By Anise Jasman-Sayers, International Visitor Program Director, World Affairs Council of New Hampshire
Note: All images are provided by the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire
Over the past year, the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire has tried several digital tools to share information with international visitors and broadcast the impact of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) to external audiences. We have made diligent efforts to connect with our visitors and alumni network to collect their stories. Digital platforms like LinkTree and Google Sites make it possible to deliver these stories in an easily accessible and sustainable format.
The Inspiration: Creative and Sustainable Program Packets
In July 2022, we were about to host three large IVLP groups in New Hampshire with a total of 60 participants. Each group had multi-day programming in two of our major cities, Manchester and Concord. As with every IVLP group, we prepare an extensive program packet so they can navigate throughout the city with all the resources needed for a well-rounded experience, including the best places to eat, shop, and visit cultural attractions such as our museums. We started to compile these welcome packets, however, our printer stopped working. I’m sure you all can imagine how stressful that would be right before multiple groups arrive in town! We pivoted gears and one of our coworkers assisted us by printing all of the materials in his own home. This was not a long-term fix-all, as it cost $100 per group, which is a major issue for a nonprofit organization like us due to the additional costs and time that accrued.
This situation truly made us need to think creatively AND outside of the box for a sustainable solution. I researched various digital platforms that could support a sustainable, paperless format and stumbled on LinkTree and Google Sites.
Exploring Different Accessible Digital Options
LinkTree has both an online platform and an actual app. We researched the web version as it was the more accessible option. We used Linktree to hyperlink existing documents in our Google Drive to our website so that users would not need to download anything. After all, we did not want to add another stressor or media requirement for visitors. I saved our documents as PDFs, and we delivered our first digitally formatted packet to these three groups in July.
I was quite proud of our work and shared this format with WorldBoston, who discovered that nonprofits have access to LinkTree’s professional version for free! The one drawback to LinkTree was how difficult it could be for visitors to scroll through longer hyperlinked documents at a glance. Everything changed when I remembered how one of the National Program Agencies (NPA) had used Google Sites for an IVLP group in 2020.
My coworker and I built a Google Site over the span of one week. We learned as we created the homepage and then one page per city. On the city pages, we included specific information about local restaurants, museums and other cultural opportunities, shopping, religious accommodation, postal and shipping, and pharmacies. We tested this new platform and received excellent feedback from our upcoming groups and their accompanying liaisons and interpreters, who recommended adding Google Map hyperlinks to all sections. The interactive ability of clicking on a restaurant or store helped to make navigation so much more accessible.
We continued to add features to our Google Sites based on user feedback and to make it more appealing. We created a social media page, which linked visitors directly to the Council, a statewide cultural page that we organized by region, a page on alumni engagement opportunities, and more! We even created a page to share visitors’ recipes after getting inspiration from another Global Ties Network Community-Based Member.
Providing Digital Snapshots into IVLP for Advocacy
Fast forward to March 2023, we were just a few weeks away from the Global Ties U.S. National Meeting and Advocacy Day in Washington, DC, when Global Ties Network members visit their Congressional members on Capitol Hill. I was collecting testimonials from our home hospitality hosts, resources, college students, and IVLP alumni, on the impact of IVLP for my Congressional meetings. I thought about previous Advocacy Days and remembered how quickly these meetings fly by. I wanted to make sure we had the best delivery platform for overall impact, without inundating staffers with paperwork or excluding any of the wonderful testimonials we had collected throughout the year. We created an IVLP advocacy page on our Google Sites to share this content. This new page was so easy to create that I did it in one day and I’m not a computer programmer!
Our last accessibility feature was creating a QR code of our LinkTree. This was printed on the back of my business cards, and directly opened to our advocacy tab so I could go right into sharing what our community thinks of IVLP and show our congressional leaders not only just a few chosen testimonials, but all of the content we had collected. Delivering our advocacy material that way allowed us to spend more time talking about the importance of IVLP in New Hampshire rather than juggling a bunch of paperwork. After all, it can be overwhelming to see 20 more pages of information on top of our IVLP materials. As we began our discussions, the QR code made it easier to point to these testimonials that we devoted effort to obtain. We were able to show many photos that supported our story, not just the few ones that would have been printed. Several people were intrigued by the stunning site and expressed their appreciation for not being bombarded with excessive printed materials. Delivering our advocacy materials this way allowed them to truly see what IVLP means to New Hampshire.
While a problem always leads to solutions, our experience with the broken printer has led to an incredible digital tool, which is free and easy to update in real time. The shift to a more sustainable practice was not the primary goal at the time, but this approach has saved significant money on toner, paper, and time. It has also saved space in our ever-shrinking landfills.