Too often, NGOs settle for web presences that merely check-the-box without regard to whether or not the site is capable of meeting the organization’s goals. After all, every dollar not spent on programming is a dollar that isn’t directly contributing to the core mission. Furthermore, because the immediate ROI of a web presence is hard to calculate, unlike, say, events and mailers, justifying the expense can be difficult.
Regardless, a stand out website is an absolutely critical tool for any modern non-profit. It is often the only opportunity for the organization to explain their story and activate their supporters. If your site can’t demonstrate the power of your mission – if it can’t push a stranger over the hump of inertia to contribute their time, their money, or their voice, then it isn’t helping the cause.
Given the importance of the website, it’s important that it is done right. To help, we’ve narrowed down the key needs for any non-profit site and provided some best-in-class examples of sites that do a great job delivering against them.
How do you get people excited about the mission?
No one needs to support a charity; they do it out of their personal morality and conviction. Obviously, there are many worthy causes competing for their resources so donors must select the ones they feel are most worthy. This process is largely an emotional decision, not a rational one. Since stories are how we communicate complex emotions and ideas, it is absolutely critical to make sure that your story comes across in an impactful way. Visitors need to feel the emotional force behind your cause.
Who are you trying to help? Why do they need you? Why have you, the charity or the founder, taken up this gauntlet?
FallingWhistles, a non-profit dedicated to speaking out against the Congolese war and the use of child soldiers does an excellent job communicating their story. Not only does the site open with a powerfully directed short film, but also an entire section is dedicated to the founder’s journal, a powerful first-hand account of his horrific journey through the Congo.
Falling Whistles uses an actual whistle as a symbol of both the plight of child soldiers and the group’s action to stop it.
How do we create simple and social points of action?
Ifwerantheworld.com poignantly asks “What might happen if we could tap into the single largest untapped natural resource in the world: the pool of good intentions that never translate into action?” Ultimately, it is our job to answer that question.
Just about everything on a non-profit site should be an opportunity to get involved. Make sure donations feel meaningful and tangible. Calls to action like “Send a girl to school” or “Build a well” are compelling because they take the donor out of a “money” mentality and into a “providing” mentality. By focusing on the result vs. the action it is easier to connect with the good intentions of your supporters.
Don’t just limit involvement to writing checks. Give people the opportunity to pour their passion into your cause by creating programs that aren’t exclusive to donating money.
Charity Water’s “myCharity: water” is among the most advanced of these systems, but volunteer opportunities, t-shirt contests, Facebook status donations all do equally well at letting users get involved in their own way.
Finally, take advantage of the social web. Many who support a charity are passionate about the cause. Give them opportunities to evangelize their support, even if it’s as simple as pushing a message out to Facebook on behalf of their cause.
How do we communicate the progress we are making? How do we show that donations are effective?
No one wants to throw their money down a hole. The issue of transparency is two fold. First, how do you demonstrate you are using money responsibly? Charity Navigator sets the expectation for this by disclosing programming budgets, CEO salaries and budget breakdowns for most major charities. How much is practical to disclose and how much is necessary to disclose is a tricky subject, but one that many donors are looking for.
Second, how do you show that the money (and the charity) is making a measurable impact? Here is where things get more creative.
How do we bring the support community together?
Passion is infectious. Nothing gets people more excited than other excited people. Since web 2.0, the Internet is getting better and better at connecting like-minded individuals. With so many free tools like MeetUps, TweetUps, Emails, Blogs, and Facebook Groups at your disposal, your web presence is an easy way to connect your supporters, virtually and in the real world.
Ultimately, the more connected a donor feels to the community, the more likely they are to stay involved and the easier they will be to activate around campaigns and fundraising opportunities – so this is not one to overlook!
Next time you look at other non-profit sites, try to keep these goals in mind. Pay attention to the best in class examples of each and try to apply them to your own site.
After all, we can always get better at saving the world.