8 Non-Profit Website Tools That Really Work

It’s true that your website should be a reflection of your organization’s goals and audience, but there are a few proven tools that we suggest again and again because they simply work. They make a more interactive website. They drive more support. They deliver information most efficiently.

I happen to be right, but you don’t have to take my word for it. I ran a check against some of best top non-profit websites out there – the ones that were official nominees for the 14th annual Webby awards – to see what tools they had on their homepages.

Here are the top eight and why they work so well. Keep reading and you’ll see the breakdown for Teenage Cancer Trust, ASPCA, One, SocialVibe and The Nature Conservancy.

Search

There’s only so much information you can cram onto your homepage. Search provides a way for website users to tap into your reservoir of information.

Donate button

You’ve got to earn money, and people want to give it. Don’t stand in their way.

Newsletter

Establish a regular newsletter and then encourage people to sign up. This way you can remind them that you exist and that what you do matters.

Slide show

Slide shows are an efficient way to display evocative, image-based content in a confined space.

Blog

Blogs not only keep your constituency informed of what you’re doing, but they also help fill your website with content. That gives search engines more to latch onto, and therefore drive more people to your website.

Social media plug-in

Whether you have an initiative on Facebook or Twitter or some other social networking platform, bring it into your website. It serves as a cross-promotional element and gives people other ways to interact with you.

Featured stories

Websites can go stale quickly, but a list of featured stories or news items can keep it fresh.

Here are the tools those top five non-profits are using on their websites. Look familiar?

Teenage Cancer Trust

  • Search
  • Donate button
  • Slide show
  • Latest news
  • Newsletter
  • Directory/support network

ASPCA

  • Search
  • Join now button
  • Donate button
  • Newsletter
  • Highlighted stories
  • Online shop
  • Social media accounts

One

  • Join now button
  • Search
  • Slide show
  • Newsletter
  • Blog
  • Social media accounts

SocialVibe

  • Slide show
  • Newsletter
  • Facebook link
  • Twitter feed
  • Blog

The Nature Conservancy

  • Search
  • Newsletter
  • Slide show
  • Interactive map
  • Social share
  • Social media accounts

10 Commandments of Writing for the Web

  1. Thou shalt break up long pieces of text with bullets, for it is easier to scan that way.
  2. Thou shalt use short sentences, even if it feels thou art using more periods than commas. Punchy maketh for better reading.
  3. Thou shalt bow down and worship thine spell checker.
  4. Honor the inverted pyramid style of writing. It hath helped journalists for decades for good reason.
  5. Useth not more than one idea per paragraph. Readers never readeth carefully enough to catch more than one.
  6. You shalt not make wrongful use of verbs. Choose active verb construction rather than passive.
  7. Thou shalt cut everything you write in half. Shorter articles art better.
  8. Thou shalt use highlights, such as bolds and hyperlinks, to call attention to important words.
  9. Thou shalt not be creative with sub-headings and instead use clear ones. They aren’t the place for cuteness.
  10. Useth lists and numbers to organize ideas into an easy-to-read format (cf. 10 Commandments).

Online Course or Webinar?

You may have piles of experience presenting to live groups but are fuzzy on how to make the transition online. Particularly confusing is the difference between an online course and a webinar. While both formats let you present information to people from afar, they’re not the same, nor are they mutually exclusive.

If you’re considering opening up your training to include an online element, this matrix might help you find the best tool for the job.

Ask yourself …
Webinar
Online Course
Is it a short, one-off training best suited for an hour or less presentation?
X
Do you need to track attendees, for instance if they’re employees required to attend sexual harassment or compliance training?
X
Would attendees benefit from interactive exercises?
X
Should attendees be able to submit assignments?
X
Do you need to know who attended?
X
X
Do you need to know what material attendees looked at?
X
Would you rather not have a staff member be in attendance?
X
Do you need participants to see each other?
X
Do other participants need to see you in real time?
X
Are you converting a workbook or binder?
X
Are you looking to do a presentation for free?
X
 
Do you need professoinal help gearing your material for an online audience? 
X
Would you like to use discussion groups, wikis or allow users to use a device? 
X

How To Design by Committee (And Live To Talk About It)

If you’ve never seen the words “how to” followed by “design by committee” without words like “throw yourself out a window because you were involved in this horror show known as” in between, you may be shocked to read on. You may be one of those people who’s been trapped on a committee and all its egomaniacs, petty arguments and grudging concessions and know what a mess committees can make of things like web projects. Wikipedia puts it this way:

“The defining characteristics of ‘design by committee’ are needless complexity, internal inconsistency, logical flaws, banality, and the lack of a unifying vision.”

That pretty much sums it up.

But as much as people hate to have web projects designed or decided by committee, it still happens. All the time. Like at almost every company we work with. So, as much as it pains me to write this article, I’ll do it anyway knowing that if a committee is going to be involved in a web project, it should at least be run the best way possible.

Don’t design by committee

I know what I just said, but if you can find a way of disbanding the committee, do it. Have one capable, knowledgeable person in charge, and other parties involved weigh in at appropriate times. Note I said “weigh in” and “appropriate.” Not make the final call, unless those parties are uniquely qualified to do so.

