For months I’ve been using this blog to shamelessly promote and broadcast the message of the Iqaluit Humane Society. I admit that without hesitation. It follows suit with our unofficial motto down there…
“By any means necessary”.
With the unofficial official launch of our website (www.iqaluithumanesociety.com) behind us now I figured it was a good time to explain its evolution and how all of this came to be.
Back when we first arrived in Iqaluit, November of 2010, we were well aware of the robust volunteering atmosphere up here and had were determined to dive head first into community activities. It’s no secret that we’re suckers for animals. Two of the three cats we have are products of a stray we cared for. Heck, even before we departed for the north we executed a rescue operation for yet another stray that frequented our backyard culminating in him being successfully delivered to the Kitchener Humane Society before winter rolled in. It served as a bit of foreshadowing of things to come. We spoke with Bonnie over at the Iqaluit Humane Society when we arrived in town and she told us about the plight of the shelter. Since we were still technically homeless at the time we didn’t feel quite like committing to actual shelter work so we volunteered our services in other aspects. Suzanne offered to help with their paperwork while I proposed setting up “a little website”. I had free space on my host server and an extra domain name to donate so we had what we needed to pull it off. One of the first things I noticed was that the IHS had a very limited web identity with a barely used Facebook group page and a partially completed website that was in construction limbo. This organization needed a serious presence on the Interwebs if they wanted to take advantage of how connected the city of Iqaluit was. Since a good portion of the residents are transient having a website was imperative to maintaining ties with those that come and go.
After an initial meeting with a few of the Directors I started my brainstorming. I received permission from the very cool Curtis Rowland to manipulate his stylistic logo design for the shelter to suit the website needs and I soon started laying out the groundwork. It was after I was placed on the IHS mailing list that I discovered another very serious roadblock – communication. Despite their noble intentions I found my inbox clogged with mail from people I’ve never even met talking about matters I had no clue about. Dozens upon dozens of emails daily on top of the dozens I receive normally from my line of freelancing work. If my mailbox was getting this hammered I could only imagine how it was across the board with a mailing list of over 50 people. The once simple website idea started to get more complicated.
A couple of months passed and I found the website in design purgatory. Not because of a lack of vision but from an incredibly difficult time gathering the information and content needed for the site. You have to understand I’ve said it a bunch of times already but everyone who volunteers at the shelter has ham & egger jobs they must tend to in addition to other various other personal commitments before they can even begin to think about the shelter. Even me. I worked on the website in my spare time between projects. It’s no one’s fault that production go bogged down. It’s just the nature of the beast. It ended up being a game of poking around in the dark until I struck something. To compound the matter I started picking up shifts at the shelter at this point as well. The volunteer pool was dwindling and I filled in where needed. The fact that we were strained for volunteers and had an inefficient communication system prompted me to keep plodding through with the site design.
Our first breakthrough came in the form of our new Facebook page. Iqaluit loves their Facebook so what better way to take advantage of that massive audience than to present a society page for the community to view while the website was under construction. This proved to be a pivotal move because not long after debuting there we started to gather a small fan base. Pictures, status updates and useful information were made available immediately and the public appreciated the effort. Meanwhile back at the website I managed to create a secure login section for the volunteers to use. Current volunteers would be able to register and have access to vital information in a centralized area. Message boards, shift calendars, training material, personal notes, volunteer information… it was all there at their disposal. Unfortunately the display end of the site – aka the part that the every day viewer gets to see – was still bare as a baby’s bum. I couldn’t debut a site with no content so I conceded by making what I had done available to just the volunteers.
The new Volunteer Area was met with mixed reactions. Newer volunteers ate it up. They marveled about the ease of use and the potential it had with regards to improving overall communciation. Veteran volunteers found the transition hard to deal with though. They were so set in their ways of doing things that such a new way of operating ended up being a total shock to the system. This posed yet another major problem for me because only a handful of people were using the site and the rest handled matters the old way which lead us to continued communication breakdowns. Nevertheless I remained persistent with campaigning to get everyone onboard.
I ended up branching the IHS out onto Twitter soon thereafter linking both that and the Facebook account so that any status messages were immediately tweeted. Everyone and their mother are on Twitter so I figured why not. Spreading the word was our biggest goal so it made tactical sense. In a bizarre twist of fate I ended up getting assigned scheduling duties in late June so I seized that opportunity to play dictator and “creatively guide” our volunteers to use the Volunteer Area. No more mass-mailing the schedule calendar around. It would be downloaded at a central location and updated often. Soon after more and more people started to see the light and conformed to the simplicity of the website. Redundant emailing soon dropped to a bare minimum and it allowed us to coordinate on some of the empty areas of the website.
After obtaining what I deemed a “baseline amount of information” I decided to push forward with the site launch. Our Facebook page was growing with Likes and we were getting more and more followers on Twitter. As much as I hate putting unfinished work online I made an exception in this case. It’s a work in progress. Hopefully as we start to infect the minds of more people we’ll start to rebuild our volunteer base and therefore give us an opportunity to square away the unfinished portions of the site. Right now we’re starting to receive more feedback than I’ve seen since starting this whole project. Volunteers are starting to trickle in and our name is popping up more and more across Iqaluit. Hopefully this dream of being more than just “the shelter” is coming to fruition because we’re establishing the Iqaluit Humane Society as more visible public entity.
I wear many hats within the society. I’m a liaison between the directors and volunteers, handle all the web endeavors and communication, set up the shift scheduling and am currently throwing down 20+ shifts this month alone doing grunt work at the shelter. I’ve had some good friends warn me about burning myself out and I can feel the nagging bite of irritability nipping at me from behind. I am burnt out. There is no heading towards it. I’m already there, dude. I don’t do it to be praised for building a website or to get a pat on the back for slaving through shifts. I do it because it needed and needs to be done. That’s why any and all of us do it. Actions speak louder than words and a plan is nothing more than words unless you act on it. I come from the school of thought where I’d rather do something and run the risk of it being an epic fail rather than do nothing and guarantee failure.
Hopefully this little bit of blood, sweat and tears lays down enough ground work for the IHS to build on. If not, oh well. At least something was attempted. Either way I harbor no regrets. I dig the fact that Nunatsiaq News Online made note our newly forged website on their front page.
It’s all about the animals. Love live the IHS.