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Does Your Web Site Give People What They Want?


There was a time, not so long ago, when having a Web site was a luxury.

Those days are over. In a recent GuideStar/Network for Good survey, an overwhelming majority (89 percent) of nonprofit respondents said their organizations had a Web site. Another 8 percent reported that their organizations planned to launch a Web site this year.
Yesterday's luxury has become today's necessity.

Network for Good also conducted two user surveys in recent months. Combined with the GuideStar/Network for Good nonprofit survey, the results illustrate the growing extent to which nonprofits and potential supporters are interacting on-line. They also reveal a meaningful disconnect between what nonprofits think makes a good Web site and what people say they really want.

Nonprofits overestimate the importance of aesthetics

Asked to rank 11 Web site components from most to least important, nonprofits listed the following characteristics as the top five:

  1. Easy to use.
  2. Significant content about the cause.
  3. Visually pleasing.
  4. Memorable URL.
  5. Information about how to get further involved.
Internet users agreed that "Easy to use, "Significant content about the cause," and "Information about how to get further involved" belonged in the top five. They ranked "Visually pleasing" 8th, however, and "Memorable URL" next to last (10th).

Although any organization naturally wants its Web site to look good and its URL to be easily remembered, nonprofits cannot stop there. An attractive Web site with a catchy URL will not be appreciated by visitors who cannot find what they are looking for.

People want information

When potential supporters visit a nonprofit Web site, they expect to find in-depth content on the organization's cause and information on exactly how financial contributions are used. Users ranked these characteristics first and second among the attributes for a nonprofit Web site.

An effective Web site needs to be more than just an on-line brochure with contact information, a mission statement, and some bullet points. Visitors go on-line looking for more than just reading material—they want opportunities to act.

On-line research often leads to off-line action

The surveys show that three-fourths of visitors to nonprofit Web sites are motivated to take further action. They aren't, however, necessarily taking that action on-line.

Of the users who reported taking some kind of action, 20 percent made on-line donations, and 39 percent donated off-line. Some 9 percent reported volunteering on-line, and 15 percent said they volunteered off-line.

Sometimes, as appears to be the case with "donate now" buttons, modern technology complements rather than replaces traditional methods. Although the ability to donate, advocate, and volunteer on-line can be considered attractive perks in a nonprofit Web site, they are not the most important qualities for it.

Information is the crux of an effective Web site. As a means of disseminating information, the Internet has demonstrated dramatic improvements over traditional methods. Potential supporters, volunteers, advocates, and donors want information—they want to know what nonprofits are doing, and they want to know how to get involved.

So give people what they want—provide detailed information directly on your Web site or link to sites, such as GuideStar, that do.

The preceding is a guest post by Patrick Ferraro, editor of the GuideStar Newsletter.

Topics: Charity Nonprofits