I once worked on a website project for teens. The COO – in other words, the 50-something-year-old who was in charge of writing contracts and making sure the organization was following its overall strategic objective – decided that keys were a better teen image than whatever shape the designer came up with. I suppose the reasoning was something like most people get a driver’s license when they’re teens. That means they can drive cars. You start cars with keys. So the final design had keys all over it, which looked weird and spoke to no one.

Opinions are valuable, but they’re just opinions. Let the experts make the final call.

If there’s no escape, organize responsibilities

If a committee is unavoidable, assign separate responsibilities rather than giving everyone a share in every single responsibility. The trouble is taste is inherently subjective. Some will agree, but many will have different opinions. Giving everyone a chance to weigh in on everything goes exactly nowhere. Or worse, it leads to compromise. (“I hate the blue.” “Well, I hate the red.” “Then let’s just choose green. At least nobody hates it.”)

Yet, if you give each person on the team his or her own role and responsibility, they can feel as protective about the thing they’re in charge of as they like. Plus, it helps eliminate indecision and might actually move a project along faster.

Foster collaboration rather than compromise

Sometimes nixing the “I don’t like” and the “that’s ugly” kind of comments can make a difference. When reviewing a design or idea, ask instead, “What works and what doesn’t? Why?” Instead of making or responding to visceral comments, ask, “What can we tell the designer that will address our concerns?” Reasoning and thinking together can help you arrive at rational decisions that leave everyone feeling included.

Speak for your audience, not yourself

The bane of committees is the egomaniac who feels their preference must be reflected in the design. If you’re the rational person on the team, you may understandably feel irritated. Remember, preferences are natural. The person you are and the position you have will influence your taste. You can’t help it if your gut is telling you that you like something or that you don’t. It’s what guts do.

Understand this reaction, and make every effort to direct the conversation to the people who really matter: your audience members. Ideally, this will take the form of user testing. Even informal user testing, where you send the idea to a handful of your audience members and ask for their feedback.

If you can’t do a simple audience survey for some reason, at least put yourself in their shoes. If you were your main demographic, would you respond to these colors? If you were of a certain age and background, would you respond to that style of writing? Do the people who use your site use products whose designs are similar to what you’re considering?

Despite your best intentions, you may very well be pulled into a committee or form one. As long as you make sure you’re asking the right questions, and everyone can come to a sensible decision.

Your Turn: Choose a Birthday Treat

We thought next month we’d let you tell us what kind of deal you’d like to receive from Talance in celebration of our 10th year. Pick your favorite; we’ll offer the winner on August 1.


How To Tell If Your Website Is a Success

Simply launching a website is a success in itself, but how do you know if it’s hitting the mark with your audience? It’s a crucial question to ask so you know that the time, effort and money you put into your investment is paying off.

The key is to set goals before you even begin on your website project, and then break those goals into measures of success. For instance, your goal may be to transmit your message to more teens. Ways you can measure the success of that goal might be:

  • More registrations from people aged 13-18
  • More website referrals from teen-centric partners or resources
  • More repeat visits from people in the 13-18 age range.

It’s a good idea to quantify each of those bullets to match your audience share.

Just as each of your goals will be unique to you and your organization, so will the measurements of success. Generally speaking, though, here are some other ways you can tell if your website is doing what it should:

Increased traffic.

Sign up with an analytics account (I like Clicky and Google Analytics) and see if your traffic goes up.

Repeat visits.

Increased traffic isn’t the same as repeat traffic. You want people to find your site and keep coming back.

Increased sales or donation ratio.

Start counting how many visitors you need to make one sale or donation. If 1 in 100 visitors makes a purchase, your sales ratio is 1 percent. If you’re successful, this so-called conversion rate will increase.

28 Tips for Better Blogging

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Birthday Cake Cupcake by clevercupcakes, on Flickr

Writing is hard work! Make sure your blog posts aren’t tarnished by easily avoidable mistakes. Fret no longer with our free Perfect Blogging Checklist.

>> Get a copy of our Perfect Blogging Checklist now!

Tell your friends and colleagues to get a copy, and you can be reading better blogs too.

It’s all in celebration of Talance’s 10th anniversary. Check back every month of 2010 for a new birthday goodie.

[Image: Flickr user clevercupcakes]

Supercharge Your Web Writing

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

The best websites are organized websites. Plan your pages with a content analysis before you write one word. Here’s how to start:

Define your writing style.

You might appear in some of the most distinguished academic publications in the nation, but is that what your website visitors read? If they’re teens looking for activism opportunities, probably not. Think about the writing style (serious, academic, slangy, sensational) they’re most likely to respond to before you start to write.

Create categories.

Divide your existing or to-be-written pages into main categories. They may align with your menu options, but don’t think too much about that yet. Just group pages into the most important categories. Better to be general at this early stage than overly specific.

Make a content inventory.

Take a close look at the pages you already have and decide if they fit into your categories. If there are gaps, plan for new pages. Add all pages – existing or planned-for – into a spreadsheet. Add columns for categories, intended audience members, who’s responsible for writing each page, importance, topics, keywords or anything else you might notice.

This kind of analysis takes work, but it’s the best way to know that you’re saying what you need to say. It will also help you enlist the right authors and give you a clear understanding of the most vital – and outdated – information on your website.