisements.
Alternatively, I make a profitable business connection through one of you that makes me so fabulously wealthy the cost of this project becomes insignificant.
There may be other better than best case scenarios that I’m not even imagining. Part of what I’m asking for is that you help me imagine ways for this project to live up to its potential.
WordPress for Toastmasters now makes it a little easier to plan the timing of your meeting agenda on an administration screen where you can assign or adjust the time associated with any role on the agenda or any agenda note. You will see the times change as you make your updates.
Here is what that looks like for my home club, Club Awesome Toastmasters:
The latest software updates were produced in response to a request to support having a separate email list for staying in touch with guests who are not yet members. You can also use it to keep tabs on former members you hope will return someday. This is part of the the integration with the Mailman mailing list utility. The Guests/Former Members tracking screen has also been updated to allow you to add those individuals to the list.
In addition, I’ve made it easier to manage one routine administrative task: approving or deleting messages that have been held for moderation.
The options below will appear on your Toastmasters settings screen if you are running an independent website. If you have one of the free toastmost.org accounts, I have to manually set it up for you (in which case I’d ask you to consider making a donation to the cause).
Mailman is an open source Linux utility that has been around for years. Once you have recorded your password, the WordPress software will log into Mailman on your behalf to perform routine functions like adding the email addresses of new members to your members email list. The link to the Mailman administration page, along with the password, are also displayed on the dashboard in the section only visible to site managers (officers) and administrators.
This kind of mailing list allows you to write to a single address and have your message distributed to everyone on the list. It includes some basic unsubscribe functionality, and you as the list administrator can also add and drop list members.
As an alternative, the RSVPMaker plugin included as part of WordPress for Toastmasters, supports integration with the MailChimp marketing email service. However, forwarding a message via the Mailman email list is a lot quicker and easier than setting up a MailChimp campaign.
Before distributing a message, Mailman checks to make sure the message was sent by either a member of the list, an administrator, or another email account that has been specifically whitelisted as an approved address. If not, the message will be held for “moderation,” meaning a list administrator has to approve it. This is helpful for preventing spam, but it does add a certain amount of hassle and gives you another password to remember.
The Mailman user interface for that task is not the most user friendly.
Now, when you get the notification about one of these pending messages you can approve it from within the Mailman Mailing List screen in WordPress (under the Users menu, next to Guests/Former Members).
This screen also allows you to view who is currently on each of the 3 supported lists (members, officers, guests) and to add or unsubscribe list members.
Under the Pending Messages section, you will see the email addresses of any unauthorized members who have written to the list, along with the subject line of the message or messages they sent. For each email, you can choose to Always Approve messages (whitelist), Approve Once (just this time), or Blacklist the message. If you approved the message, it will be transmitted. If you choose Blacklist, the message will be deleted and any further messages from that address will be blocked.
You can also click on the message to read its content before deciding, although currently that does require you to log into Mailman directly. Often, it’s pretty obvious from the subject line and the email address, for example if a member is writing from a different email address than the one on the list or if a district officer is trying to write to your club.
Adding Email from RSVPs and Guests/Former Members List
The Guests/Former Members screen automatically tracks information about people who used to be club members (and users of the website) but aren’t anymore. You can also manually add information about guests and former members who you want to stay in touch with. You now have the option of checking off emails from the Guests/Former members list that should be added to your guest email list in Mailman.
If you use RSVPMaker to register guests online, you can also pull in the email addresses people who have visited but not joined your club from those registrations. This is relevant to the online club I helped found, Online Presenters, where we have people register to get the link to the video conference.
Learn how to promote your club and fill your agenda with the help of WordPress for Toastmasters. This training is intended for club officers who are actively using or considering the WordPress option for their clubs.
I’ve scheduled three sessions aimed at officers settling into new roles or thinking about how digital tools might help them revitalize their clubs in the coming year. The schedule is meant to work for Toastmasters in a few different timezones.
The development of this software has been largely a one-man show to date, but having more eyes on the code will force me to clean up some of my own sloppy habits and bring more ideas into the process. I am new to doing collaboration through Github, but it is well known among open source developers. Even if you do not know how to fix or improve the code, you can post feature requests and ideas on the issues tab within one of the repositories.
Notes for Developers
Note that RSVPMaker is used for other purposes outside of Toastmasters for all sorts of scheduling and event registration tasks. Toastmasters-specific functionality needs to be packed primarily into RSVPMaker for Toastmasters. However, sometimes it’s necessary to retool the RSVPMaker code to make it more flexible, so we can do what we need to do in a Toastmasters context. Ideally, those improvements also make it more flexible and capable for other purposes. Read more about RSVPMaker at rsvpmaker.com.
RSVPMaker defines a custom post type for events, in addition to the native WordPress page and post types. RSVPMaker posts have additional metadata associated with them such as event date and whether RSVPs (registrations) are being collected, what information should be collected from each attendee, whether a price is to be charged by PayPal or Stripe. Those options are displayed in the editor and dictate the display and interactivity of the event post.
RSVPMaker also allows you to establish templates that can be used to generate multiple events with the same characteristics, such as multiple Toastmasters meetings with the same agenda.
For the member signup form and printable agenda, RSVPMaker for Toastmasters uses WordPress shortcodes, which are placeholders for interactive features. When WordPress displays a post, it checks for any shortcodes embedded in the content and invokes the functions they are link to.
This is displayed differently in different contexts.
Anonymous user sees: names of people who have signed up to speak. Prompt at top of agenda inviting members to log in.
Logged in member sees: three speaker signup slots on a web form, with prompts to enter manual, project, title, and intro.
VP of Education editing the lineup sees: speaker signup form with a drop down list of all members who can be assigned to the speaking role.
Member printing the agenda sees: A printable view of the data recorded on the form, including member name, manual, project, and title.
Those are a few concepts I thought it was important to explain up front, but I’m sure anyone who digs into the code will have more questions. Write me at email@example.com
This workshop was delivered as part of a meeting of Online Presenters Toastmasters, a club that meets online and focuses on developing skills for webinars and online meetings.
The WordPress for Toastmasters project aims to give clubs a first-class web and social media marketing platform to use when promoting their clubs, along with Toastmasters specific features such as meeting role signup. David F. Carr, the founding President of Online Presenters, is also the prime mover behind the development of the WordPress for Toastmasters software. In this educational workshop, he covers some of the essentials for using the software effectively, and answers questions from the club and guest attendees.
This workshop particularly focuses on what club webmasters and club officers need to know to manage a WordPress for Toastmasters website. This is partly education for the officers of Online Presenters, most of whom are new to the software. I will also be covering some new features, such as the option to sync data between multiple websites running this software.
Because Online Presenters meets via video conference, this may be a better opportunity to get your questions answered than the webinars I’ve presented in the past where you had to type in your questions.
The formal meeting really starts at 8 pm EDT, but we encourage guests to sign in for our informal meet-and-greet / technical troubleshooting session starting at 7:30.
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