Lancaster Yeshiva Center
Unlike print, online communications can instantly communicate to the world at a relatively low cost. In the past 10 years, organizations with fairly specific audiences (for example, those serving a particular neighborhood, faith or point of view) have been able to welcome the world to their (virtual) doorsteps.
The mission of the Lancaster Yeshiva Center, which operates with an annual budget of approximately $227,000, according to GuideStar, is to “provide post high school age students with Torah education and vocational training.”
We were fascinated by the idea of a Jewish enclave doing vocational work in the midst of Amish Country in Lancaster, Pa., and decided to check it out. With a little digging, we discovered that Lancaster Yeshiva Center helps Jewish boys who have lost their way find it again, through the combination of learning a trade and studying Torah.
Ultimately, this small organization is all about having a transformative impact on a specific audience that needs help. Sound familiar? This is a story many organizations strive to tell, so let’s see how Lancaster Yeshiva Center is doing at telling it online and what other organizations can learn from it.
The organization excels with its warm and welcoming images. In fact, the photography on the site is probably its strongest aspect, particularly on the homepage and staff page. Staff members look friendly and approachable, which is important to reassure parents and prospective students alike, especially since the school is “live in.”
We’d love to see this same warmth in the copy throughout the site — perhaps shared through success stories, profiles or testimonials from past students. Communicating the “warm fuzzy” of the organization, particularly through individual storytelling, has been proven effective to raise money — but many smaller organizations often overlook this simple opportunity.
Here are a few other low-cost suggestions Lancaster Yeshiva Center (and other small organizations) might employ to make the site more welcoming in other areas and, therefore, reflective of its transformative work:
* Domain name: It’s getting rarer and rarer for a nonprofit to use a .com instead of a .org. A .org on the back of its name instead of a .com would immediately tell a donor that Lancaster Yeshiva Center is a nonprofit organization, ready to receive tax-deductible donations.
* Goals and audience: It’s not immediately clear that Lancaster Yeshiva Center caters to Jewish students from around the country, i.e., not just in Lancaster. How about including some demographic information in the mission statement or homepage, so that it’s clear from the start that a Jewish family in Des Moines, Iowa, also might benefit from the organization’s work?
* Program descriptions: Lancaster Yeshiva Center would benefit from adding more information about its programs. We found quite a bit of information about it from other sources — the organization might even consider repurposing the copy on its GuideStar profile for its own site.
* Admissions: Adding an admissions area to the site would be relatively easy within the current structure and might cover such topics as admission requirements, a schedule with dates for interviews and notification, an online application, and stories or testimonials from alumni. Many other schools do this well — a quick survey of the competition usually is a great way to start when figuring out what to include on your site.
* For donors: Lancaster Yeshiva Center could add some simple benefits for recognition to help donors feel more connected to the lives they positively impact through their support. Maybe donors are listed in a regular newsletter. If there are tangible benefits for donating, list them. In the section for planned giving (which is one of the most intimate forms of giving), using an “info@” e-mail address is a bit too impersonal. Adding a name, a direct phone number and e-mail address here would be appropriate for the intimacy inherent in this type of giving.
* E-mail addresses: It’s terrific that Lancaster Yeshiva Center provides e-mail contact information for everyone on staff. But we recommend that the domains be consistent. Everyone should have an e-mail address that ends in @lancasteryeshiva (.com or .org). A simple change like that increases the perception that the organization is cohesive, professionally run and organized.
Last but not least
Lancaster Yeshiva Center is securely processing donations online through Google Checkout. Since Google has waived its transaction fee for nonprofits through late 2008, 100 percent of gifts goes directly to the organization itself. On the flip side, the donations-processing form displays Google’s brand and not the look or design of the nonprofit organization. Another option would be for Lancaster Yeshiva Center to use Network for Good (which offers online donation processing for any nonprofit listed by GuideStar). Although there is still no unique branding and a 3 percent transaction fee, donors can make recurring donations, designate gifts to a specific fund, and make a gift in honor or memory of someone.
Now that the world is at its doorstep, we suggest Lancaster Yeshiva Center implement a few inexpensive online best practices to reassure donors, parents and prospective students alike about the value of its work and capacity to truly transform lives. FS
To have your nonprofit’s Web site critiqued here, send an e-mail with the URL and your contact info to firstname.lastname@example.org