Dance Marathons: Give Your Members An Easier Link To Share

This past November, I was visiting Bloomington to see miracles being made at Indiana University Dance Marathon. Everywhere on social media, people were sharing their donation links, asking for support from friends or family. All of a sudden, one link caught my attention – an IUDM exec member had a much shorter, and more personal donation link. By visiting iudm DOT org/<username>, people were still able to reach the Exec’s donation link in the same way as before. I was more willing to click on that link, as opposed to seeing every other link being extremely long. As the 2014 Technology Executive for Purdue University Dance Marathon, I wanted to see if I could do that for all of our dancers, and I found just the way to do that.

Before I describe the semi-complicated process, I want to talk about a few reasons on why this is necessary:

  1. Dance Marathons typically use a social donor platform (e.g. DonorDrive or Convio). Every participant has a dedicated fundraising page, at a URL that is unique to a participant’s ID
  2. This URL could stretch out to 100 characters or even more, when it could be shrunk down to 25-30 characters
  3. DonorDrive and Convio offer an “alias” where you can make it a private link, but even with that, the link is still longer, and it is outside of your domain (e.g. helpmakemiracles.org or rcf.convio.net)
  4. When sending emails that contain URLs outside of your website’s domain, it could be classified as spam (just ask PUDM’s Fundraising team – it happened to us)
  5. You could use a URL condenser (e.g. goo.gl or bit.ly), but people may feel a sense of false security, as these are services that many hackers use to phish information from people
  6. PUDM saw an increased frequency of donations when our new redirect URLs were used, so you might see the same increase!

For this tutorial, I’ll try to keep it as simple as possible, but you will need to have an intermediate knowledge of server administration.

Prerequisites:

  • Domain
  • A web host that uses a Linux server (i.e. sites hosted on services like Wix.com will most likely not support this method)
  • Ability to create subdomains
  • Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, or other spreadsheet software
  • (S)FTP Software or a Server File Manager

 

Step 1: Create a new subdomain

Using instructions provided by your hosting company, create a subdomain. You will want to make all of your “donation” redirects separate from your primary site. You wouldn’t want your entire site to go down from a simple mistake later on. So as a safety net, create a subdomain and call it whatever you want.

PUDM went with donate.pudm.org

A folder should be created for that subdomain (in PUDM’s case, the folder /donate was created)

 

Step 2: Create two files

To prevent anyone from peeking into the server, we created an index.html file that redirects to our general donation page (http://www.pudm.org/donate).

<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="0; url=YOUR URL HERE" />

 If you don’t want to create a redirect HTML, you can put anything you want to display for your index.html file

Secondly, create a file called .htaccess, but DO NOT EDIT the file just yet. We’ll get to that in a minute

 

Step 3: Prepare a Spreadsheet

You will use your spreadsheet program to help you organize data needed to create the redirects. Your final spreadsheet will look similar to this:

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 11.34.22 AM

Where:

  • Donation URL – your new subdomain for donations
  • Purdue Alias (call it anything – we used our Purdue email aliases) – the username that you plan on redirecting your donate link from
  • OldURL – a concatenation column to connect the value from A and B together
  • NewURL – The actual URL where the person’s donation page sits

For Column A, each entry should start with the exact same domain. Make sure you have the trailing slash.

In Column B, enter any username that you want to redirect (so that when people put in the username, it will be donate.SITE.com/username)

In Cell C2, enter the following formula: =CONCATENATE(A2,B2)

In Column D, enter the website that the donation link should go to.

[line style=’solid’ top=’10’ bottom=’10’ width=’100%’ height=’1′ color=”]

You can drag the fill handle from Cell A2 downward (as they should all be the same), and Cell C down (the formula is not a cell reference). To get the values of the NewURL, you can find this manually, or you could possibly have your hospital partner pull you a report with the participant’s address, and paste them down.

Repeat this process for as many users as you want (we implemented this for around 484 dancers), so we had 485 rows including the header.

 

Step 4: Generate Redirects!

Jesse Donat designed a generator that would take your spreadsheet data and generate a snippet that you use to do a mass redirect.

  1. Visit his generator site
  2. Paste in the last two columns of your spreadsheet in the top text box
  3. Leave all other settings alone and click “Submit”
  4. Copy your generated code from the second text box (should start with # 301 —)

 

Step 5: Edit your .htaccess file

Paste the entire contents of the generated text box into the file. To give a perspective for how long the file should be, for 484 users, we had 1,939 lines of code.

Lastly, add the following line at the end of your .htaccess file

ErrorDocument 404 /index.html

This will redirect any “invalid” usernames to the index.html file that you created earlier.

Your .htaccess file should something like this at the end:

# 301 --- http://donate.pudm.org/username => http://rcf.convio.net/site/TR/DanceMarathon/DanceMarathons?px=000000000&pg=personal&fr_id=0000
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^donate\.pudm\.org$
RewriteRule ^username$ http://rcf.convio.net/site/TR/DanceMarathon/DanceMarathons?px=000000000&pg=personal&fr_id=0000 [L,R=301]
ErrorDocument 404 /index.html

 

And that’s all there is to it! I would love to hear your feedback on this idea. If you need any help with your Dance Marathon implementing this, feel free to contact me!

FTK, Always!
Aharon