Launch Party! National Alliance for Grieving Children

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Website 911: An Organization Specializing in Grief Gets a Massive Makeover

National Alliance for Grieving Children (NAGC) is one of the nation’s largest associations for organizations specializing in grief. The website is an important channel for professionals, as well as parents and caregivers, to find local resources for addressing loss. NAGC asked Talance, Inc. (http://talance.com), a Boston-area Web development and design firm that specializes in user-friendly websites for non-profits, to develop a new website that would express a delicate balance between hope and loss, while making it easier for professionals and caregivers to discover a wealth of information. It also had to be a platform that would be an online community for members and also be search engine optimized to expand to more members and clients.

Objectives

Talance’s main objectives were:

  • Develop a professional-looking website with as many self-serve functions as possible
  • Create an engaging and friendly design that remained sensitive to the subject while still expressing hope and healing
  • Make it easy for members to sign up for events and access restricted content
  • Show a growing collection of resources for professionals and caregivers
  • Provide a way to easily add content to the website
  • Optimize the website for search engines

We developed a site that combines a friendly and professional design that always looks evolving and intuitive. The new website looks professional and warm. It incorporates special features that made the website look active while only a small team was in charge of updates. In preparation for an upcoming feature on Sesame Street, it was also important to have a map of available centers and have a robust structure in case the site experienced a surge of traffic.

Check out the whole project profile and learn more about our work.

Basic Bones of an Effective Online Course

Any veteran teacher will tell you that planning is the key to a successful course. Not all e-learning courses are taught by veteran teachers, however. Even if you don’t have years in the classroom, you can still follow some basic guidelines to develop a course that helps your learners get what they need. Here are five essential elements that benefit most online courses.

Technical Backgrounder

Some of your learners may be pros at navigating an online environment, but many won’t be. Even if they’re addicted to their iPad, they still may need help understanding your online learning environment. We build and host courses in ATutor, which is extremely intuitive, but we still provide a set of instructions that explains how everything works. Do this for any of your online courses, and make sure you cover any other kinds of technical requirements, such as a need for third-party software like Adobe Acrobat.

Syllabus or Overview

Set expectations early, and everyone will be more satisfied with the outcome. Tell your learners what you’ll be covering in the course, broken down by chapter or module. Include objectives and lend a preview into upcoming assignments or what you’re expecting from participants.

Chapters

This is the filling in your online learning sandwich. Be organized when you structure what your learners are to be learning. Some people call these modules.

Course Wrap-Up

When the course is over, summarize the key information covered. I think it’s effective to add a few bullet points that tell learners what steps they can take next to put what they learned into effect.

Final Survey

Always ask for feedback. What your learners say about the course will prove invaluable when you offer your course the next time. Also ask your instructors to provide an evaluation. This will help you make educated revisions from a different viewpoint.

5 Ways Your Website Can Make a Great First Impression

First impressions count for everything when it comes to websites. In real life, you might have second crack at forming someone’s view of you: making a joke or warmly shaking someone’s hand. But online, when the average viewer’s attention is being pulled in a million different directions, you have to hit them exactly right to make sure they keep coming back.

Working with clients over the years, we’ve uncovered five simple tips that will help you present a great first impression so you can convert a website visitor into a fan.

1. Make your pages consistent.

Few things are as confusing as when each page looks different than the page that came before it. Web users need consistency when it comes to websites. This means when they click through the items in your menu, they always thing they’re on your site. If your structure is sloppy and inconsistent, you look sloppy and inconsistent.

2. Ensure quick load times.

If you think the people in the line at the DMV are impatient, multiply that by a factor of a bajillion to approximate their impatience with website loading pages. If your site doesn’t open in a reasonable amount of time, your visitors are gone, baby.

3. Clean up your logo.

Your logo is the flag of your website. It communicates important information about you at a glance. If that information has anything to do with tired clipart or design ideas borrowed from anybody else, it can have a negative effect on your visitors.

4. Appropriate colors.

Colors can communicate a mood to someone before they even read a word. The colors of your website should be attractive and also appropriate. An IBM blue probably isn’t the right color for a preschool website, and electric pink isn’t the right shade for a funeral home.

5. Everything works.

If a link is broken, if your margins are askew, if your images don’t load – these are all big mistakes that reflect badly on you as an organization. Taste is subjective, but operability isn’t.

Non-profit Wisdom from Wikipedia

Wikipedia logo

Wikipedia is ranked the 6th most popular in the world (fifth most popular in the US), so it might come as a surprise that it has only a staff of 10, and the rest of it’s enormous success is built on volunteers. Wikipedia is a non-profit. (Cash-strapped non-profits: think about that next time you’re wondering how you’ll get everything done on your current budget.)

Of those 10 employees, almost all of them are focused on keeping the website up and running. They manage the site, handle design, manage servers, babysit the network – generally make sure that the information goes where it needs to. The volunteers, on the other hand, feed the site, make sure the copy is correct, handle bite-sized tasks, which in the aggregate, are enough to make Wikipedia one of the biggest sites on the planet.

The important lesson here is not just that you can accomplish great things with volunteers, but that they need to be applied to the correct task. If something is as integral to your organization as your website, pay for it. You’ll free up volunteers for other tasks that meet their individual skills without weighing them down with such a complicated task as a website, but you’ll never be emotionally beholden to someone who’s donating their sweat (and possibly tears) to your site.

The Good, The Bad, The Logo (April 2010 Newsletter)

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

Logos, you might think, are easy to find these days. There are a million contest websites, services that sell logos for the cost of dinner and plenty of well-intentioned relatives that like to monkey around with graphics programs.

