Worst. Requests. Ever.

We’re not naming names, but we hear a lot of crazy requests when it comes to building websites. The worst are those that utterly disregard what the poor visitors have to contend with when they look at the site. Read these quotes, and do exactly the opposite.

[This appeared in our December newsletter. Wanna subscribe?]

Top 10 Most Ridiculous Web Design Requests of 2010

  1. Can you please make that tab say [insert any 10 or more words here]?
  2. We need this website built yesterday.
  3. Can you create sub-sub-sub menus?
  4. Put everything on the homepage so no one has to search for anything.
  5. Half of our committee hates green, the other half hates blue, so just make it gray.
  6. I know we’re ready to launch, but the CEO doesn’t think the site is “user friendly.” He’d like you to rebuild it so it looks like this [insert here schematic created solely from the rectangle tool on PowerPoint].
  7. Can you make all the menu items open in a new window?
  8. Can you make us #1 on Google?
  9. Make the logo 200% bigger.
  10. Can you copy this other site? We want ours to look exactly the same.

Changing Medical Practices Through E-Learning

Overhauling the way Massachusetts’ medical practices deal with patients is no simple task. Not when you’re considering coordinating all of a patient’s health needs, including managing chronic conditions, handling visits to specialists, dealing with hospital admissions and reminding patients when they need check-ups and tests. Add to it archaic systems that involve stacks of paper medical records and rows of filing cabinets in doctors’ offices.

Many doctors deal with patients’ various medical issues by writing a referral and then maybe hearing about what happened at yearly check-up time.

The Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Health and Human Services hopes to fundamentally change the way medical practices work with the Patient-Centered Medical Home Initiative. The 3-year demonstration project is part online and part in-person. Participants, which include 46 primary care medical practices, receive live coaching from facilitators, help establishing and maintaining patient registries and extensive training through a learning collaborative, managed by e-learning technical provider Talance, Inc. (http://talance.com/elearning).

The program involves all types of doctors in every corner of the state, including large, urban community health centers and small, rural group practices. Even in a state as small as Massachusetts, where it’s possible to drive from one end to the other – the long way – in a few hours, it’s still a challenge to train a broad range of practices at the same time. That’s why it’s vital for the project to incorporate online learning as a way to help manage the project.

In many cases, e-learning is the only way to effectively push health care management shifts. It’s an industry that naturally drifts toward in-person connection, where doctors talk to people face-to-face in examination rooms. When it comes to reforming office administration on such a large scale, that model won’t work. It’s the reason that 37 percent of training hours involved electronic technology in 2009, according to Alexandria, Va.-based American Society for Training and Development.

E-learning may be key in conforming to the Obama administration’s Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH), which passed in 2009. Providers will have to adopt health information technology (HIT) starting in 2011, a requirement that includes more than $36 billion in incentive payments to reward providers whose electronic medical records (EMRS) meet the government’s test of “meaningful use”.

The end result is overall cost savings.

“At the heart of our effort to ensure access to care is a commitment to strengthening primary care and reforming how we pay for that care,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. JudyAnn Bigby. “This new initiative is one of the key building blocks in our strategic work to make all primary care practices in Massachusetts transformed into advanced patient-centered medical homes by 2015.”

The Patient-Centered Medical Home Initiative (PCMHI) was designed by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services in consultation with a multi-payer, multi-stakeholder council of consumer, physician, nurse practitioner, hospital, insurer, state agency and other interested stakeholder representatives. The Council is co-chaired by Secretary Bigby and Dr. John Fallon, Senior Vice President and Chief Physician Executive at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

10th Birthday Giveaway: Website User Survey

Too many website projects are conceived by and built for committees. Seldom do organizations think of asking their users what they’d like to see on a site. This month, we’re helping you out by giving away an Audience Website Survey Template. We’ve pulled a handful of useful questions from our own development process that you can use to poll your own audience to see what they think of your website. We guarantee you’ll find the results illuminating.

>> Get your copy now!

How Anthem Pets Boosted Fundraising with LinkedIn

CASE STUDY: When faced with the task of gathering donations for the pet rescue group Anthem Pets, this board member found an untapped font of helpful advice in LinkedIn Answers. Here’s how she uncovered it – plus some fabulous fundraising ideas.

