Adding Another Club Website Administrator. Also, Toastmost.org Requests & Help

With the start of the new Toastmasters officer term, many clubs may be adding or changing roles related to administration of the website. Continuity is important, but this may also be an opportunity to give your club website a face lift or add compelling content that tells visitors why they should invest in learning about Toastmasters — and your club in particular.

Recommendation #1: Your Club Should Have More Than One Website Administrator

Toastmasters leaders come and go. Even if you personally have made a long-term commitment to the club, there could come a day when you are unable to keep participating because of illness, or a job move, or who knows what? Or maybe you are the club leader who has delegated most responsibilities for managing the club website to someone else — perhaps someone with more “techie” skills than you give yourself credit for — and one day that person goes missing.

You don’t want to find yourself “locked out” of your own website, which is showing outdated information (say, because your meeting location has changed), and you can’t fix it.

So name at least one additional administrator, someone who is reasonably comfortable futzing with web software, even if your primary admin continues to do most of the work. You can change user roles on the Toastmasters screen under Settings, or from the Users page on the administrative dashboard.

You may also want to assign officers and other trusted club members to elevated security roles. Your choices, with increasingly broad rights are:

  • Subscriber – the default security role. Can sign up for roles and edit their own user/member profile.
  • Contributor – Can contribute blog posts and submit them for approval by an Editor or Administrator.
  • Author – Can create and publish blog posts without prior approval by an Editor.
  • Editor – Can edit any of the site content, including blog posts, pages, and event posts.
  • Manager – Can edit content and can also add or edit user/member records. (Not a standard WordPress security role — added for use by an officer such as the VP of Membership who needs to be able to add user accounts).
  • Administrator – Can change configuration settings, enable plugins, and change the site design (color choices, banners, etc). On a stand-alone website, the Administrator can also install plugins and themes. On a multisite network such as toastmost.org, only the network administrator can install additional software.
  • Network Administrator – On a multisite network such as toastmost.org, this super-administrator has administrative rights to all the individual club websites and can make changes that affect all websites.

As an Administrator, you can appoint a second administrator, and you can also appoint users to any of the roles below that level.

New Way to Submit Requests and Questions on Toastmost.org

Club website administrators should be able to operate fairly autonomously, for the most part. However, there are a few functions that require help from a network administrator. In addition to the WordPress functions you cannot access, tasks such as creating an email discussion list require access to server operating system utilities outside of WordPress.

Requests and Questions

In most cases, a network administrator can fulfill these requests within a day or two. I’m introducing two new tools to make it easier for you to submit these requests and for me and my backup admins to follow up on them.

  • Requests and Questions Form – Use to request setup of email lists and email forwarding addresses, or submit any other request or question for the network administrators. This form appears on the main Dashboard screen and also as a submenu under TM Administration. The version you get to from the menu also shows a history of all your requests and the responses to them.
  • Plugin Search – Plugins are optional software modules for specific functions. Plugins for many common purposes are pre-installed and just waiting for you to turn them on. Thousands of others are freely available from WordPress.org, and this new search screen (which you will find as a submenu under Plugins) lets you research them and request that additional plugins be installed.

One caution about plugins: don’t go crazy installing dozens of plugins on your website. Having too many active can slow down your website. They may even interfere with each other. Used judiciously, they can add useful functions to your website.

For example, searching on “poll” would allow you to locate multiple plugins for adding an interactive poll to a blog post or page. Before requesting additional plugins, see if an existing plugin for that function is already available. In fact, there are already two polling plugins available for your use. However, if another one looks like it fits your requirements better, go ahead and ask for it.

Requests for plugins will be reviewed based on factors like ratings and how frequently the software is updated. Plugins may also be removed form toastmost.org from time to time, for example if they have known security bugs or haven’t been updated in a long time.

