Case Studies: Sierra Club

Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is a 600,000 member grassroots environmental organization. In the winter of 1996, we chose LISTSERV® as the software on which to implement thousands of discussion lists for our members at all levels of the Club. With 65 chapters in the United States and Canada and 400 local groups within those chapters, all of them run by local volunteers, this massive implementation of LISTSERV is not as easy as a large company sending a "You will do this..." memo to its employees. Add to those numbers over 100 national-level and regional-level committees, including the Board of Directors, and one can see that the task of recruiting and training list owners alone is enormous.

Sierra Club plans to create hundreds, possibly thousands of LISTSERV lists. As of July 1999, we have established over 370 lists with a total of 22,300 subscribers. The organizational challenge is to distribute the responsibility for managing these many lists to hundreds of the Club's grassroots volunteers. Before we moved our email lists to LISTSERV, the Sierra Club was using a proprietary email list program on a local network and could afford licenses for a few hundred of our volunteer leaders and staff across the United States and Canada on the system. These were mostly club-level committee members, a handful of leaders from each chapter, plus all non-headquarter Club staff. This old email list system excluded all of the other tens of thousands of club members from receiving timely information and participating in email discussions. To include them using our old mail system, the Club would have to enter every would-be participant in that system's email directory, to be propagated to every subscriber's personal system.

The old email list system was maintained manually. To "subscribe" to a list, all a licensee had to do was send a message to the person responsible for it, saying: "Please add me to the list." Someone else did the work. No SUBSCRIBE command was sent and no one had to SET any keywords or personal parameters, there being none possible. With LISTSERV software the management and subscription procedures of the email lists is are simple and flexible. For most lists, human intervention is not required for routine maintainence of subscriptions.

During the early implementation stages of LISTSERV we developed several programs for our members to explain how lists might be used and be useful to the membership. We trained prospective list owners and installed a minimal LISTSERV infrastructure and retrievable help documents to assist owners with on-going operational tasks.

We operate our LISTSERV lists on modestly priced hardware, capable of taking us through our long growth phase. LISTSERV is up and running at LISTSERV@LISTS.SIERRACLUB.ORG, and a group of volunteers has been working on plans and protocols for committees within the Club to set up their own lists with local list owners and local control of each list's keywords. Every national, regional, state and local committee within the Club has been allotted a number of lists to help move the Club's pro-environment agenda. Each of these committees is responsible for implementing its own lists.

With the potential for thousands of lists discussing environment issues, one concern was that essentially the same discussion could be held in dozens of "places" by Club committees in cities and states across the United States and Canada. Each might begin its own discussion of national parks, clean water, or the Endangered Species Act. To avoid this splintering, each committee, before a list may be created, is required to develop a "purpose" or "mission" statement for its proposed list, along with "welcome", "info", and "announcement" messages – "info" for would-be subscribers, "welcome" for those who do subscribe, and an "announcement" to herald the new list. The "info" message gives curious would-be subscribers information that is possibly not contained in the "welcome" and "announcement" messages, especially who may subscribe to a given list and what the basic rules are. A supervising committee has been formed to work with prospective list owners to ensure that lists' missions do not overlap one another. Interested can review new and existing lists and their missions on the Club's NEW-SC-LISTS list, which is also open to the public. This list is used to announce all lists created for the Club, including those that will not be hosted on the Club's server. A LISTSERV feature, allows for a GETable file which contains the information on all the lists is also available and is maintained in conjunction with NEW-SC-LISTS. The Sierra Club is also making every effort to avoid duplicating the missions of discussion lists, which already exist external to the Club.

In addition, a list-naming method was established to organize the lists, to prevent duplication of discussions and to make ongoing discussions easier to find by Club members. It is a self-identifying hierarchical structure for the list names themselves. Each major committee has been assigned a prefix and each chapter uses its name or abbreviation as a prefix. Following the prefix(es), the chapter or committee is free to assign list names of their own choosing. The same supervising committee is assigned the task of helping choose list names and advising potential list sponsors.

The HELP4-LISTSERV-OWNERS list has also been established for Club list owners.

Check out Sierra Club's lists out by sending a "LISTS" command to our LISTSERV address above. The Club also has an award-winning web site at: Many of the Club's lists are open to non-members. Your input on environmental issues is welcome, as is your membership in the Sierra Club.

Tell 'em you heard about it from L-Soft!

Case study written in March 1998 with the assistance of Ed Paynter, Information Technology Committee Chair, Sierra Club.

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