By Corine Cuvelier, Board Member, Anthem Pets

[[{“type”:”media”,”view_mode”:”media_large”,”fid”:”633″,”attributes”:{“class”:”media-image size-full wp-image-1206″,”typeof”:”foaf:Image”,”style”:””,”width”:”200″,”height”:”174″,”title”:”puppy”,”alt”:”Get more donations with puppies”}}]]

Get more donations with puppies

I recently joined the board of directors for Anthem Pets, a non-profit rescue organization north of Phoenix. One of my new duties is to solicit donations for their fundraising event. Since I’m new to the area and don’t have many contacts, I decided to give social media a try.

The most successful tact was to pose the following question on LinkedIn Answers:

Doing fundraising for an animal rescue group. Any hints on how to approach local companies for donations in a down economy?

I’m on the board of a local animal rescue group and in charge of fundraising for our two main fundraising events, one of which is an auction. I’ve sent e-mail to several local businesses, and either haven’t heard back or have been rejected due to the economy. Any hints on how to approach businesses?

Within three days, I received 12 suggestions, mostly from strangers. Many of which were excellent. I’d like to share these posts; your non-profit may benefit from them as well.

Simply ask for smaller donations that they can afford…

Now this submission didn’t seem too applicable because I asked a huge liquor chain for a donation and they wouldn’t even give me a bottle of wine!

Go to their door with a puppy that needs a home and a T-Shirt. Seriously. People have a hard time saying no to an honest-to-god puppy.

I found this an excellent suggestion and I think I’ll borrow a puppy. After trading a couple of e-mails with this man, it turns out he is a former pet-store owner and has a lot of experience in the field. With LinkedIn you tap into some great experience.

Go to local businesses that would benefit from the advertising and the image boost of being involved with your organization. Be prepared to offer them something in exchange for their support (an inexpensive thank you plaque? a banner at the event? a glowing review?) and take them some statistics or other information that helps them justify giving to YOUR organization over other non-profit groups. For example, you might say that you have experienced an X% drop in funding in recent years and an X% increase in need since families cannot keep pets after foreclosure.

I think you have to go to people to “do business,” not just to walk away with something for your organization. How can you help them? How can they help you? Be flexible and get creative. If they give you $100 worth of products and you ping $1000 worth of business, they will be sure to support your next event.

Some businesses might not be able to afford to do much but they could allow you to advertise at their business for free (a poster?) or maybe they could offer services (printing of said posters) and some places might be willing to “loan” you one of their staff members for a few hours.

I also think that email is too impersonal and suggest that you call or go in person. I do a lot of fundraising for the PTA and many student organizations and this has worked in the past.

This suggestion came from a woman who is a student, but obviously has a lot of experience fundraising. Her creativeness spurs me to think of different ways to tap into my community.

I plan on putting some of these suggestions to use verbatim; however, just their creativity led me into some paradigm shifts in what I’ve asked for and received.

  • An historic painting from a now-closed downtown building.
  • An hour’s worth of space planning/design time placed into a sweet designer basket (this will also benefit the designer as free advertisement).
  • Tickets to the local Christmas pageant (free advertisement to an upcoming production in the community).

Have more ideas for how to network for fundraising ideas using social media? Leave a comment below.

About the Author

Corine Cuvelier lives in Arizona and is a volunteer and board member who has been active in many non-profits. Her professional life is in the medical industry. If you’d like to donate to Anthem Pets rescue group or adopt an animal, please post your request on the Anthem Pets Facebook page.

Non-Profit Websites, Meet the iPad

Poll: How Does Your Non-Profit Site Work on the iPad?

The most surprising thing about the iPad is how quickly and seamlessly it has nestled into the working and daily life of so many people. Gartner reported that Apple will sell 19.5 million units by the end of 2010 – way more, way faster than the iPhone.

Even if you’re not thinking about creating an iPad app for your non-profit (it’s not a bad idea, by the way), you minimally should be thinking about how your website looks on an iPad. A good chunk of your supporters may already be looking you up from their tablet, but according to the report from Gartner, the market is going to blossom with media tablets: 54.8 million units in 2011, up 181 percent from 2010. That means your constituency is likely to be moving to a handheld unit.