That makes bad logos easy to find. Good logos are completely different. They follow a few simple but important guidelines:

  • They’re unique. This means that good logos are completely original and contain no clipart. Clipart looks cheesy, and it can’t always legally be used in a logo. Logos also shouldn’t copy the latest trend.
  • They fit. In other words, they should reflect your organization and effectively communicate your message. They should reinforce who you are.
  • They’re simple. When you shrink a logo, it should still look like a logo. It shouldn’t look like a complicated blob that makes no sense. (I often think about the way state seals look when they’re reduced to letterhead size: usually like fuzzy circles.)
  • They have a strong concept. They can be abstract, but they should still mean something. There too many nonprofit logos that are an inexplicable squiggly line. What does a squiggly line mean?
  • They can be scaled up. If you want to print your logo on a poster, you should be able to. It should be smooth with no jagged edges. The secret here is a vector graphic, which scales up as well as it scales down.
  • They’re effective without color. Think about your logo as it goes through a fax machine, or what it looks like if you have a black and white printer. None of it should disappear.

You’re better off using a consistent font to represent your organization than a bad logo. Make the right choice in logos, and you should have an image that supports your organization for years to come.

Engaging Volunteers in Your Marketing Efforts: An Important Strategy

By Jill Friedman Fixler and Beth Steinhorn, JFFixler & Associates

JFFixler & Associates

This is a guest post from two of our favorite clients: Jill Friedman Fixler and Beth Steinhorn of JFFixler & Associates. Jill is the President and Founder and Beth, a Senior Strategist, coordinates the marketing at this consulting firm that specializes in transforming organizations through innovative volunteer strategies. The firm works with some of the biggest names in the sector, including Canadian Cancer Society, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Hostelling International – USA, California State Libraries, and many more. Since April is National Volunteer Month, and these two are the go-to experts on the subject, we asked them to write about how to engage volunteers in your marketing efforts.

In a time when economic reports continue to bring challenging news to nonprofits, it’s rare to read about a resource that’s growing – but volunteers are a growing resource that can help your organization fulfill its strategic priorities. You can harness the abundant skills and interests of your volunteers and apply them towards your organization’s priorities, including marketing and communications.

Here are a few examples of how volunteers, cultivated strategically, can help your organization fulfill its marketing objectives:

Developing an Effective Marketing Plan

Engage marketing professionals as pro bono consultants to advise your marketing team on effective tactics. They can consult on the development of a realistic marketing plan, share trends to inform how you prioritize your efforts, and leverage their existing relationships with local media to get coverage of your organization. Many corporations are seeking ways to shift their philanthropic efforts from cash to in-kind, pro bono contributions. Contact local companies to see if they will “loan” their marketing professionals to your organization and connect with local volunteer centers and online volunteer matching organizations, such as VolunteerMatch.org.

Keeping your Website Dynamic and Updated

Keeping your website dynamic and up-to-date is a challenge for many organizations – but it is critical to maintaining a meaningful dialogue with your constituents. Who amongst your existing volunteer corps is proficient in online technologies? Who is a good writer? They can be tapped to partner with staff to enhance your web presence. A technologically savvy volunteer can become your “Calendar Guru,” keeping your online calendar updated and posting new, relevant events on your calendar as well as other community calendars. Volunteers who are good writers can write guest blogs, sharing their stories and interviewing others to diversify the “face” of your organization, while also sharing important news with your followers. Don’t have a Twitter account yet for your nonprofit? Consider cultivating a “Twitter Tutor” to help staff set up the account, research and select the organizations and individuals to follow, and help staff and other volunteers determine how and when to tweet and post links.

Promoting Your Programs and Other Volunteer Opportunities

It’s easy to get caught up in technology as the marketing world continues to change at lightning speed. However, it’s important to remember that technology is most effective when it is used as a tool to extend the ever-powerful “word of mouth.” Whether marketing programs, cultivating new donors, or engaging volunteers, word of mouth reigns supreme. The vast majority of your volunteers are online. How can they use their profound networks to share the work of your organization and engage their friends (real or virtual!) with you? Provide your volunteers with carefully crafted messages about upcoming programs for them to easily post on their Facebook status; ensure they list their volunteer work with a link to your website on their LinkedIn profiles; and ask that they forward your volunteer opportunities to friends and colleagues who may have the skills you are seeking in new volunteers.

Engaging volunteers to enhance your marketing efforts is a powerful strategy. Developing project-specific opportunities for people to share their experience as marketing directors, PR specialists, writers, or graphic designers will attract new volunteers to the organization while also helping you fulfill your strategic objectives. Meanwhile, engaging your existing volunteers in your marketing efforts is also critical. They know your organization and can tell your story in ways that staff can’t. Having them share why they feel connected to your mission and how your organization helps make the world a better place is compelling and powerful and will strengthen your presence now and in the future.

For additional ideas about how volunteers can help with your website, see Talance’s earlier posting, 21 Ways Volunteers Can Help with Your Website.

About the Authors

Jill Friedman Fixler is a thought leader on building organizational capacity through re-inventing, re-engineering, and re-vitalizing volunteer engagement. As Founder and President of JFFixler & Associates, Jill combines her skills as a consultant, trainer, facilitator, public speaker, and coach to share new volunteer engagement strategies with organizations throughout North America.

Beth Steinhorn is a Senior Strategist with JFFixler & Associates and has over two decades of experience in nonprofit organizations, including museums, education agencies, and faith-based organizations.