Small Nonprofit Goes Big Online
There’s been a lot of buzz in the nonprofit sector about creating dynamic Web sites that engage audiences in exciting ways. In some cases, nonprofits are encouraging user-generated content. Web 2.0 has been moving and shaking the nonprofit world lately, too.
All of this begs the question: If your organization is operating on a relatively small budget or with a small staff, how can you engage your audiences without overextending limited organizational resources?
This column will focus on an organization with a “little org that could” approach to online interaction: the Kidney Cancer Association, which according to Guidestar, had approximately $2.5 million dollars worth of revenue in 2006 and a staff of four full-time folks.
At first glance, the KCA site suggests that it’s a large organization with robust resources by virtue of the many ways you can engage online. For instance, the homepage offers “Quick Links” to KCA’s national conference, a research project survey, tools that help you start a support group or launch a fundraiser, and translations into Italian, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese, not to mention video and podcast resources.
But as you poke around, you’ll find a series of hints that KCA really is a small organization. We were impressed with the “live chat” function that allowed us to chat online in real time with a KCA staff person almost immediately.
From what we can gather, our chat was actually with KCA’s director of development, who provided excellent, brief responses driving us to use its hotline number or visit key publications on the site — talk about access! The executive director even is listed as the webmaster.
So how does it do it?
It does that, largely, by plugging in a series of third-party software tools. If you watch the URL as you move though the site, you’ll see you’re frequently entering other secure servers and sites such as Z2Systems, Capwiz, Qualityoflifesurvey.net, kcachat.org and yellowbrickmall.com, to name just a few. If KCA has figured out how to get all of these separate software tools (and their databases) to talk with each other, it deserves a blue ribbon. If not, it’s likely constituents have to keep track of multiple passwords and profiles, and receive communications for, say, action alerts that look and feel different than they do for, say, the confirmation that they’ve registered for the conference online.
While all these engagement options are terrific, that piecemeal experience can send a subtle signal to a donor that an organization isn’t fully up to capacity. In our experience, that perception can impact the size of gifts over time, since donors are less likely to invest big in something that doesn’t appear to be fully buttoned up.
(By the way, organizations with deeper pockets solve this problem by either investing in a one-stop-shopping, back-end software solution such as Convio or Democracy In Action, or by investing in custom programming to tie it all together seamlessly.)
Here’s something KCA (and you) can do that won’t cost much money or take much time: Edit your copy for the Web. Many organizations are in the habit of repurposing printed text online, without editing it for the reading preferences of Web visitors. When it comes to reading your material online, people are much more likely to skim. To accommodate this behavior: State your conclusion up front rather than waiting for the end; be concise; use bullets; add detailed (but short) headlines for paragraphs; and generally just make the reader’s job as easy as possible. KCA has done a nice job in how it presents its content on its homepage, but many of the pages within the site are several screens long, which could annoy site visitors or provoke them to leave the site for one that gives them the information they need more quickly.
Let’s talk about design
KCA has set up a very simple, clear structure that lays out the menus and navigational structure in obvious places, which is great. The last thing I need, if I’ve been diagnosed with kidney cancer and want help, is to get frustrated digging around through obtuse navigation.
We suggest adding more “warm fuzzies” here: pictures of real people with cancer — not just black-and-white stock photos — and profiles of real patients, donors, scientists and others who are a part of the KCA community. Bringing in this real element will help the organization connect with its audience in ways beyond the message board and, along the way, cultivate a desire to give back.
For many health-, disease- or disorder-oriented organizations, core supporters usually are programs’ audiences, too. KCA is doing a great job offering programmatic tools online on probably a very limited budget. Over time, as its resources grow, KCA should find this site is a good place to build from. It also will find that the investment it makes will come back in increased revenue from donors confident that KCA is itself a strong investment.
Sarah Durham is founder and principal and Farra Trompeter is vice president of client relationships and strategy for Big Duck.
Want your Web site critiqued here? E-mail your name, the name of your organization and your Web address to firstname.lastname@example.org.