Friday, July 19, 2013

Is Your Website Wimpy?

Websites in the nonprofit world need to do more than just sit there. Many nonprofit websites I visit look like afterthoughts. They are not informative, they are seldom updated, they don't seem to make it easy to get substantive information, volunteer, or donate, and many focus only on one donor profile or subset.

Engage all your donors

One of the problems with nonprofit financial support is that the traditional sources are either drying up, or evolving. Your nonprofit needs to function in two unique worlds.

One is the world of what I call corporate-think. Serious players such as large foundations or the charitable arm of large companies are looking for hard data. They want formal outcome reports, hard financial data, and want to form what might almost be called professional partnerships. They want organizations that make them look good and that can promote the effectiveness of their mission. Many will look for donor recognition pages.

The other is the world of the so-called "millennial", that is the younger donors in their 20s and early 30s who grew up in the internet world. They use all the latest electronic media toys. They are socially conscious. They are very visual. They are often still very idealistic in their judgments about your effectiveness. They may be more interested in volunteering than giving money, and they may want to contribute small amounts on a monthly schedule.

The first group is interested in the traditional ways for evaluating success. While the emotional element has some weight in their evaluations and desire to participate in your mission, they still want data-based reports. These folks are going to look for, and place emphasis on things like your annual report, financial statements and outcome reporting that is more or less based on something akin to the scientific method. Your website's demonstrated ability to follow their train of thought is important. For them, having things like your financial data, 990 and annual report available on your website is a big plus.

Younger donors are looking for visual proof of your mission. In a 34-page research report  principally funded by the Case Foundation, young donors said they were turned off by stale content and a lack of visual images that show them how they can have an impact by participating. You can download the whole report from this link:

These potential young supporters are expecting instant electronic gratification when they reach your website. Show them your success, don't preach to them. One or two great photos or quotes will encourage them to look farther, but they won't stay long, at least not on the initial visit. They will either act, or leave.

Achieving a Balance

Many nonprofits try to bridge this gap by directing visitors to their Facebook page. I have seen a number of one-page websites that simply say "click here to follow us on Facebook." That ignores the entire world of corporate-think donors.  Most well established foundations were not born in the Facebook era, and don't see that type of connection as, well, business-like.

Other websites seem to have been designed to look like  board meeting minutes. No pictures, videos or albums that can be downloaded. Very formal language, stolid black and white copy, and only updated one or two times a year. No interactive event calendar that also provides a way to sign up as a volunteer or donate.
You need both donor subsets

There is more monthly volume (think cash flow) and personal interaction available from the younger set, while the big lump-sum supporters exist in the older group. Courting one group over the other results in a donor profile imbalance. Nonprofits need to understand both audiences and target them on the website.

The perfect blend, if there is one, is a website with financial and data page tabs visible on the home page, a section with lots of photos, links to videos, and human interest stories, as well as donation buttons that allow easy one-click ways to donate. Text to donate strategies work well with the millennial age group, while more traditional donors may even want your street address to be available. Including a phone number in your contact information will allow donors or prospective volunteers to talk to a real live human. If that number goes to a phone message, let them know that you will respond in no more than 24 hours, and do call back promptly.

Consider Functionality

Mechanically, you don't want things on your home page that take a long time to download for either group. You only have from about five to thirty seconds to capture their interest. Since so many people use tablets or phones to surf the internet, your website needs to work well on those platforms, i.e. be based on what is called a responsive template (it resizes to fit the tool being used). For the DIY website builder, there are a number of inexpensive templates available that incorporate this feature. (From personal experience, I do not recommend most free ones, since they may come with hidden advertising links.)

Leave the flashing words, 2-minute videos and complicated graphics on pages other than your home page, but include links or tabs so they know there is more to see. A FEW (That's less than four!) well-chosen jpg images specific to your mission are OK if they load quickly. Show your social media links prominently, but don't chase the visitor off to a social media site either. And never, ever, have a home or landing page that starts out with "Click here to enter our website".

SEO, or search engine optimization has evolved quickly.  The best language on a website will be mindful of it, but won't look like a search term dictionary. Take a moment to understand guides like Google adwords, but don't let your site become boringly obvious. Good content still plays well.

By all means test-drive  your website.  If it takes a long time to load, or doesn't work well in some browsers work with it to have it load promptly.
Both groups are savvy to the "enter your email here" mailing list builder ploy on the home page. And no one wants a boatload of sneaky advertising links downloaded to their computer, so watch out for the affiliate marketing links. Invite them to leave an email later, but don't make their email a ticket into your site. To get them to return, have a simple "follow us" button available but don't make following you a condition of viewing the website.

Nonprofits have to evolve. Making your website a living, breathing, informative and effective donor tool is one way to do that. 

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