You should know minimally that if you’re using Flash, it’s not showing up at all on an iPad. But how about the rest of your site? How many of you have thought about how your site looks and performs on an iPad? Weigh in on our poll, and then check back in coming weeks as we report on our findings and give you tips on how to make your web project perfect on the most popular viewing devices.


Fall Web Cleanup

[This little gem is the e-mail newsletter our subscribers just received. Want a slice for yourself? Sign up now.]

After a summer of pollen and yard games, the house and yard is in much need of a fall clean-up. Fall clean-up is time to clear out the cobwebs and fix items that broke over the course of the season.

Web projects also collect clutter, whether it’s a website or online course. While you’re in a tidy mindset from keeping up your house, turn your attentions onto your website. Here are a few easy things you can do to tune up your web project for fall and not lose your mind.

1.Solicit comments.

Ask members of your organization and your constituency for ideas of what they think needs improvement. You might be surprised to hear what people from the outside think.

2.Put together a clean team.

Cleaning up is much easier if you do it with a task force to share the load. If you are an army of one, just make sure to pace yourself.

3.Dedicate 30 minutes a day.

It’s much less disruptive to pick away. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish if you do a little every day, rather than taking off two weeks for a major overhaul.

Need more tips on how to keep your web project ship shape? Look through our blog archives for hints on maintenance.

You’re Doing It All Wrong! How to Use Pictures on a Website

We see some common mistakes on our web travels at Talance. We see a lot of them that have to do with image formatting on websites and blogs. No doubt that a gripping image can compel a visitor to spend more time with you or even give you money. But you can ruin the best photo with bad habits.

Here’s what people do all wrong with pictures on websites, and how you can learn from their mistakes.

Infraction: No ALT tag

Not every web browser can see every picture. Obviously, blind people can’t see pictures, but other people have pictures turned off, and some browsers restrict certain kinds of images (hello, Gmail and Outlook). That’s what the ALT attribute is for. It’s meant to be attached to each picture so there’s a text equivalent in case the picture can’t be displayed. At least someone can read a description of what the picture should be.

How to fix it

This one is easy. Every time you add a picture to your site, fill in the ALT text box or “image description” field. Almost every web editor prompts you for this information. Here’s what it might look like:

[[{“type”:”media”,”view_mode”:”media_large”,”fid”:”632″,”attributes”:{“class”:”media-image size-full wp-image-1186″,”typeof”:”foaf:Image”,”style”:””,”width”:”490″,”height”:”414″,”title”:”Where to add the ALT tag”,”alt”:”Where to add the ALT tag”}}]]

Where to add the ALT tag

Infraction: Huge image, small space

Many people know how to take an enormous web photo and make it look small. You can set the image to shrink it down to fit in a reasonable sized box on the page. This technique can squish the picture into a weird shape and also slow down the loading of your page.

How to fix it

What’s better is to make the picture smaller to begin with. Pick one of the hundreds of image resizing programs out there – we use Photoshop in the office – and crop it down. It will load fast and look right.

Infraction: No padding

KoalasThe eye craves white space. When text is crammed up against a picture, there’s no white space, which makes the page look junky and makes it more difficult to read.

You can see I’ve added a picture here with no padding. See how the words are all mashed up against it? Makes it difficult to see the picture and read the text surrounding it.

How to fix it

KoalasIntroduce yourself to padding. Padding puts a margin around your pictures, which helps break up text and helps the eye move more fluidly down the page. The best way to add padding is to ask whoever is in charge of building your site to add it directly to the CSS file. But you can add it manually too.

In your image tool on your web editor, look for Image Properties. Sometimes this is in the advanced settings. Look for fields called Vertical Space and Horizontal Space, and enter 10. That will give your picture a nice gutter to help it stand out. See how the same picture as above looks that much nicer just because I added a little breathing room around it? It gives a more polished look to the whole site.

Never Fear Budget Busters Again

Even the very best laid plans can run into unforeseen problems. The causes can range anywhere from an indecisive decision-maker to a natural disaster that takes the office out of commission for a while. Whatever the reason, any online course, website or other online is subject to delays and changes. We at Talance do our best to estimate and build systems to prevent hold-ups, but no one can tell the future. Sometimes things just cost more.

