screen-to-realHave you noticed how websites pop up here and there, wanting to get you involved and change the world? They’re a good thing aren’t they? If they’ve got social networking bits built in, or if they make use of Twitter, Facebook, Bebo, MySpace and AudioBoo they can really get a lot of people involved. Ideas get swapped, plans get approved, and sometimes, just sometimes, action gets taken and something gets improved.

But, on the other hand, thousands of ‘me too’ websites (that copy ideas) pop up and claim to be ‘championing change’ or ‘making things better’ for people, and basically they do this by publishing a few pages about something they, the author, doesn’t like. They want something ‘better’, they want people to be treated with more ‘respect’ but they don’t really have an action plan, any objectives or any real purpose – other than to give the author a voice about what they don’t like.

Our organisation started like that, so I’m not knocking the passionate people who publish their blogs, their ideas and their concerns. But it takes more than a couple of articles and a petition to create change in the real world. A website is not an organisation. An organisation has, well, it has a structure of people working together for a common goal. A website mostly just has some writers.

FirstSigns, or ‘LifeSIGNS’ as I called it when we launched in May 2002, started as a website with ideas and rants and concerns, but there were always multiple people involved, and we were a committee of interested people with set objectives and a desire to change the world, for real.

But, now we’re in 2009, it’s easier than ever to publish a professional looking website, even if it never gets updated and the owners and writers have basically given up and moved on. How can you tell the difference between a website that’s been thrown online, and an organisation that adheres to standards and its internal policies?

I would suggest that a real organisation has a real-life presence – no, it doesn’t have to be an office on Fleet Street, but an organisation should be available to newspapers, radio and TV – website owners are notoriously shy, perhaps even using a fake name, but those people in a real organisation would be happy to have their photo taken for a magazine interview. A real organisation should have a real impact on the world – by offering tangible materials, not just web pages. Books, leaflets, fact sheets, pens, etc. are obvious ideas, but in reality, an organisation needs to work with real people in real life to have an impact. Basically, no organisation is an island, whereas a website can exist in a vacuum quite easily.

Training and partnership, that’s what I’m talking about. A real organisation can offer valuable services to other organisations. For instance, beyond the fact that FirstSigns’ fact sheets have been re-published in book form across the world and used in many NHS areas of the UK, we offer training to doctors, nurses, counsellors and professional health-care workers. We often travel up and down the UK to visit NHS PCTs. We also speak at conferences, sometimes for hours!

My name is Wedge, that’s my real name. We don’t use surnames on the web to help protect our private lives and our loved ones, but Jules and I have appeared in countless magazines, papers, journals, TV and radio shows, talking about self-injury / self-harm and what we’ve learnt from our members’ experiences.

We regularly meet with people in other organisations, doctors, policy makers – even politicians occasionally, and our training package is unique, because it’s written and presented by people who have personal experience of self-injury – us.

The key differences between a website and an organisation

  • a website can launch over-night, with virtually no planning or objective;
  • an organisation requires a set structure and a clear objective;
  • a website can be run by just one person;
  • most organisations are run by several people;
  • a website is owned by just one person who dictates what goes on regardless of other people’s feelings;
  • most organisations are taken care of by a committee of people who stick to agreed policies that direct how they treat people;
  • it can be hard for a website owner to keep their website up to date with fresh, relevant, content;
  • an organisation involves more people in creating content that is meaningful to members and visitors;
  • a website costs very very little to run in the first year unless it becomes hugely popular (which is impossible for a website that is never updated!)
  • an organisation can have varying costs – their website being just one small part of the running and project costs;
  • the people behind a website might be invisible, perhaps impossible to contact;
  • an organisation will provide several contact methods, including a professional email system and a phone number at least;
  • a website offers information and online services;
  • an organisations offers online services and real-life services, such as books, posters, bracelets, training, consultation, conference speaking – basically, you can meet with an organisation.

Help us change the world, get involved with our work, help run our organisation, help promote our information within schools and colleges and the NHS. Help us survive for another seven years, help us grow and reach more people. Self-injury shouldn’t be suffered in silence; with your help we can smash the shame and help people feel confident enough to get support and make changes in their lives.

That’s what Jules and I are doing; it takes time and effort, but it’s the only way forward.

Wedge

Image credit: Elven*Nicky

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