Six Really Good Ideas from Networked Non-Profits

It helps to see what other organizations are doing right to guide your own Web strategy. Here are six stand-out examples from non-profits that have a presence with websites, Twitter and Facebook.

Websites

10ThousandDoors.org is a gutsy move by the United Methodist Church to be a truly interactive experience. The whole site is innovative, but the Talk page is a new breed of discussion boards that has really opened up sharing and communication.

10ThousandDoors.org

Take the Walk has a great counter on its homepage. They tally the number of miles supporters have walked to support fighting AIDS in Africa. The placement is perfect: front and center. This ensures the site is geared toward pulling in new supporters.

Take the Walk

Twitter

Ashoka started promoting their e-book through Twitter and quickly built up a following. This multi-tasking post is smart, because they thank their followers, help everyone feel included and continue the promotion all in one Tweet.

Ashoka

The town of Richmond, VA, had a double-header of a good idea. First, they started a city wiki (others here), and then they set up an automatic Twitter feed that publishes any updates to the wiki. It gives you a real-time, accessible view of any changes that happen at the town level.

Richmond, VA

Facebook

Peta launched a Facebook Cause to raise funds and donations to protect animals. They’ve raised nearly $60,000 and have enabled others to recruit more supporters and raise funds on their behalf.

PETA

Synagogue 3000 claimed a great web address so they’d be easy to find on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/synagogue3000) rather than the ugly and hard to remember stream of numbers that Facebook adds to the end of your URL when it assigns one to you. Click here to set yours.

Poll: Is Your Synagogue Growing?

I was recently researching an article about declining congregation numbers at synagogues, but most of the information I found was anecdotal. Those anecdotal stories are powerful, though. Someone I talked to from a synagogue in Florida has a membership that went from 200 to 50.

With that in mind, how is your synagogue faring? Is it growing or shrinking? If it’s shrinking, are you doing anything with technology to boost your membership numbers?

Share your answer below, and then tell your friends. I’ll share results here in the near future.

Reader Question: How Do I Add a Facebook Page to My Page’s Favorites?

[Have a question you’d like answered? Use the comments form at the bottom of this page to submit it. We’ll review your question before posting (don’t be shy about asking!) and get back to you with a response.]

One feature of a Facebook Page for organizations is a Favorites Pages block. This lets you bookmark other Pages that you like or somehow related to yours. It’s a great tool for cross-promoting and partnerships.

Facebook Favorites

Facebook is long on features but short on usability, so figuring out how to use this feature isn’t perfectly clear. But here’s how to do it:

  1. Go to the Facebook Page that you want to add to your Favorites.
  2. Look at the logo on the upper-left-hand side of the page, and directly below it locate the link that says “Add to My Page’s Favorites.”
  3. Click that, and it puts it in your Favorites box. Click it again to remove it from your Page’s Favorites.

Add to Favorites

If you administer more than one Page, you can choose which one to add it to.

Practice now by adding Talance’s Facebook Page to your Favorites.

Recipe for Disaster: Too Many Website Cooks

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[Photo credit: Spaghetti and Meatballs (explore) by jshj, on Flickr]

Inclusiveness is always nice to have in any project, Web-related or otherwise. Give everybody a voice, and everybody’s happy, right?

Wrong.

In fact, having too many voices feeding into your website can create chaos for your users. The problem is that everybody has their own ideas about what belongs on a website, and those ideas might compete with one another. Plus, there’s only so much room on a homepage. You can’t cram everything on.

Add to this the fact that some of those people jockeying for their ideas to appear on your website know absolutely nothing about creating a manageable experience for Web visitors, and you’ve got one snarled, political plate of website spaghetti.

If you’re at a non-profit, there’s a good chance a little light bulb is going on over your head right now. You’ve been there. Too many people trying to take control of the site. Sadly, this is a problem non-profits frequently have, since many organizations are managed by committee. That might (or might not) make sense for day-to-day operations, but it never works with websites.

Nip this problem in the bud. Take these steps to make sure your Web project starts off with a clear vision and a clean outcome.

Include everybody – at the start.

Our solution is to send out a “needs assessment” at the very beginning of a project. This survey, distributed to a whole bunch of people, gives everybody a chance to say what they think is important to have on the website and makes everyone feel included.

Form a small committee.

Hand those surveys over to the core website team to scan for insights, ideas and important issues. And, of course, to sort out the muck. But importantly, this body is small, and has only one head.

Appoint a strategist.

It’s helpful that the leader of that team be uniformly concerned with the experience your website visitors have, the marketing and business message of your organization and have some idea of the way technology works. If this isn’t possible, at least choose a person humble enough to take direction from a hired Web strategy consultant. That’s money well spent.

How To Write Really Helpful Web Development RFPs

Request for proposals rarely fill me with joy. More often than not they’re a source of confusion, business-speak and unfinished thoughts, which we have to sort through and make sense of so we can send a reasonable bid to an organization that wants a website.

