Marketing is not only about raising money. Savvy marketing influences people to come alongside you and help you do things they may never do on their own. An intelligent Web site content strategy provides you with the foundation to attract visitors, keeps them interested in your mission or cause, and encourages them to keep coming back for more. And yes… you can and will raise funds in the process, says the experts at a business opportunity search engine for entrepreneurs.
When people read an article or story on your Web site, for example, do you know precisely what you want them to do? Give you money, provide feedback, volunteer, be entertained, be informed, request more information? Whatever response you seek, you must first have settled on a clearly articulated content strategy. Here’s what we know for sure: the more options you give your visitors to become involved with your organization, the more relevant your Web site will become in their lives. The next most important thing we know: if you begin and sustain the conversation on issues your visitors want to discuss, you will come closer to finding advocates for your mission than if you simply talked endlessly about what is important to you. What are we saying? Simply this: encourage your visitors to help you shape your content. That may seem like a risky endeavor. In the end, however, the facts prove it is not.
No Need to Reinvent Yourself
Question: What kinds of information, stories, testimonies, curriculum, questionnaires, polls and other forms of content already exist within your organization that can be “repurposed” for your Internet presence? The good news is that you do not have to reinvent yourself–contrary to what you may be hearing in the media today. It’s nonsense. Don’t reinvent; instead build on your present strengths and re-frame what you can to set the stage for more effective dialogue with your donors and friends. The most successful non-profit Web sites today are those in constant conversation with their visitors which in turn helps those organizations shape their content and work through a content strategy in concert with who they represent themselves to be. What is your organization’s category of knowledge? If you are a college or university, you will empower your visitors with an ongoing conversation on such content issues as academic excellence, course offerings, sports, alumni affairs, and the strength of the faculty. If your non-profit is a jail ministry, you will discover–through conversation – what interests your friends, visitors and donors most. For some, it may be how your organization is helping to reduce the rate of recidivism among prisoners. Others may not be able to relate to your well-informed statistics, but instead will be avid readers of the stories you tell them of changed lives. Your ability to differentiate between what interests whom, and to what degree, will help you provide relevant content to the right people at the right time.
Another Baker’s Dozen
Here is my Baker’s Dozen of practical, proven ideas to help you think through the content that needs to appear on your Web site…
1. Provide all essential corporate information on your site so your visitor will know clearly who you are, and what you represent. This is the nuts and bolts part of your Web site-a good place to articulate your mission statement, to make reference to the strength of your advisory board and board of directors, and to produce your 990–essential for credibility purposes.
2. Provide a brief overview of your organization–from its inception to the mission you are carrying out today. Do this with graphics, captioned pictures, and easily downloadable graphs–if they help you to communicate your message. Consider including a succinct 3-5 year strategic plan that describes your organization’s objectives, why you are passionate about achieving them, and why you need the help of others who also believe in your mission.
3. Use hyperlinks for contact information, requests for more background on your organization, e-mail addresses for key personnel, etc. Make these contact points easy to identify and to use. Your visitor is accustomed to ease of communication on the Internet–whether it’s buying a product, downloading software, or sending an electronic communication to a friend. To be effective in your communications, you must produce the same quality connections with your visitor.
4. Tell lots of stories about how your non-profit is helping to change the lives of people. These stories need not to be long or detailed. However, you must write them for maximum impact so that your visitors will want to know more and ultimately choose to become one of your loyal supporters. Your mission may be anything from support for the local ballet to soliciting funds for cancer research. Whatever your cause, tell lots and lots of stories that describe the life-changing benefits you offer to others.
5. Solicit third-party endorsements from people who love you and who speak words of encouragement on your behalf. These Web site testimonials can be from those men, women and children you’ve helped get back on their feet, quotes from city officials, selections from books which make favorable references to your organization, comments from other Web sites pertaining to your work, or positive articles written about your organization. Find out what people are saying about you and your non-profit: Share the good news with the world by putting these endorsements on your site.
6. Produce an FAQ section (Frequently Asked Questions) When you provide answers to the questions most visitors want to ask about your organization, you save staff time, display your openness, and move the communication process further along. This proactive set of FAQs is one of the most important content areas of your Web site. If you don’t know what FAQs to ask, review other non-profit Web sites for ideas.