In general, requests for mailing lists and forwarding addresses are more straightforward and will be processed on a routine basis. Just keep in mind that forwarding addresses must be unique. In other words, vpe@toastmost.org will not work but myclub-vpe@toastmost.org or vpe2445@toastmost.org can be set to forward to whatever address or list of addresses you specify.

Proposed Toastmost.org Subscription Fee Starting in 2020

Heads up, users of the toastmost.org service for hosting club websites. Because relying on donations and sponsor advertising isn’t generating enough money to cover my costs, I plan to begin charging $30 per club per year at the beginning of 2020.

This fee will apply to clubs whose website has been registered on the site for more than one year. Going forward, I will continue to allow a generous one-year trial period — which should be long enough for clubs to see the value.

Metrics of success I would suggest looking for when you decide whether to stick with toastmost.org or migrate away to Free Toast Host, easySpeak, or some other option:

  • Visitors praise your website when telling you how they found your club. This assumes you have published valuable, engaging content (the software doesn’t do that for you, but it should make it easier).
  • Your VPE and other officers are saving time when organizing the agenda and appreciate features like automated meeting role reminder messages.
  • You recognize the value of paying to support investments in improving the security and performance of your club website.
  • Even if you’re not taking advantage of them yet, you appreciate the availability of options for online dues payment and online submission of member applications.

If you are not achieving success with the platform, I am available to coach you to greater success. Everything on the list above is something my clubs have achieved, which is why I decided to share these resources with other clubs in the first place. Moving to a paid model will mean redoubling my commitment to making more clubs realize the value of the software and services.

Outside of toastmost.org, the same software is available, free and open source, for you to install on your own web server. That can be a good option for those with the necessary budget and technical wherewithal, but toastmost.org hosting means I worry about most of the techie details.

A friend advised me to name a higher number (based partly on the idea that people often don’t value things that come cheap), but $30 USD is calibrated to be substantially less than the cost of hosting and independent website and not so much that any club can’t scrape together that money once a year.

Donations and Sponsor Advertising Still Welcome

I still hope to raise a little money through donations and sponsor advertising — see the information posted at wp4toastmasters.org/support — and I thank the handful of sponsors and advertisers who have helped out over the past few years. Ultimately, I think it’s fairer to everybody to require a modest annual contribution from all toastmost.org users than continue to lean on a few generous people and clubs.

My own small editorial/digital consulting business will continue to contribute to the cause, operating this venture at a modest loss — I just can’t afford to allow the loss to keep growing. I personally will continue to contribute substantial amounts of time to improving the software because I love the challenge and believe in the mission of providing Toastmasters clubs with better digital tools.

I welcome your feedback.

David F. Carr
Webmaster for toastmost.org and founder of the WordPress for Toastmasters project.
david@wp4toastmasters.com

Web-based member application for Toastmasters

As the founding President of an online club, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how to construct smoother workflows for processes like enrolling members. This online member application submission and approval process is part of that. We’re currently piloting it at both Online Presenters Toastmasters and Club Awesome (a traditional offline club) and have seen a flurry of new applications in the space of a few days — which looks to me like evidence that we’ve successfully reduced some friction in the process.

By “online,” I mean this is an application process built where the new member fills out a web-based form that includes agreement to all the same legal terms you would find on the PDF or paper versions of the application. The completed application is saved as an HTML formatted document that is stored as part of your club’s online records and can be shared via email.

Update, June 22: I’ve now gone through the process of submitting a couple of transfer applications in this format to the Membership Department at the Toastmasters International, and they’ve accepted them with one proviso. As additional validation of the member’s digital signature, they have asked that the member personally confirm the transfer request by email.

The video below shows the user experience for the member completing the application and paying dues, as well as the reviewing and approving incoming applications, then creating member accounts on the website.

This is part of the WordPress for Toastmasters system for club marketing and meeting management. It takes advantage of the online payment features introduced a few months ago.

