Special Report: 10 Ways to Make Your Web Site ?Fundraising Friendly
Over the last few years, online fundraising has emerged as an area with the greatest potential for growth. Still, it remains one of the most underutilized means of fundraising today.
Online activities for nonprofit organizations fall into one of three segments:
1. No online presence: An organization that falls into this segment doesn't have a Web site and, in some cases, has not secured a domain name either. It conducts all of its online activities through e-mail from a free e-mail service provider such as Gmail or Hotmail.
2. Limited online presence: This organization has a static Web site and typically fundraises via a non-?integrated payment-service provider. The content is managed manually either by an in-house Web manager or outsourced to local agencies. The Web site is not integrated with the nonprofit's local system of record.
3. Dynamic online presence: There's a wide range of organizations and various levels of online presences in this segment ranging from a CMS-driven Web site for dynamic content management to full-blown integration with a system of record that supports fundraising and marketing activities.
If you fall into the first group, the first step is to secure a domain name and create a basic Web site, even if it has limited information about your organization and cause. There are many free tools available that can help you get up and running within as little as five minutes. In today's economy, a nonprofit cannot afford to be without a Web site, even if just a basic one.
Once you've established an online presence, follow these quick and easy steps to help your organization become more successful with online fundraising:
1. Consistent online branding. Where is the first place your constituents are going to look for you? Yep — you guessed it — online! And when they get there, it's very important that your offline brand identity and personality are reflected on your Web site. These include consistency of colors, typefaces, messaging, news and campaigns. Help your constituents make a connection with you online with the same impact as if they met you in person at your local office or an event.
2. Information architecture and navigation. Once you have your audience's attention, make sure you retain and respect it by making all pertinent information just one or two clicks away. How do you achieve that? Five easy ways:
? Semantics: Use words that are relevant and easy to recognize and understand, and that help reduce time spent on unsuccessful clicks and searches.
? Organization: Organize your navigation and page layout in a way that your audience would expect it versus laying it out the way your organization is structured internally.
? Depth: Try to keep your navigation to a maximum depth of three levels. Two is even better.
? Structure: Create a page flow that is logical, and ensure that each page follows a consistent layout structure throughout your Web site. Avoid creating one-off pages that defy the regular convention of your site.
? Bread crumbs: Give visitors a sense of orientation while navigating your Web site. Not every visitor enters your site via your homepage, so it's very important to give users the bearings to help them understand where they are on the site.
3. Call to action. In addition to providing intriguing content to your audience, the main purpose of your Web site is to get your users to take action. The best way to achieve this is to ensure that you actually ask them to do so by the use of context-sensitive calls to action. The most notable example of this is the "donate now" button. If your organization relies on donations as the primary form of funding, place your donate button in prominent places throughout your Web site.
Another great way to lead audiences to perform an action is to place relevant links in the form of "next steps" (e.g., get involved, attend this event, etc.) below your content on every page.
4. Design and user interface. You can't judge a book by its cover, but your audience can and will judge your Web site in this manner. Research has found that the appeal of the overall visual design of a site — including layout, typo-?graphy, font size and color schemes — is the No. 1 factor people use to evaluate its credibility.
5. Audience-centric design. Ensure that your design speaks to the needs, wants and desires of your audience instead of your own personal taste — but at the same time, it must represent your core brand. Your design should have a point of view that is consistent with the organization's mission and values. Work toward a design that creates an instant emotional connection with your audience. And finally, keep your homepage simple and engaging — tease your audience with little tidbits of information, and invite them to explore your site!
6. Search-engine optimization. When a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a noise? Well, it doesn't really matter because no one is there to hear it. The very same concept applies to Web sites. All the work that you put into building your site might not generate any traffic at all if your audience can't find you in the first place. Ensure that your Web site is search-engine friendly by applying the tips outlined below:
? Headings: Use proper heading tags. This allows search engines to understand what the page is all about. Simply bolding and enlarging the heading font does not tell the search engine anything about the title of the page.
? Link titles: Add titles to the link tags when linking pages together. Try your best to add a descriptive title that uses keywords from the title of the target page.
? Image alt tags: Search engines cannot understand the contents of an image; this is where alternate text (alt="") comes in handy. Simply place a clear and concise description of every meaningful image inside the alt text declaration.
? Meta description: Make sure you fill out the meta description for every page on your Web site. This information provides the search-engine index a summary of the information on the page and is generally shown on a search-engine result page as part of the search result right underneath the title. Make sure you aren't placing the same description on every page of the site.
7. Content management. Follow the style guide for your Web site when creating content. If you use a Web-design agency and didn't receive a style guide from it, contact the agency and get one created. A well-written style guide contains all information related to maintaining the design and structure of your Web site during content management. Among other things related to online branding, it contains information such as maximum image sizes for content areas, font families and sizes, color palette, padding, and spacing. Follow your style guide to ensure a consistent user experience for your audience and to show your constituents that you take your Web site and messaging seriously. This inspires confidence that usually results in your audience taking action.
8. Out of sight, out of mind! E-mail communication is one of the most important tools in a nonprofit's arsenal. Keep in touch with your constituents, and send them regular updates with activities, events and milestones for your organization. And make sure all your e-mail messaging has clear and direct calls to action. Your e-mail recipients might not become donors right away, but when they do decide to give to an organization of interest, they'll think of you first. Make it easy for your audience to sign up for electronic communication at the time of giving, especially for first-time donors.
9. Listen and participate. The fastest way to grow a following for your organization might just be a few clicks away on popular social networks. Many organizations are afraid of social media because they feel that they lose control of the conversations and content related to their organizations.
The reality is that the conversations about your organization and cause already are taking place — there never was any control to begin with! Once you accept this notion, go ahead and listen, participate and engage with your network. There's nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain. Consider streaming real-time data via RSS feeds from your social-networking applications into your Web site, and invite people back to your ?site where you offer engaging ?content along with targeted calls to action.
10. Integration leads to ?personalization. Integrate your Web site with a system of record or CRM system to maximize control over marketing to your target audience, while allowing constituents to have personalized experiences on your site. A CRM system allows you to deliver targeted content based on your constituents' interests and previous giving histories. Additional benefits include powerful self-service tools for your constituents on your site that allow them to manage their accounts, pay pledges, update memberships, print receipts and more.
11. (Bonus tip!) Make it ?interactive. Develop interactive applications around your cause or campaign that allow your constituents to interact with and learn ?more about your organization. Exciting, out-of-the-box applications such as the Ave Maria Memorial Locator or Brad Pitt's Make It Right campaign for Hurricane Katrina victims have huge viral potential where your constituents do your marketing ?for you by sharing links to your Web site. FS