Monday, July 29, 2013

Make your nonprofit website effective

On any given day, I can go to the web and find dozens of little more or less local nonprofits that most people probably never heard of that are struggling to survive and grow. Most of them will limp along for years but never really have much of an impact because they can't scare up enough funding. Why is that?

In some cases there just isn't much support for their mission in their area. But much more often it's because they don't understand how to appeal to and build a wider donor base. Contrary to many nonprofit expectations, grants aren't usually the only or even the best avenue to success. I look at a lot of nonprofit websites, and there are three things that I find common to many of them.

They don't understand why they have a website

Most of them are all about the nonprofit. There are pages about how they came into being, pages about the board members life, pages about their events, and that's fine, but the most important page is the home or landing page. I certainly don't want to imply that having your financial information, a list of your board members or even a short history of the organization isn't important. Institutional (foundation) donors and major gift prospects expect that, but those pages don't draw many individual donations. Telling the visitor to go  to some other website isn't a very good idea either.  Facebook is great for some things, but most people will find you through a keyword search, and that's probably going to go to your website first. Don't run them off.

The primary purpose of all of those pages is to increase financial support for the mission, impart a sense of credibility and maybe enlist volunteers as well. What people want to know when they donate is:
Who or what am I helping, why do they need help and what are you going to do with my money to make things better?

If your home page doesn't grab the visitor's attention with something relative to their interests in the first 10 to 20 seconds, they are very likely to move on before they ever get a chance to learn about your organization.

Contrast these two opening sentences.

1. The Blank County Animal League came into being in 2005 to fight for the rights of animals.

2. You can stop Blank County from killing 10,000 dogs, 15,000 cats and 8,000 other types of animals every year.

Which one gets your attention and makes you feel like you could make a difference?

They don't provide or predict results soon enough

The second paragraph needs to give at least a cursory look at positive outcomes. Tell them how the donations received to date have made a difference.

"Since 2005, our donors provided the means for the adoption of over 5,000 animals, and free spay and neuter clinics every month for the past two  years." Or, "By supporting our plans for a no-kill shelter you can save the life of a future pet." It depends on how new you are to the scene which will work for you. It's OK to add one to three photos that support your emotional appeal, just don't make the photos the only visitor connection on the home page.

They don't actually ask for money.

Go ahead. Give them a number. Tell them that you are looking for a minimum donation of $10.00 and put a second donate button link right in the paragraph. (Of course you should have one at the top of the page, and even on subsequent pages as well.) If you want monthly recurring donors, tell them that. And make sure that the donate button provides an easy way to give, such as a "text $10.00 to 12345 now" or a PayPal or credit card option for instance. It's fine to ask them to call in a donation, or to give your mailing address, but many smaller donations are spur-of-the-moment decisions. Don't lose the moment.

In summary

If this sounds like you should think of your home page as a sales page for a product, good. That's what it is. Your product is your mission. Sell it effectively.

There are other parts of your website that will, and should give in depth information about your organization. You can devote a whole page to testimonials. Your financial information should be accessible to those that care about it. But if you can't get the casual visitor engaged from the get-go, you may never have the chance to develop a more profitable relationship with those bigger donors. 

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