Monday, May 5, 2014

What comes after your URL?

For the third time this week, research on a nonprofit that contacted me for fundraising help landed me on a website that says nothing and more importantly, does nothing to help me learn about the organization. Two of them were simply a link to their Facebook page.

I wonder why some nonprofit websites tend to be so ineffective. Is it because the staff thinks that no one goes to websites anymore?  Do they think the sites are too expensive to develop? Do they take too much time to update?  I asked everyone of those three nonprofits for a comment
Only one got back to me, saying that they believe that Millennial/Gen Y donors are mostly on social media, so the website is superfluous. I don't think that demographic is the only one they should be pursuing, but for the sake of argument, let's accept that as a parameter.

Maybe websites were less important for a little while, but new research shows that  18-34 year-olds now prefer to visit websites before committing to a donation. Along with all the convenience of  mobile connections comes a healthy dose of risk, a problem that is getting worse after all the recent data breaches, and that may be driving donor behavior toward learning more before they donate.

Text-to-give was a big deal for awhile, but has since tailed off,  with only 15% of Millennials reporting that they donate in that way. Seventy percent report they do prefer to donate online, which means making your website and its donation feature both user and mobile-friendly is important.

As it is for most individual donors, mission is still the most important facet in that age group. Donors want to see your mission clearly described. "We help low-income mothers with daily challenges" isn't enough.

The first place most people go after the landing page is the "About Us" page. With the proliferation  of Smartphone users, that would seem to indicate that your landing page and "about" page should be one and the same. There has to be a reason for them to click through to the rest of the website.

Like their older siblings and parents, Millennials care about what you are doing with their donations. How and whether you are accomplishing your mission is important to them. Millennials tend to give smaller amounts, but they donate more often. If they are establishing a relationship with your nonprofit through your website, then the old saw that you only "get one chance to make a first impression" really rings true.

Short-form social media is excellent at doing what it was meant to do, which is up-to-minute dialogue and reporting. It's a fine way to announce events,  tell folks about the great new supporter you just got, or converse socially with your group. People of all ages and backgrounds use it and follow it.

It also has built-in limitations. Because it is meant to be informal, current  and colloquial, it may not be the best way to present your organization to potential new supporters.

Going beyond the Millennials, people in general are just a lot more aware of how they spend money now. They want to see things like links to annual reports and 990 returns. They want to know who else is supporting you. They want to know about your board and key personnel, and they are likely to look them up on the web for connections beyond your organization. They want to see some type of personalization, such as multi-year outcome reports or a story following someone who is benefiting from donor support.

You just can't get that much detail or present the historical context of your organization through the short form social media formats. Websites can often incorporate blogs that educate and inform both existing and new donors and keeps them connected to you.
 Your website shouldn't read like an e-book, but it does have to go beyond 140 characters, and it needs to project competence as well as compassion.

In some ways, an effective website is similar to a well done grant application. It should engage  on an emotional level,  but it also needs to inform and showcase your organization as the professional operation that you have created.

Need help with a website or other communications?  Email me and let's talk! 

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