Web Watch: Recovery.gov
[Editor’s Note: Some changes have been made to the Recovery.gov Web site since this article was written, but we’re leaving it as is to focus on elements that might be of interest to our readership.]
President Obama is a stellar communicator, something even most people who disagree with his policies will admit. It goes beyond his abilities as a speechmaker. His campaign featured a message of change. And the message never wavered over two years, beyond that shift from the primary (“Change you can believe in”) to the general election (“The change you need”). The focus was always on “you,” his audience — supporters, potential supporters and even rivals.
So how has this consistency and clarity carried over into an Obama administration? This month, we’re looking at Recovery.gov, the Obama administration’s Web site all about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the stimulus package.
Recovery.gov isn’t a terribly deep site, meaning there aren’t many pages or levels of information. It’s streamlined to give you an overview. Perhaps it’s built to grow as the stimulus package money gets used. I guess we’ll find out as the ARRA funds continue to get doled out.
As is typical with an Obama-sponsored Web site, it’s very user-friendly and easy to navigate. You can find what you’re looking for without confusion, and along the top is a constantly updated information visualization (sometimes known as infographics, though designers who create information visualizations bristle just a bit at the term). An “infoviz,” when done well, can tell you a lot of information in a relatively small amount of space.
In an introductory video, the president explains the purpose of Recovery.gov. During the campaign, Obama revolutionized the use of video in politics (including both official campaign videos and supporter-created ones). And he’s continued his efforts, making the transition from the traditional weekly radio address to a weekly YouTube address, in which we can see him speak directly to us, his audience. The Recovery.gov video works in the same way. He speaks directly to the camera to explain the what and why of the site, and asks for public scrutiny and feedback.
In the video, Obama asks people to share stories, but even those who don’t want to spend the two minutes it takes to watch the video can participate via an easy-to-find “share your story” feature. Even though the site doesn’t yet say how those stories will be used, this invitation goes a long way in making people feel like they’re involved in the process.
Navigation along the right side of the site makes it easy to find information about individual states and governmental agencies. So if you want to see how, say, the Department of Education is spending its stimulus money, you just need to click through to its site. The same is true for individual state spending, with easy access to state recovery sites. These sites rarely have the same clean design of Recovery.gov, but mandating that each state and federal agency creates its own recovery page serves an important dual purpose: It encourages accountability from each department and state, while simultaneously building a culture of cooperation. In other words, each state or each department is part of a larger single effort. Recovery.gov seems to take this “e pluribus unum” concept seriously.
What does it mean for fundraisers?
Unlike the Obama campaign site, Recovery.gov has no fundraising component at all. So why are we discussing it in a magazine called FundRaising Success? How does it apply to your nonprofit site, particularly where fundraising is concerned?
The answer is simple: audience, audience, audience.
Every feature of Recovery.gov is about the audience. Many nonprofits, when writing for their Web sites, speak in organization-centric, internal language, instead of speaking directly to their audiences. This can alienate donors and participants, and during a challenging economy, the last thing any of you can afford to do is alienate your audience, particularly donors.
Never forget who your Web site serves. Remind yourself as you create every page of it. Use your site to engage your audience. Speak in clear, direct language — through video or copy — to let your audience know how it benefits from the site and your work in general. The Obama team has been masterful at audience-centric communications, and Recovery.gov is no exception.
There are a few smaller lessons to be gleaned from Recovery.gov, as well. The model of individual state and government agency sites could be applied to the collaborative projects you lead or participate in as a way to encourage accountability from individual partners, while demonstrating the unity of working together. Donors love collaboration almost as much as the Washington, D.C., media love “bipartisanship.”
And getting people to interact with your site is almost always a good idea; story sharing is a great tool for doing so. You might even end up with a gem that really typifies your work. With permission from the storyteller, you might be able to translate the story into part of a fundraising campaign.
Your Web site is a tool for engaging people. The more it’s about them, the more involved and emotionally invested they will become. And an emotional investment from your audience is the first step toward getting its financial support. Or votes. Something this Obama fella seems to know a thing or two about. FS