But last week I received an RFP from a non-profit that may have performed a Vulcan mind-meld on Talance. It was as if they had seen our new-client questionnaire and had preemptively answered all the questions I have at this early stage of a project. It filled me with delight (because I’m sad that way), and I know that it will make the project run smoothly, no matter who they choose to build the site.

What made it so great? Here are a few stand-outs that you can incorporate in your next RFP to help your project move smoothly from inception to completion:

1.Think it through.

The clearest RFPs benefit from discussion and planning beforehand. Make sure you talk with your team to form clear ideas of what you want your website to be, and then communicate your wishes through the RFP.

2.Write clearly.

Some people think “RFP” and pull out their cryptic businessese thesaurus so they can load it with fancy words nobody really gets. Pretend you’re explaining what you want to an idiot. Trust us, we Web developers get more out of it that way.

3.Plan your objectives.

You cannot hope for a site that reaches your goals unless you know what they are before you begin. If you want to be the go-to guide for volunteering opportunities, write it down and make sure that every decision you make from that point forward feeds back into that goal.

4.Order your objectives.

Some objectives are must-haves, others are nice-to-haves. Rank yours.

5.Go window shopping.

Everyone has seen sites they love, whether they be your competition or a mega-commercial site like Amazon. Start keeping track of sites you like, and make notes on what you like about them.

6.Know your branding.

Unless they’re new, most organizations have gone through some kind of branding exercise in the past, where colors, logos and other standards were developed. If you’re not aware of what these standards are, start asking around. We just had to redesign a website whose colors and logo were completely wrong in an earlier version, because no one checked. Translation: expensive.

7.Name your widgets.

If you want any special functionality, like slideshows, animations, photo galleries – anything – write it down.

8.Technical needs.

If you’re bound to maintain your website in a particular format, you like a CMS like Drupal or you don’t have the staff bandwidth to do updates, cite these constraints. Also note if you need Web hosting.

9.Name your budget.

I know, I know. You don’t want to come right out and say how much you want to spend, but your Web developer really needs at least a ballpark. We receive calls from clients who have $400 to spend, and those who have $40,000 to spend. We can’t help everyone, but it saves everybody a lot of time if I can tell them up front whether we can or not.

10.Make a schedule.

Decide when you’ll accept RFP questions, submissions and make decisions. Also note any ideal launch dates.

11.Contact information.

Sounds elementary, but make sure your prospects know how to reach you if they have questions. We received a bizarre system-generated RFP a couple weeks ago that had no personal contact information and was so hard to read we couldn’t even consider responding.

Laying this groundwork is incredibly useful for Web development companies like ours, but your staff will also thank you if you take the time to plan. Bonus: your funders will love you for eliminating money-wasting mistakes early on.

Is Your Website Ready for IE8?

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[Photo credit: WinTrash by fabiux, on Flickr]

If ever there was a time to feel sorry for trash cans, now is it. I know we’ve been kicking them a fair amount at Talance HQ, and certainly our clients are. What’s unleashed this sudden aggression on the waste bins by our desks? Internet Explorer 8.

With existing websites, there’s always a lag between when a new Web browser comes out and when you can get all the kinks and wrinkles ironed out so your site displays accurately everywhere.

But there’s an added problem when new versions of browsers debut. They’re inevitably buggy and have all kinds of problems that are yet to be discovered. That takes time. Internet Explorer 8 has made so many changes with the way it renders webpages that it could take a very, very long time to iron out problems. Recognizing all the problems that people are having with IE8, Microsoft added the Compatibility View button, which (in theory) lets you switch back to IE7 if a website isn’t displaying correctly.

This is a good reason for Web users – like you – to put off downloading any new browser software until some of these problems have been discovered and fixed, but it’s still a problem when it comes to website building.

What’s the solution? Well, nothing really good. Largely, you’ll have to wait until problems in IE8 are fixed and ask your Web developers to start taking a look at your site to make sure it appears correctly in the new browser. Just be patient, take your time and look at it as a reason to refresh your website.

Your Homepage Isn’t the Only Way In

Most organizations will spend most of their time designing and maintaining their website’s homepage. And that’s fine. You don’t want to neglect what’s there – the majority of your website’s visitors will see this page before any other.

But thanks to the social media functionality that makes it easy to share individual pages, such as to an event you’re putting on or the bio of someone on your site, it’s increasingly likely that a visitor might use Delicious, Digg, StumbleUpon or Facebook to sneak in around the homepage.

Make sure you think of every page as a potential entry point for website visitors. This means that you may have to adapt internal pages so they make sense to a visitor. From every page, make sure a visitor

  • Can access your menus
  • Can easily contact you
  • Knows they’re on your site – make every page harmonious with every other one

As a test, choose any page at random, and see if you can flow through your site without thinking too hard. Did you know what to do next? If not, jot down what confused you, and make sure you fix it.