International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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IVU Annual Report 2006

IVU Virtual Office
by John Davis, IVU Manager

Background

At the World Vegetarian Congress in Chiang Mai, Thailand, January 1999, Tina Fox became the IVU Membership Secretary and was assisted by David Pye, the new Treasurer, in creating a membership database. For the next three years this was only on Tina's computer in her office at The Vegetarian Society UK. It was a huge improvement over the somewhat chaotic membership records up to that point, but it still left a lot to be desired.

Each month Tina had to search for any subscriptions that were due, or overdue, print out letters to the members and supporters, and post them, then manually update when any replies came, keeping track of any that did not. By the summer of 2002 there were 200 records in the database and the process was becoming very tedious.

Later in 2002 the International Council agreed to hire Ketan Majmadur, under the supervision of the IVU webmaster, to transfer the database to the IVU website. This allowed for most of the processes to be automated, and opened up a lot of other possibilities. It became known as the IVU Virtual Office.

Membership Records

The core of the Virtual Office is the database which now contains over 4,000 records. Full details are kept of all categories, these are as follows, with the number in each category (those in bold type normally pay subscriptions, the other are free):

  • Member Societies - 128 (plus another 22 which are suspended, pending possible renewal)
  • Associate Member Societies - 30 (plus 6 suspended)
  • Business Supporters - 33 (plus 13 suspended)
  • Individual Supporters - 68 (plus 9 suspended)
  • Patrons (lifetime supporters) - 49 (plus 6 suspended)
  • Fellows of IVU - 10, elected for life (2 vacancies to be considered at the next Congress)
  • Registered Groups - 989 (note: all suspended members and supporters appear on the public website as Registered Groups for one year after their subscription was due. Some Registered Groups have multiple records, eg 'world guides')
  • Congressees - 1,473 (individuals who are interested in news about congresses and other world veg news)
  • Internet Partners - 537 - these are now defined as extra records for members and supporters, beyond their main page

Auto-Renewal System

The membership records are now maintained by sending an auto-generated email on the day the subscription, or registration, is due. If there is no response the system sends further emails monthly for three months. If there is still no reponse the various Members/Supporters are suspended, Registered Groups are deleted.

Suspension of Members/Supporters lasts for one year, and further reminder emails are sent after six months and the year. If there is still no response the record is demoted to a Registered Group. Further lack of response then results in deletion.

If there is no email address in the database the system auto-generates a letter, sent as a PDF file to the Membership Secretary for printing and posting. This always asks for an email address to be sent to the webmaster to reduce future time and costs.

The emails/letters encourage the payment of subscriptions online, via the IVU Paypal account. About two thirds of subs are now paid this way, the remaining one third arrive by post, mostly as cheques or credit card details. Those who do not have to pay are merely asked to reply to the email, confirming they are still alive and wish to continue their association with IVU.

Public Access

Since April 2005 there has been public access to limited information in the database - via the main page www.ivu.org This currently displays about 2,000 of the records, searchable by region/country and/or category.

All Members and Supporters (and Internet Partners) are shown with their name in bold type, and as a link to their own website, or with an encrypted email link where there is no website (the database has a separte field for 'Public email' address for this purpose, as distinct from the 'admin email' used for the renewal notices). They also show their own logo and a brief description.

Registered Groups appear in regular type, with no logos or descriptions.

Congressees do not appear at all in the public access section (along with anyone else who has specifically asked to be excluded).

In January 2006 the public access search was used 13,641 times. This has been growing steadily since it became available in April 2005.

Non-Member Public Records

The database also contains about 1,300 records which are links to other sections of the IVU website - recipes, famous vegetarians, history, phrases in world languages etc., - and to separate sections of the websites of member societies.

This allows those using the public search to find much information for their chosen region/country and/or category.

Restricted Access

There are a wide variety of options for providing restricted access, eg:
- 'Read only' access, available to members of the International Council. This can give access to all regions or just one region, as appropriate (the President of VUNA also has read only access for North America)
- 'update access', used by the membership secretary to update the postal renewals.
- full access, used by the webmaster and the deputy webmaster.

Email News

There is a separate field for a 'News' email address (as distinct from the 'admin email' and 'public email' mentioned above - many larger groups have several email addresses for different purposes).

This is routinely used to send out IVU Online News to everyone in the database, currently to 2,137 email addresses.

It is also possible to send a news email to specified regions or countries - and/or to specified categories of members/supporters etc. This could be used to send updates about regional/national congresses, and in the local language as appropriate.

Address Labels

The system has an option to print address labels for the whole world, or for any specified region, country and/or category, primarily intended for posting the IVU Annual Report to Members and Supporters.

At the request of VUNA there is an option print address labels only where there is no email address in the record. This allows for a newsletter to be sent by email, then posted only to those without email.

General Meeting Notices

IVU holds its General Meeting at each World Vegetarian Congress, and the various notices about elections, agenda items etc., are now sent via the Virtual Office by selecting just the Member Societies to receive the emails via their 'admin email' address.


Future developments

Phase 4 - 2005/06 - nearing completion

Phase 4 is entirely about greater automation to reduce the workload of the webmaster (more appropriately now the Virtual Office Manager) - thus freeing up some time to be more creative, and to make it a little easier to replace the webmaster in due course. There are 3 sections:

  1. Banners - Businesses Supporters are entitled to have their banner in the random displays on all the IVU web pages. At present this has to be updated as businesses come and go, which they do quite often. Phase 4 will automate much of this replacing the current manually updated file.
  2. Congressees - currently fill in a form with their details, which are then manually added to the db. In future they will be able to subscribe themselves, subject to several automated checks that the email address is valid; is not already in the db; and that they really do own it.
  3. Registered Groups - currently have to return an annual email stating that they wish to be registered for another year. The db is again updated manually. In future the renewal notice will give then an encrypted link to a web page where they can add themselves for another year - provided their details are unchanged. Any changes, other than the next renewal date, will still have to done manually for the time being.

Phase 5 - 2006/07 - subject to approval by the International Council

  1. Improvements to the public access of the database.
    - enable search for results in a specified language (drop-down)
    - discriminate more between national and local levels, including regional search within the UK which has an unusually large number of records
    (new field needed for 'regions' to include drop-down for World, Continent, nation, plus UK regions. Local search to show local alphabetical results, followed by nation/continent/world)
    - add search for International Council Members, based on 'IC member'='yes'
    - separate category for recipes
    - expand results to 30 per page
  2. Email language options - to allows admin or news emails to be sent to anyone who has indicated a preference for a specific language (especially Spanish which is IVU's No.2). This should allow renewal notices to be sent in Spanish, as well as a possible Spanish version of IVU Online News.
  3. Refinements to the updating screens of the database used by the webmaster and the membership secretary, to make it more efficient.
  4. Email discussion groups for IC and member societies.