If you’re like most nonprofits, the need for a website was somewhere in the middle of the list of startup items, after “buy a printer”. A volunteer probably offered to get one up and running pro bono, and you checked it off your list. Now, a few years later, it’s still there… basically a business card on the web.
No one knows better than you how hard it is to raise cash for your cause, and you’re in good company. According to The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, virtually every nonprofit reported a decline in the amount of donations they receive. Frequent donors continue to give money, but they’re giving less.
So, now for the touchy topic: how do you compete with other cash-strapped nonprofits for fewer dollars? I know, “compete” is a dirty word in the world of philanthropy, but now it’s more evident than ever just how many people are asking for the same dollar.
If you’re willing to recognize the elephant in the room, then the realization of the need to become more competitive hits you. The question is, “how do I compete and keep our image and cause unblemished?” The answer is through better marketing.
Since my focus for this article is your website strategy, let’s keep the discussion to your “web presence”. There are several ways to improve your visibility, presentation and traffic (i.e. how many people visit your website):
Visibility – how easy is it to find your website? How is it ranked among similar nonprofit websites?
Getting a website published is just the beginning. To raise visibility, you need to make sure the “word gets out” about your website and the cause. Some of the ways to do this are:
Social Networks – Establish a Facebook page for your cause, and get all the staff to participate on a regular basis. Encourage them to have an open, positive – but truthful – dialogue through the social media portals. This humanizes the nonprofit to your target audience, and gets buy-in to the passion underneath the cause.
YouTube – post videos that highlight the cause, with links to your website and other social media outlets, like Facebook. The more sites you link to your nonprofit’s website, the higher the traffic, and ranking among search engines (i.e. Google, Bing, etc.)
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – SEO is a set of methods employed on your website design and content to increase search engine ranking of your site. If you show up at the top of a search page, you’re more likely to have the person searching click through to your site.
Cross-linking – often part of an SEO strategy, cross-linking donors’ websites and blogs to your website will increase credibility, visibility and search engine ranking.
Search Engine Marketing – (SEM) – a set of internet marketing strategies which drive traffic to your site. These include strategies such as SEO, paid placement, contextual advertising, and paid inclusion. For example, if you’re an animal shelter, you may pay Facebook to post ads when a person’s postings include words like “dog”, “cat” or “pet”. This is a form of contextual advertising.
Presentation – once they visit, is the site compelling, matching the cause and the target audiences’ expectations
To understand the wide variance of nonprofit web designs and which audiences they’re going after, check out www.seashepherd.org of Whale Wars fame, and www.aarp.org, which keeps trying to get me to sign up for some reason. One (take a wild guess) is gritty and activist-oriented, appealing to a younger demographic, and the other to a mature one.
These sites are well designed, addressing the tastes of their target audiences. They’re massively cross-linked with other sites, sponsors, and cited on thousands of Facebook postings and blogs. The lesson is: know your target audience, and design accordingly.
The other key element is the concept of an “identity system”. An identity system brings a common vision and theme to your nonprofit’s presentation to the world, unified by a guiding set of principles called a style guide. The style guide is your user’s manual for corporate identity, such as the size and types of fonts to use, logo sizing and placement, etc.
In addition to your website, identity system might include such items as business cards, letterhead, envelopes, CD / DVD labels, invoices, Word and PowerPoint templates, packaging, shipping labels, badges, bags, t-shirts, hats and branded swag.
Call to Actions – Once someone hits your site, do you make it clear what you want them to do? Common nonprofit call-to-actions are
• Learn about the cause
• Join the cause online
• Donate money and/or time to the cause
• Get Involved by participating in events
• Spread the Word to others about the cause
When a visitor lands on your home page, the calls-to-action must be clearly visible, preferably popping up a simple, direct message and action to take.
Some of the best nonprofit sites step you through the five actions above, compelling you to go from one step to the next.
We’ve done all this
If you were on your game, and did most or all of the above, kudos. But beware, the web is the fastest evolving paradigm of all time, and everyone needs to constantly revise their web strategies to keep up. What worked a few months or even weeks ago may no longer be working.
Search engine companies are constantly changing, often drastically, their search engine strategies, features and functions. Engage someone to keep your web strategies up-to-date, reviewing them frequently. For example, since your content is hopefully being refreshed daily – new blog posts, articles, events, etc. – have your SEO consultant assist you with edits that will appeal to the search engines.
To raise your nonprofit’s website above the fray and get those precious charitable dollars, revisit your overall web strategy and consider the above suggestions.
Preston Callicott (firstname.lastname@example.org) is eternally grateful that he gets to live and work in Bend, Oregon, where he is his family squeeze every precious moment out of each beautiful day, enjoying the great outdoors. Preston is a partner and COO for Five Talent Software, a web and software development company headquartered in Bend.