If you’re smart and allow that things you can’t imagine might happen, you can help your deadlines and decision stay as close to budget as possible. (It also helps to spend your money on the most valuable features.) At the very least, follow these tips to make sure budget surprises don’t catch you unawares.

Pad your budget

First of all, pad your budget from the get-go. We provide our clients with a quote before a project begins, but we can’t imagine every change that could happen. We always advise our clients to set aside 15-25% of the total estimated cost to account for unforeseen events or upgrades.

Relax your schedule

You may never miss an appointment, but that doesn’t mean that everyone on your team is so careful with deadlines. Plus, holidays have a way of popping up and skewing schedules. Pad them out. Allow for more time than you thing something might take. We try to finish projects a month before the drop-dead date arrives.

Present a unified front

Be organized and unified with your decisions. If you’re faced with a decision on design or content, make sure everyone in your organization agrees before you tell your web company. Poll everyone you need to and sign off on that decision in advance. Every time you change your mind costs time, and time costs money.

Sock some away

Put away enough money for the end of a project. Starting on an online project is not where it ends. They have a life beyond launch. Budget for recurring fees, web hosting, maintenance or subscription plans. Look further out to the next six months to a year so you can afford upgrades to technology, content and design in the future.

Most of these points involve being realistic and organized. Open communication and firm decision can remove the fear factor from web projects and help your bottom line stay in the black.

Simple Tip for Attracting Attention

How many times have you been in a restaurant or bar with a TV in one corner that keeps snagging your eye? It’s a human response to follow movement, and video is a proven attention-getter.

If you want to call attention to something on your website, you can apply the same techniques through video. Thanks to services like YouTube and Vimeo, it’s pretty easy too.

Think of who your visitors are and create a simple video that appeals to them in just 30 seconds or a minute in length. See how traffic changes on your website before and after you add a video.

Keep experimenting until you find what works with your audience. Check out this video from ReadWriteWeb on NPR’s experiments with social media.

NPR’s experiments with social media from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

10 Trust-Building Tricks: What Non-Profits Can Learn from E-Commerce

Then why do so many non-profiteers forget these same requirements when it comes to their own websites? If sites like Amazon or Dell or eBay were run the way many nonprofit websites are, they’d be out of business as soon as you can say “customer loyalty.”

Double-standards don’t work with online visitors. Whether someone is looking to spend $10 on a Mother’s Day gift or give you $10 for your next fundraising effort, they’re still looking for a positive experience. They’re looking for the right kind of feedback and ease of use. They want what we all expect when it comes to a welcoming and comfortable online experience.

Here are e-commerce some ideas you can apply to your website – no matter if you’re selling products or simply trying to gain an online following:

1.Easy to find contact information

Shoppers like to know that they’re dealing with real people at a real company when they’re handing over a check or credit card information. They want to have a phone number in case something goes wrong with shipping. They want the assurance that someone is there to help if they need it. Lack of contact information – or hard-to-find contact information – can erode trust and make people less likely to have a transaction with you, whether you’re accepting dues, donations or sign-ups for your next event.

Non-profit fix

Make sure your contact information is on every page of the website in an easy-to-see spot. Some of the most common spots are at the top of the page in the header or on the bottom of the page in the footer. Also make sure you provide multiple ways for people to reach you, including your physical address, a phone number, an e-mail address and a contact form. The more you can give adds to the level of trust.

2.Prompt and friendly feedback

As soon a shopper clicks that Submit button and authorizes money or personal information to transfer to someone else, they like a little assurance. Asking for feedback as soon as a person has acted on something (they call this “conversion” in the biz), also allows an e-commerce company to learn from the experience. Successful sites give chances for feedback immediately.

Non-profit fix

Ask for feedback immediately upon accepting some kind of information from your visitor – as soon as they sign up for a newsletter or send you a donation. You might create a quick survey asking for feedback on their experience. Ask them how easy it was for them to find what they were looking for, if they have ideas for improvement or if anything stood out as particularly good or bad about the process.

