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Back to Basics: The New Web Site Essentials

Almost every organization today, from the small one-person nonprofit to the private-sector independent contractor, has a Web site. A Web presence is essential and has been for years. And just like anything that has been around for a while, every now and then things need to be revamped and reevaluated. With the advances in technology, specifically Web 2.0 functionality, nonprofits should revisit their Web sites and determine whether they are up to par with today's savvy, particular Web site visitor.

In order to embrace the advancing technologies, nonprofits should first evaluate their current Web sites to ensure that overall design and layout are acceptable by current standards. Here are some basic questions to ask when evaluating current Web site design and structure:

  1. Is it is easy to find the organization's contact information? Is the link on every page?
    Today's Web users can get frustrated when information is not easy to find or is buried under pages of content.

  2. How long are the pages? Do visitors need to scroll more than once to read the entire page?
    Web sites can hold a lot of information, and there is sometimes a tendency to cram too much information onto a single page. Adding links and creating multiple pages gives the visitor the opportunity to determine which level of detail he or she needs. It also enables the organization to highlight specific information more effectively and minimize the risk that important information will get lost.

  3. Is it easy to navigate?
    Navigation is one of the most important elements of effective Web site design. A Web site with proper navigation helps ensure that a visitor, regardless of the type of information he or she is seeking, can quickly deduce where it would be located based on the navigation bar. A good rule is to have navigation on the top of the Web page, on the side (typically the left side because we read left to right), and some links to basic organizational information on the bottom.

  4. How is the content organized?
    Most Web sites break content into blocks on the page to make it easier for the eye to scan information.

  5. Does the Web site support the organization's goals?
    For example, is the "donate now" button easy to find? Is it on every page?
These basics are still important and will not change drastically over time. But to engage constituents better and build relationships, nonprofits will need to add interactive elements (often called "Web 2.0") to their Web sites. Because Web 2.0 features are becoming commonplace, nonprofits should consider adding the following functionality in their next Web site update.

  1. Social Networking
    Nonprofits don't need to be the next MySpace or Facebook. Simply having a presence on popular social networking sites has successfully helped many nonprofits increase the number of database records and discover new potential supporters.

  2. Videos
    Today's constituents can watch movies and sitcoms on their PCs. Why shouldn't they be able to view a quick 30-second announcement, pitch, or commercial from a nonprofit? This is an excellent way to market the organization. Web site visitors have already taken an action to learn more about the nonprofit and are therefore a more captive audience. For nonprofits, video provides an additional advantage. Even if people cannot give, they may be more likely to do what they can to help the cause—including spreading the message to their contacts. Videos on the Web site can and should be easy to pass along. They provide another tool to help constituents become marketers and fundraisers for the organization.

  3. Blog
    Consistently blogging helps to ensure that the Web site is dynamic and constantly changing. Constituents are no longer content to view the same information time and time again when visiting a Web page. Information should be updated on a continuous basis. Blogging helps ensure that updates happen, and it also gives engaged constituents the opportunity to engage more actively with the organization. Highly engaged constituents will subscribe to the blog and become carriers of the organization's message.

  4. Audio
    Some organizations add music or voiceovers to their Web sites. A quick verbal explanation of the organization's mission or a personal story is a good way to address constituents who are verbal learners.
The popularity, convenience, and cost-effectiveness of the Web have made Web sites a vital part of any nonprofit's marketing, communication, and fundraising strategy. There are basic Web site characteristics that have withstood the test of time, including navigation and content. But in addition to these basics, technology has advanced to enable nonprofits to create a more interactive Web experience that will increase constituent engagement and further encourage affinity.

Darryl Gordon, Kintera®, Inc.
© 2008, Kintera®, Inc.

Darryl Gordon is vice president of marketing for Kintera®, Inc. Kintera provides an integrated, on-demand open platform to help organizations quickly and easily reach more people, raise more money, and run more efficiently. The technology platform features a constituent relationship management (CRM) system, enabling donor management, e-mail and communications, Web sites, events, advocacy programs, wealth screening, and accounting. In addition, the company also has an open applications integration platform that enables clients and partners to integrate with the Kintera technology platform.
Topics: Communications