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A website is the most important part of your nonprofit's presence online, followed by email and social media. It is the online hub where people can learn about your work in a deep way, make donations, sign up for your email list, review volunteer opportunities, and much more. Without an interactive, up-to-date website, you don't exist to millions of potential supporters.
I've been helping nonprofits create and improve websites for over 20 years. I've seen a lot of exciting changes in what is possible as well as a lot of cautionary examples of websites withering from neglect. Here are five elements, features, and functions that are essential keep your website alive, kicking, and contributing to your success.
Facts and figures are part of the work of many nonprofits; however, it's stories that stick with people; engage them; and motivate them to volunteer, donate, or help in other ways. Fresh content is what keeps a website alive. Ensure that your organization can generate stories and has a place to put them on the website.
Think about the people you help — not just direct clients, but others in the community who are affected by your work. Tell stories of your donors, your volunteers, your board members, and your staff.
Bring your organization to life by telling stories of the many kinds of people your work touches so that visitors see other people they can relate to who are supporting your efforts.
Encourage everyone connected to your nonprofit to help by sharing their story. It can be as simple as the answers to two questions — why they love your organization, and why they spend their valuable time or money to support your work. Three or four paragraphs that tell the story succinctly and that include at least one image (preferably more) is great content that helps keep your website alive.
The way your website is set up and the stories you tell should be aligned with your desired calls to action. Make it easy for a visitor to take actions on your website. People come to websites to learn and then to act.
Each story should connect to an action. After I read a story about how great it is to volunteer with you or the important impact you make with my donation, encourage me to volunteer or donate. Then make it easy for me to take those steps.
Stay away from calls to action like "email us" or "call us." Let me make a donation easily and immediately. Send me to a page that lists your current volunteer opportunities, where I can fill out a form to say how I'd like to help and what experience I have in that area.
Ensure that content and calls to action are easy to find. Have your donation, email signup, and search functions in the same place on every page of your website.
Having a website without clear objectives wastes time and effort. Just having something, anything online is not better than nothing. Every nonprofit has a mission and almost all have a strategic plan for how they will move towards meeting that mission.
Based on your strategic goals, have communication goals and objectives that support your organizational goals. This helps you make much better use of the time you spend not only on the website, but on email and social media as well. Create measurable objectives for each part of your online presence.
Sometimes the objectives will be guesses, but even those will help you measure progress.
The Internet is a visual medium, and people process an image that tells a story faster than reading the proverbial 1,000 words.
Collect images everywhere you can — in the field; at gatherings; at special events; with donors, clients, volunteers, or friends of the organization.
Then create an image library that you can pull from when you need images for your website, email, social media, or print communications.
There are many excellent online resources to help your nonprofit with creating graphics, infographics, videos, photo essays, and other types of digital storytelling. Search on the Internet with "nonprofit" in front of any of those terms to find helpful hints.
Keeping your online presence alive requires time and effort. There are people in your community who are online regularly and can help with writing stories, taking photographs, and making images. They can even do updates or help in other ways with website, email, and social media tasks.
Ask them. Talk to them about your goals and objectives for the website and other online activities.
See who has talents or expertise in those areas who can commit to doing one or two activities a month. With everything else you have on your plate, trying to add additional tasks means that things get dropped, delayed, or don't happen at all.
There are too many nonprofit websites in the "digital graveyard" with outdated content, old images, and no-longer-relevant information. By making some simple asks, you can increase your organization's capacity to maintain your online presence. And this approach ensures that you make the most of what the Internet can bring to you.
What is one thing you can do to increase your capacity to tell stories? Gather and manage images? Create calls to action, then set and measure objectives? Take a step today and you'll be on the road to a happy, healthy website that will serve your nonprofit well and help you meet your mission.
John Kenyon is a leading authority on nonprofit technology and communications. He is an educator and consultant who's worked exclusively with nonprofits for over 25 years providing advice, teaching seminars, and writing articles. John is an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco and Sonoma State University. He has been a featured speaker across the United States, England, Australia, and online.
This blog post was originally published on John Kenyon's blog.
Image 1: TechSoup
Other images: flickr: prawnpie, GustavodaCunhaPimenta,Tim Bueneman; saysc.org; ccisco.org
Outstanding article. I've never thought about suggestions such as linking stories to actions, measuring responses to specific stories, or collecting a library of images, While we all know that "fresh" is good, these suggestions can keep a website fresh rather than dead.
Great Piece! Simple and Direct. People Against Cancer finds people the best cancer treatment. We have a very tired and unused site at PeopleAgainstCancer.org which could certainly use your help. Info@PeopleAgainstCancer.com
Helpful article but I don't understand why you would chose to use a photo of animal cruelty? Very disturbing.
great job!!! Will put these items to use at Anchorage re:MADE
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