Updated: Aug 25, 2022
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There’s an old saying, “Good judgment comes from experience, and most of that comes from bad judgment.”
I’ve been involved in creating more than my share of websites. I’ve realized that most of the lessons I’ve learned about what works came from doing things that didn’t work and having to fix them later. Last week I posted a blog with six ways to make your nonprofit website shine. It got enough attention that I wanted to add five more tips.
1. Faces As a TV journalist, I learned that people are drawn to faces. Since then, I have seen study after study that confirms it. There’s a great example. During the depression, photographer Dorothea Lange pulled off a California highway and took just five pictures of a migrant worker and her children. Here are two of those pictures.
The picture on the left is powerful. It shows a family on the brink of starvation. But the picture on the right, titled Migrant Mother, captured the human impact of the depression and is one of the most memorable pictures ever taken. Why? Because faces grab our attention and hold emotional impact.
When you design your website, look for ways to include faces, especially hopeful faces. Faces pull people into your nonprofit's story and set the tone for their experience on your site.
2. Repeat after me: We are responsible for our nonprofit website’s security. You take donors' money. You take their personal information. You have a legal and ethical obligation to protect their data. More than that, nonprofits are built on trust. Don't cut corners on security.
3. Lorum Ipsum is not your mission statement. Website developers use strings of nonsensical Latin, called Lorum Ipsum, as a placeholder when they want to design a site and the content isn’t written yet. Or they may write something like “need content here.” Unfortunately, when a project is behind schedule and nonprofits need to go live with the website early, they often forget to clean up those placeholders.
People will also put up dummy pages marked, “Under Construction.” Don’t. Just don’t. Unless you want people to wonder what else you don’t follow through on.
Then people make it worse by leaving placeholders on their site for long periods of time. For example, one small nonprofit in Houston has this statement on their website: “Staff information will be added soon.” The problem is they don’t have a staff. They are an all-volunteer nonprofit. The message they send is, "we don't have a plan to grow."
This all has a simple solution. When you develop a website, you can hide pages or even blocks of content. The world doesn’t have to see anything that you aren’t ready to show.
4. Have website metrics, but don't look at them. You need ways to track traffic on your site. Make sure you have set up Google Analytics, your webhost metrics, your online donation service, your email service tracking, and other tools properly. You do want to know how people interact with your site when you go to redesign it. Sometimes metrics will tell you that something is broken. For example, if several people visit your donation page without making a gift, something is wrong.
But for goodness' sake, don’t obsess over them, especially if you’re a small nonprofit. Trying to keep up with metrics in real time just distracts you from the big picture. And unless you have a lot of visitors every month, metrics won't produce enough data to be statistically meaningful.
Look at them once a month. Instead of fixating on analytics, spend that time reading up on website best practices and doing the best job possible telling your story.
5. Did your board and staff cure cancer? If not, keep their bios short. This topic can be a diplomatic minefield for a nonprofit, but we tend to put way too much information into bios, especially for board members. Donors often look to see who's on your board and what they do, but they really don't spend a lot of time reading their histories. A link to their LinkedIn page works fine.
Two other points on bios: put one person in charge of writing the content so they are consistent and remember that adverbs in biographies are very, very, very unnecessary.