Free and low-cost options for association website and e-mail requirements.
There’s no argument that the Core Standards initiative will cost associations some money to fully implement, such as hiring a CPA for the required audit or annual review. But most provisions of the standards can be fulfilled with no or very little investment. Here we look at the affordable and free options for the website and e-mail communication requirements.
Let’s look at the core requirements for an association website. The first is that it must be interactive, which simply means it includes links that can be clicked to get to other information. The only websites that would not meet this basic criterion are online business cards or the phonebook-type pages from sites such as Yelp.com or Yellowbook.com. Members might find these pages in a Google search for your association name. The Yellowbook.com page for the Suburban West REALTORS® Association, Pa., for example, has links, but the association is not in control of adding or changing these links; they are determined by Yellowbook, so a page like this would not meet the standard.
The second requirement is that the site provides information on professional standards and arbitration filing processes along with links to the state association and the national association. Take a look again at the Suburban West association. On its home page, the “professionalism” tab offers visitors links to an arbitration page, which includes a PDF of the filing form, and an ethics page includes links to a PDF of the most current version of the NAR Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice document. Suburban West’s “Useful Links” page offers not only links to the Pennsylvania and National associations but goes beyond the requirement with links to neighboring local and state associations.
Of course, these requirements are the minimum and almost all associations go much further. For a list of suggested links and best practices to make your association website even more useful, visit the Core Standards Technology Compliance Guide.
If you already have an association website but do not meet these content requirements, it should be easy to add them at no cost, or low cost if you need someone to help you.
If you do not have an association website, consider using a free or low-cost option. Although social media sites including Facebook and LinkedIn are free, they’re not recommended for use as a main association website for a number of reasons, says Keith Garner, National Association of REALTORS®’ vice president of Information Technology Services.
“Facebook could go out of business at anytime or change the rules of how it displays the data you post,” says Garner. “Plus, Facebook or LinkedIn could change the terms of its user agreement to own any data or photos you post and have the right to do anything it wants with them.” Social media sites also are not designed to offer the volume of information required by the standard.
For less than $6 a month, Godaddy.com’s website builder offers a “Business” website with a domain name option and e-mail. Associations can choose a themed template online, then add and change information and links—plus it’s mobile-ready. GoDaddy’s online builder is as easy as setting up a Facebook account. Similar options, all for less than $20 a month, are available at Squarespace.com, Wix.com, Jimdo.com, Wordpress.com, and others.
Website builder packages usually offer one or several e-mail addresses included or as an added service. The core standards require that all associations communicate with members via e-mail (or another Internet-based means of communications). This means associations must not just have e-mail but also actively use it to send information and answer members’ e-mail inquiries.
Free e-mail from Google, Hotmail, and hundreds of other providers qualify as meeting the requirement, yet an e-mail address branded with your association name, such as firstname.lastname@example.org, looks more professional.
Best practices for member notifications, understanding spam, and other uses of e-mail, including conducting member surveys, are available at nar.realtor in the Core Standards Technology Compliance Guide.