If no online payment has been received, the club officer reviewing the application will see a notice saying so at the top of the page. That notice is accompanied by a payment link you can copy-and-paste into your follow up email to the member. Or maybe you have received a payment by check or some other means, in which case you can ignore that alert and approve the application anyway.

No payment warning

Setting Up the Form

Getting this to work includes a little back-end setup to establish your club’s dues schedule and create a page on your website where the application will be displayed. There is a separate settings screen for this feature, labeled TI Application Form.

When you first load that setup screen, you will have to fill in some blanks. If you haven’t previously signed up for an account on the stripe.com online payment service and obtained the required API keys for integration with the website, you’ll have to do that now if you want to take advantage of the online payment feature.

Once you’ve completed the setup, the screen will look like this, with details on your own dues as well as the TI dues prorated by month.

Note that at the bottom of the setup page there are links to view or edit the member application page. That page will contain a placeholder code for the form itself, but you can add your own content before or after it (for example to provide some additional info on your dues).

Page with placeholder code for the application.

Before creating this, I verified with Toastmasters International that the legalese in the membership application form includes terms about how a digital signature on an application is legally binding. That’s something you agree to when submitting a digital application.

However, I believe this is much less awkward than emailing around PDFs (in my online club) or dealing with data entry issues like unreadable handwriting on paper forms leading to emails being entered incorrectly when we register a member (an issue for my offline club). It’s also one smooth process rather than a series of fragmented processes.

Replay: User Meetup May 25

Here’s a replay of the second in this series of conversations about the WordPress for Toastmasters software, what it does well today, and its potential for the future. Thank you to everyone who participated. I’ll be following up with answers that came up during the event, and anyone who watches me is welcome to send their own questions.

Optional Rules for Managing Your Agenda

The latest software update includes a couple of tools club leaders have asked for to give them greater control over who can edit signups by other members and to prevent or discourage abuse of the self-service role signup tools. The use of these features is optional. You will find the setup for them on the Rules tab of Toastmasters Settings.

The new Rules tab on the Settings screen.

Restricting Access to the Edit Signups Feature

The first set of settings are related to who will be able to access the Edit Signups link on the agenda. By default, the system allows all members to access that function as needed. However, you can restrict it so only the site Administrator (or another member with an elevated security role such as Editor or Manager) has access to the Edit Signups function.

If you choose to limit access by security role, you may still want to permit access to the Edit Signups function for the Toastmaster of the Day if the TOD is responsible, or partly responsible, for organizing the agenda and ensuring roles are filled. Depending on how your club operates, you might also want to give the General Evaluator that ability. Since these are meeting-specific roles, access would only be granted for the specific meeting for which a member is serving in that role.

A Point System for Speeches Versus Other Participation

Large clubs or those with many ambitious speakers may occasionally experience issues with members monopolizing the available speaking slots. The points system allows you to monitor abuse of the self-signup feature or have the software prevent it.

Here’s how it works:

  • Each member starts with 4 points (you can change this)
  • Each speech signup “costs” 2 points (you can change this)
  • Members earn 1 point for every supporting role (every role other than speaker) they sign up for.

In other words, if you stick with the defaults, the idea is members should fill some other role roughly twice as often as they sign up to speak.

The least intrusive way to use this feature is for club leaders to periodically check the new Speaker Points Report and, perhaps, have a talk with anyone who looks like they’re abusing the system.

Here’s a glimpse at that report with a member’s negative score highlighted in red. This is one of the reports listed under the Reports Dashboard.

Speaker Points Report

Next, you can specify that you would like to warn members when their point balance drops below zero but not actually prevent them from signing up to speak.

Here’s what that looks like:

Prompting a member to sign up for another role.

Or you can prevent members from signing up for to speak as long as their point value is negative. In that case, the Take Role button just isn’t displayed for speaking roles.

Preventing a member from signing up to speak.

In that case, a club leader such as the VP of Education who has the authority to Edit Signups can override this prohibition by putting the member on the schedule anyway. (To make this enforceable, you will want to ensure that regular members cannot access the Edit Signups feature.)