3.Clear Navigation

Take a look at some of the most popular shopping sites, and study their navigation. Even Amazon, which sells just about anything you can imagine, has a fairly simple and pared down navigation. Successful e-commerce sites make it easy to find items with well-named categories. Each category is also populated with items – no orphan categories allowed.

Non-profit fix

Think about what you want your visitors to accomplish when they come to your site, and shape your navigation accordingly. Remembering that people read from left to right, put the most important item on the farthest left navigation item. Make sure you don’t repeat items within navigation, and make sure each menu item leads somewhere. No “coming soon” pages!

4.Effective search

If a shopper is looking for barbeque tongs, they’ll often just type “barbeque tongs” into a search box to find them. It can be much easier than navigating through menu systems, especially if those are complex menu systems.

Non-profit fix

Make sure your content management system has a built-in search engine that delivers the most helpful search results. Your visitors should be able to enter keywords and find any applicable content that matches those keywords. It’s even better if you can guide your visitors through categorized searches, if you have a website with heavy content.

5.Detailed product information

Shoppers like to know what they’re buying. They like detailed shopping information, including prices, sizes, specifications and pictures. The more information available makes people more comfortable with parting with their money or personal information.

Non-profit fix

Every time you ask for a transaction from your visitors – money or signing a petition or any kind of interaction – provide them with as much information as possible. If you’re collecting money for the next youth trip, show pictures of the last trip and give an itinerary. If you’re trying to save endangered tigers, provide numbers of wild tigers and details of how any funds will be spent.

6.Clean Checkout Process

The last thing e-commerce sites want to stand between a shopper and their purchase is a clumsy checkout process. They do everything they can to make it smooth and involving as few steps as possible. The more steps between deciding to pay and actually paying equals more opportunities for abandoned shopping carts.

Non-profit fix

Make it easy to accept donations or sign-up forms. Once someone chooses to give you money, let them review their order, enter their billing information and check any additional fees on the same page. It also helps is your shopping cart or submission form are completely integrated into your website – it pays not to use a third-party service for this. If you must include other pages, make sure they’re short and match your site exactly.

7.Dependable Customer Service

The best shopping sites take pride in their customer service. They make it easy for customers to find contact information (see above) and also get in touch if they need more involved help. They also make privacy policies, return policies, shipping rates and FAQs easy to find from every page. Well served customers are happy customers, but there’s also a practical use for these good practices. The more information they provide to shoppers up front, the fewer questions they have to answer.

Non-profit fix

Copy these same pricniples, and you’ll have a happy constituency. Have a special address or system you can use for support, and present a phone number for people who prefer not to use technology. Create an FAQ that addresses the most commonly asked questions that come in. If you’re collecting personal information, make it clear what you’ll do with that information in a privacy policy.

8.Multiple Payment Options

The best sites are open to accepting your money any way you care to give it: credit card, check or PayPal. They’re also open to people who have cards other than Visa or MasterCard, by accepting AmEx and Discover.

Non-profit fix

If you’re accepting money, provide as many payment options as possible to help the money flow in. You can subscribe to a payment service that allows all the major credit cards, and also provide the option of sending in electronic or paper checks. PayPal is useful, because that opens up the choices your donors have for paying.

9.Prevalent Store Policies

The best online stores make it clear what their return and shipping policies are, and lay out their other store rules. Many simply put it in an FAQ or page with links to more detailed pages.

Non-profit fix

If you have terms and conditions or privacy policies, make it easy to find. Spell out exactly what you do with private information. Tell your visitors how you might be interacting with them (newsletters, Facebook, etc.). Informed visitors are much more likely to be happy about making transactions with you.

10.History and Credibility

One of the reasons so many people feel safe about buying from Amazon is that they know so much about them. They know the company’s history, they know Jeff Bezos is a nice guy and how he built it. They also know that history includes years testimonials from happy customers. That’s what sets a fly-by-night company from one people feel comfortable doing business with.

Non-profit fix

Tell your story. If you’ve been around for awhile, talk about your beginnings. Even if you’re new, you probably have individuals with a positive history who work for you – tell their history. Also demonstrate the good work you’ve done in the past. Show how you’ve used funds and the positive impact your organization has made. Tell your visitors why it makes sense for them to trust you, and they will.