An Update from the Avalanche Center
Online in html: http://www.avalanche-center.org/Organization/updates/
(To translate this update enter the URL "http://www.avalanche-center.org/Organization/updates/" and then follow the link to this update. This way the entire page/update is translated, not just part of it.)
This is a brief update on what is new and upcoming on the internet Avalanche Center, http://www.avalanche-center.org/
The Sixth Annual Fundraising Auction will begin (officially) on December 3. A few items will be put up for auction for a few days each as the official start approaches. These pre-auction items will be from the Avalanche Store and will include shirts and nalgene bottles as well as select avalanche equipment, books and videos. So far we have canvassed the industry with 2 faxes and 1 bulk mailing and donations are trickling in. Once again the snowshoe industry has been quite generous and we have at least three pair to auction off. Items are being added to the auction cover page as they arrive, either follow the link on the home page or go right to http://www.avalanche-center.org/auction/
Our grant seeking efforts have produced no results so far. Of the 25 proposals sent out we have received replies from 14 and are still awaiting responses from 11. The replies from foundations have generally indicated that their emphasis is on problems such as hunger and poverty or in areas such as education. The replies from corporate giving programs cane in the quickest and generally indicate that they prefer to fund youth programs. Many of these foundation and giving programs large and are unaccustomed to requests of such a small scale from such a small organization. It seems that having money is a big help in getting more money. (At some point it becomes typical to hire a full time development expert.)
Our treasurer has completed an overview of our 2002-2003 season and we probably operated at a loss of several thousand dollars last season. "Probably" because some expenses close to the start or end of the year tend to get carried into the previous or next season, but these tend to balance out right now. We will continue to seek new ways of funding the project but we can't scale back pay or hours since it is already close to entirely volunteer. And being a non-profit, we can't deficit-spend. We do need to be able to cover the overhead costs of running the project.
We still have shirts with the famous skiing skeleton logo on sale. This has been popular enough for us to need to reorder a quantity of shirts, which is a stretch in terms of cash flow at this time of the year. This was compounded by the popularity of our decals, which we have also had to reorder. So we will continue the sale for a while, in part to turn some of the new inventory into cash flow. However, our cost on shirts has gone up $1 so both the sale price and regular retail will go up by that amount within a few days. (These reorders may present a cash flow challenge at this time of year, but it is nice to know our logo is popular and widespread and that it reflects the popularity of the project.)
Website Searching Improved
Our site has had search capabilities courtesy of free services from Freefind for quite a while. Many other free services have gone by the wayside but Freefind continues to offer a good service at no cost. We recently took advantage of some of their features we had not been using in order to improve searches.
On each section page there is now a checkbox below the search entry which will limit the search only that section. Leaving it unchecked results in a site-wide search as always. Hopefully this will assist people in finding what they are looking for among our 1500+ pages.
We also applied our template to their results pages so that search results are presented on a more familiar page which includes the same standard navigation bar that is on our main section pages.
A great deal of work has recently gone into our Contributor Service section, both to improve the registration and login process, to make the flow into and through these pages much smoother, and to begin to offer some enhanced services for contributors. The entry of e-mail addresses into the (offline) list of contributors is automated now too, so in most cases it is possible to register for this section immediately after contributing $15 or more, including contributions made as part of a store order. The "Thank You" page indicates this and provides a link.
The entire registration, login, login verification and all such services are now provided using a public domain php suite called auth_lib, although significant reprogramming was required to customize it. This is much smoother and better implemented than our previous collection of poorly written perl scripts. Password recovery and password or username changes are all very simple now.
New services, in addition to the existing ones of full incident searching and store specials, include a simple interface for managing list subscriptions without any need to send confirmation e-mail and a persistent shopping cart which will automatically leave off shipping charges.
When non-contributors subscribe to any of our mail lists for distributing avalanche bulletins they get an e-mail telling them to send an email with a specific code to majordomo, the list program. This is necessary to avoid people subscribing other peoples addresses or non-existent addresses, but our logs show that it clearly gives some people problems. (For one thing, majordomo does not like html mail and often chokes on it.) Since logging into the contributor services area effectively confirms an e-mail address the interface there will show you all of our lists and which ones you are subscribed to. Simply by checking appropriate buttons users can subscribe or unsubscribe from whichever lists they want to, all in one step and without any confirmation e-mail hassles.
When a contributor logs in before shopping our shopping cart system will now use a cart associated with their username rather than one set by the system clock and only tracked in a cookie. This means that it is possible to continue shopping from different computers using the same cart (as long as you log in). Carts associated with usernames also have no shipping charges added to them.
Most avalanche bulletins for North America have begun to come out, even if only sporadically in most cases. These are being posted and sent out to our mailing lists, in many cases in both text and html. The html versions have been improved for mailing this season, but they still may not conform to the expectations of all mail programs. Hopefully they work well with most.
When a bulletin first starts up and is intermittent, and often issued late in the day anyway, we run the posting and mailing script manually to test it out and make sure that the formatting and glossing is all working ok. As a result of doing this frequently lately our glossing process is much improved with more terms than ever being linked to their glossary page.
Plans for further improvements include the review and updating of those glossary pages which are being linked to from bulletins, the addition of an e-mail html option for more bulletins, and the addition of a couple of new bulletins to our posting and e-mailing systems.
Incidents have already been posted for this season, we are sad to say. Six reports which include 3 fatalities are on file so far. These are being moved into the searchable database more quickly than in the past and not all appear on the main incidents page, but all of them can be found by searching for October and November.
We still hope to extend the database back a season, and have some final verifications to wrap up for last year. These have been kept at a low priority for the time being until our cash flow permits us to re-hire our student who has experience with the incidents section from last season.
Many course listings have been posted and made searchable, primarily in California and Colorado but also in Washington, which we have traditionally not received many submissions from. There are between 70 and 80 courses in the database which can be searched and sorted by level, location, dates and cost.
A php suite of scripts for maintaining online tests is being evaluated and modified, and it is possible we will begin to use it sometime this season. Beginning with the few small tests we now have. The new program would allow us to track scores on particular questions, and by doing so to identify poor questions. This may take a low priority in the short term however, due to the work required for the auction and for getting bulletin systems fine tuned.
How You Can Help - Current Needs, End of Year Tax Tip
Right now our biggest need is fundraising. While we have year-round expenses the majority of our funding comes in between now and sometime in January.
Please participate in (and promote) the auction, we generally have a pretty wide variety of items spanning a variety of interests and price ranges. And it's fun!
If you use and value our resources consider making a contribution, and if your employer offers any kind of matching program use it to leverage your own contribution.
Contributors can help us by sending feedback on the new services area. We may incorporate an optional a feedback form into the logout process but until we do email comments and suggestions are welcome.
End of the Year Tax Tip
We have a page of year-end tips from one of our board members who works in the non-profit arena, but for this update we'll share this note from Wells Fargo:
"Make Charitable Contributions to tax-exempt organizations, says Kathy Womack of Arlington, Texas-based Income Tax Consultants. You can charge last-minute donations in 2003 to a credit card and and take the deduction even if you pay the bill in 2004. If you make the donation by check and the charity doesn’t receive the money until 2004, you can still take the deduction for 2003 if you mailed the check by Dec 31."