Other rules needed?

Do these options suggest other rules you would like to have the option of turning on?

Support for the Engaging Humor Path, Plus Updated Evaluation Forms

Picking a one of the new Pathways humor projects.

The Pathways universe has expanded with a new Engaging Humor path centered on a series of humorous speaking projects. The Know Your Sense of Humor project also shows up as an elective for the other educational paths.

To keep pace, WordPress for Toastmasters now show the new path and projects on the signup form.

In addition, each of the new projects is now represented by an online evaluation form the covers the same questions and prompts as the PDF evaluation form. These are not meant to be a replacement for the official educational materials, but they can be handy as an alternative to filling out a paper evaluation.

Online evaluation form for Know Your Sense of Humor

The online evaluation forms were particularly intended for use by online clubs, where members are otherwise in a position of emailing PDFs back and forth, or printing and scanning evaluations. Personally, I also find them a good alternative to delivering feedback in my sloppy handwriting.

Thanks to Roger Fung, VP of Education for Online Presenters Toastmasters, for helping me track down the evaluation forms I was missing.

Attracting Attention (and Members) to Your Club – Training Presentation Links and Resources

Here are a few resources posted for the benefit of attendees at a Toastmasters Leadership Institute presentation on Saturday, February 2. Since I’m posting this the night before, I’ll likely add to this with documents, links, answers to questions that come up during the session and possibly a video of the session itself.

Carr's law of marketing: First, they have to know you exist. Click To Tweet

Video workshop at Online Presenters, Monday February 4, 2019

Register at https://op.toastmost.org/video-editing

Meeting opens with meet and greet at 7:30 pm, workshop starts at 8

Blog post: How to Routinely Record and Share Speeches at Your Club

The free video editor in Windows 10:

Here’s an example of a Club Awesome promo video featuring multiple testimonials:

WordPress for Toastmasters
https://wp4toastmasters.com

Get a free website or free software for any self-hosted WordPress website (not WordPress.com)

Club Awesomewww.clubawesome.org

Club Awesome Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/awesometoastmasters/

Note the extensive use of video, including a video cover image.

List your “place of business” (club meeting place) on Google
https://google.com/business

How to Completely Optimize Your Google My Business Listing (Tutorial)
https://www.searchenginejournal.com/local-seo/optimize-google-my-business/

Collect Dues and Event Fees Online

WordPress for Toastmasters can now help you collect club dues, thanks to a new integration with the Stripe online payment service that’s part of the RSVPMaker events scheduling plugin. Better yet, Stripe is introducing discounted transaction fees for nonprofits, and my contact told me I could invite other Toastmasters clubs to participate in the beta program.

Here’s what the payment buttons look like on the Join page of the Online Presenter Toastmasters. To see the user experience, you can post a test transaction (using a fake credit card for demo purposes).

Dues payment at Online Presenters

You can use the same mechanism to collect money for other purposes, such as fundraisers and events. The integration with Stripe online payments is a feature of the RSVPMaker plugin WordPress for Toastmasters uses for event scheduling. If you are hosting a workshop or conference for which attendees will pay a fee, RSVPMaker will record the registration and ask members to click the button to pay at the end of the process.

In the case of dues, members can also be asked to sign up for a “subscription” plan where their credit card will automatically be billed every 6 months. We’re piloting that at Online Presenters now. For new member dues payments you can put in a different price for each month of the year, reflecting how TI dues are prorated depending on when someone signs up.

Read more about how it works in the blog at RSVPMaker.com.

Stripe Beta Program for Nonprofits

Here’s what Stripe told me about their pricing for nonprofits.

We’re currently testing how we can better support US nonprofits, and we’d love to offer you our new nonprofit beta pricing of:

2.2% + 30¢ for non-AmEx transactions
3.5% for AmEx transactions

Please note that by accepting these discounted rates your organization will also be subject to any updated policies on our pricing page:

https://stripe.com/us/pricing

If you’re interested, create an account at stripe.com and then write to nonprofit@stripe.com.