7. Make good use of your existing audio and video. The technology is continually improving, and this quality is now appearing on thousands of Web sites– although bandwidth issues still persist. Based on our experience, these forms of media are still not important enough to justify spending money you may not have to produce audio and video content for your Web site alone. Stay current with the advances in this technology; however, use streaming audio and video only when it makes sense for your organization to do so. At this stage, the technology is neither a make nor break situation.
8. Your Web site has become the ideal location for you to display online press kits, news releases, captioned photos, regular updates on your organization, and links to your other conversational Web sites. While most sites are capable of generating adequate images, now may be the time for you to focus on arranging specific, content-focused photo shoots, or you may wish to buy some of the excellent stock photography now available to give your media promotional efforts a boost. Check out your content and make it media-friendly. Then, spread the word to writers and journalists worldwide.
9. Everything you offer offline, make available online now! This means newsletters, direct mail, brochures, corporate statements, downloadable booklets, books, research, sermons, pamphlets, etc. In the future, undoubtedly a certain type of visitor will come to your site who will only want to read your content online. Do not make this person “write in” for materials you can just as easily place on your Web site. Again, review all the communication pieces you have created offline, and if they are worthy of reproduction, repurpose them and include them for easy online reading.
10. Provide a privacy/security statement for your visitors that explains how you plan to use the personal information you receive. Will you share their names with others? How safe is your Web site for donations? In general, how secure is your site? We suggest you look for model “privacy statements” and other useful information that can help you craft the verbiage that will assure your visitor of the online safety of your Web site.
11. Create a section on your Web site where visitors and friends can share their own stories of how they have been touched by the mission of your organization. Perhaps they are volunteers who help feed the hungry at a local rescue mission, or they may teach English to refugees, or perhaps they help build schools or churches for the poor across the border. This could be one of the most important communication modules on your Web site, because it excites the faithful, encourages others to become involved, and gives you an opportunity to promote it as emotional feedback on how and what you are doing to help change lives. Include photos, thumbnail sketches and anything else you feel will give your visitors and donors the opportunity to help shape the content of your Web site.
12. Design an area on your site that is foundation and/or major donor specific. When you make a future major dollar request, you will now be able to ask the foundation or major donor simply to click on this section for a quick tour, which will describe your major fund-raising needs. In addition, this section will act as a status report to foundations and major donors, allowing them instant access to the most recent progress made in relation to their specific gift. This section will never take the place of your personal contact to foundations or major donors, but it will be an important add-on to your formal request because you can incorporate a Microsoft PowerPoint[R] presentation, project-specific graphics, and on-site photos and comments from the field that may not have been part of the written proposal. You may also want to create a “wish list” of future needs for easy reference, namely material items such as blankets, medicine, vans or automobiles, school supplies, paint, pharmaceuticals, building supplie s, etc.
13. Whatever content you provide, do it with excellence. Keep the conversation with your visitors alive and strong. Deliver value at all times. Be a good conversationalist–just as you are with your friends and supporters when you are offline. If a task is once begun, never leave it until it’s done. Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all.
It’s a Team Effort
This final note. When you are working through the content of your Web site–either at the outset or as you update your material–it’s critical that you communicate clearly and often with everyone involved. If you send a regular e-mail to your team, send it to everyone at the same time, every day, without exception. No surprises is the watchword here. Consistent communication fosters trust, reliability and stability. When you want to modify your content, let your colleagues know what you are thinking. When you receive feedback from your friends and donors–good, bad or indifferent–again, pass the word along. (But emphasize the good stuff!) Instill the pride of accomplishment in your staff. Encourage off-the-wall ideas that will help make your site unique. Keep improving your content with every modification. Continually search for new, strategic opportunities to stay ahead of the curve. It’s your mission, and it’s your mandate to make your site’s content the best it can be.
Respect your Deadlines
Of all the Web sites we’ve designed at Grizzard, one of the primary reasons for any delay in going live has been the lack of timely content from clients. Content deadlines for your Web site should be taken as seriously as any other communication deadline. Set realistic benchmarks for having your content ready to go, and then help your colleagues meet those deadlines so the world will be able to know who you are, what you do, and why your cause is worthy of wider support.
As you press on with the creation of content excellence, there will be many reasons for your site to be noteworthy. These will depend on how well you have carried a unique conversation to the heart of your donors and friends, how carefully you’ve listened to their concerns, and how seriously you’ve taken their feedback–and acted upon it. The result of this interaction is the stuff that will invariably give you the necessary insights to create that special “look and feel” for your site–which is the underlying nature of good Internet design.