What a $1.15B Nonprofit's Website Tells Us About Growth
I am always excited when the latest edition of The Chronicle of Philanthropy's "Philanthropy 400" is released. While I have focused most of my career on smaller nonprofits, I enjoy seeing who’s on top and trying to learn from what I hope would be good examples of a single organization that is growing. Since it’s a bit more challenging for smaller organizations to get takeaways from organizations that are charitable foundations, donor-advised funds or nonprofits with multiple affiliates, I ended up at No. 13, Food for the Poor.
I have no affiliation with Food for the Poor, although I have donated to them a few times, primarily because I like to see their direct mail. I am not aware of anyone who works there, is on their board or consults for them. All I know is that they are big. They raised $1.15 billion in private support last year, compared to $18.3 million 25 years ago. That’s annual growth of close to 250 percent. I figure that alone makes them worth paying attention to.
I decided to look at the charity's website to see if I could learn anything about its growth from its site alone. There are many things I do not know about Food for the Poor—but let’s face it, neither do many people considering making a donation. Often, all someone has to go by is an organization's website. So, what’s happening on the website that could engage a donor and doesn’t take too much spelunking to find?
1. They use language that makes sense to Ms. Average Donor. When I clicked on “Our Work,” I saw sections titled "How We Help," "Problems We Solve" and "Where We Serve." I don’t know how much clearer you can get than “problems we solve.” That should immediately resonate with the potential donor who wants to fix something he or she perceives as wrong.
2. They publish a donor pledge that is incredibly donor-centered. (It’s not super noticeable, but there is a link to it from the home page.) It says, in part, “Because you have a desire to give, we have an opportunity to fulfill that desire. Because you have choice in charitable giving, our service must be superior. Because you trust us, we must earn that trust with good stewardship and transparency.” Check it out. Its simplicity and conversational tone puts most other donor pledges to shame.
3. The “Donate Now” button is prominent. And they also include another button, “Start a Monthly Gift.” When I clicked that, the gift array went as low as $3.65. It’s hard to say “I can’t afford that,” considering what I spend on chai every time I stop off at my local coffee shop. I am sure they work like mad to upgrade donors from that $3.65, but it’s certainly an easy point of entry.
4. They offer tangible things I can support. That $3.65 I was invited to give monthly will “feed one child a month.” I know all about the challenges designated gifts bring. But there is something about the gift catalog that some nonprofits offer that increases credibility. You may not be able to do a full catalog, but can you offer a few specific things that a donor can invest in while they build confidence in your organization?
5. They give back to the donor. Because of their religious affiliation, Food for the Poor offers to remember the site visitor’s requests in prayer. This is a way for them to connect with the visitor to their website. It says to me that I am not just an account, but a person they recognize as having needs, too.
There’s one noticeable thing that the Food for the Poor website doesn’t have: There is no trendy logo in today’s hot colors. In fact, the logo is kind of stodgy. But $1.15 billion tells me donors aren’t making a giving decision based on a logo. Go ahead and throw figurative stones at this old dog, but just maybe we need to worry less about modernizing our logos and more about what we are actually delivering to our donors.
I am not implying that Food for the Poor is perfect. In fact, if I dig deeper, I may find negative coverage on the web. I am not endorsing them, simply using them as an example of an effective website. After all, a donor looking online for a place to invest may never get any further than the organization’s website. For them, that might be the door into the organization—and what the website tells them will determine if they open the door and go inside, or if they walk away.
So, look at your website (if you can) with different eyes—the eyes of the person who knows little about your organization and isn’t really all that interested in finding out much more. (If you’re just too close to do that, ask someone you trust to be frank and who isn’t an insider to do this for you.) What is immediately communicated when all someone takes is a casual look at your website?
Simple language, easy ways to give and know what I am making possible, something that has value to me, and a donor pledge that makes sense—this old dog thinks those just might be some of the ingredients for helping your organization grow.