You will need to provide the EIN tax ID for your club. In the case of Online Presenters, which does not have an EIN because of its international nature, I was able to provide the EIN for Toastmasters International (95-1300076), explaining we operate under that umbrella.

How to Change the Number of Speakers and Time Allowed

A very common scenario for Toastmasters meeting organizers is that you may need to adjust the number of speakers, time allowed for speeches, or both for a given meeting — for example, because a member is planning to give a 15 or 20-minute speech rather than one of the 5-7 minute speeches.

You can accomplish that, without having to restructure the whole agenda (or agenda template), through the same Edit Signups feature you use to record role assignments.

Changing the number of speeches to make room for a long one.

You can actually adjust the timing for any portion of the meeting this way; I’m just underlining the number of speeches and total time allowed for speeches as the most common need.

Time estimates change as you make your choices.

As you make changes in this mode, the time estimates change to give you an idea of whether you’re doing a good job of allocating time to each phase of your meeting appropriately to finish on time. For example, if the end time after adjustments shows up as 8:35 and your meeting is supposed to be over at 8:00, that’s a clue that you may need to tighten up your plan a little more.

Treated as a matter of “tweaking” the agenda, this function does not require the same editing rights as editing the underlying agenda or template.

Note: The tweak timing function shown here requires that your agenda documents have been updated using the “new” version of the agenda editor introduced in 2018, which in turn is based on the new WordPress editor.

Changing the Standard Timing on Your Agenda (Changing the Template)

If you are the website administrator or an officer or other member who has been granted editing rights on the website, you can make deeper changes such as reordering the roles as they will be displayed on the signup form and the printable agenda.

Changing the timing in the editor.

The animation above shows a scenario where we edit the Agenda Role block for speaker, changing the number of speakers and timing, and also insert a new agenda note, setting the time requirement for a 5-minute break to 5 minutes.

To rearrange blocks of content, including Agenda Role and Agenda Note blocks, click on the one you want to move and use the up-and-down arrows that appear to the left to move that item up or down relative to other content. To insert a block of content, click the + button that appears at the top of the page, as well as between any two existing blocks of content when you hover the mouse over the border between them.

There is a difference between editing an individual event post and editing the event template, which is a model for your individual events. I compare it to the difference between the cookie and the cookie cutter. The cookie cutter (the template) is designed to stamp out identical cookies. Cookies that start out identical can then be decorated differently. Perhaps you decide to turn some of your horse-shaped cookies into unicorns. If you decide you want them to all be unicorns, you can go back and change the template.

Because these are digital objects, we don’t have to worry about how the cookie crumbles. Once we’ve updated our template, we can not only stamp out new events based on the template but update the events we created previously to match the new template.

If you make changes to this week’s agenda, your changes will only affect this week’s agenda. They won’t automatically alter the setup for future weeks. Setting the model for future events is the job of the Event Template. Once you update the template, you can add or update the event posts for future dates. (Stamping out new cookies and reshaping existing cookies).

However, if you decide the changes you made to this week’s agenda ought to be permanent, the new Update Template Based on Event option, which appears on the black admin bar at the top of the screen, allows you to work backwards from the event to the template. Once you confirm this command, the content of the template is overwritten to match the event you have edited to perfection. From there, you can update some or all of the other events in the series — click “Check All” to select all of them, uncheck any that you don’t want to overwrite, then submit your changes.

Note that using the Tweak Timing option under edit signups does exactly the same thing as using the editor to change the Count and Time Allowed parameters for an Agenda Role block. The Tweak Timing function actually makes it easier to see how your changes affect the overall timing plan for your meeting. So one tactic might be to play with fine tuning the timing for individual meetings, then apply them to the template (and your other meeting events) once you’ve got it right.