Branding is not a "dirty" marketing word. It applies to non-profit organizations of all kinds as well - charities, associations, support groups, clubs or any other kind. In order to engage people on your Web site, it’s a good idea to know what your organization stands for at the ‘big picture’ level. You need to clearly define your non-profit’s core values and attributes before you can effectively 'market' your organization on the Web. The following techniques can help to make sure that your message ‘sticks’ with your online audience.
Know thyself and convey that online
Treat everything on your Web site, including any webpages, newsletters, blogs, message boards or other Web tools your organization manages, as though it is an extension of the organization itself. Consider your words, your color schemes, graphics and so on in a way that best represents your group. Use your domain name as your brand, if you can.
Also, think about ways to get your message across in other e-applications. If you have a brief mission statement or value that you want to convey to your audience, you may consider putting it into your staff’s e-mail signature file. It is also a good idea to prominently display it on your website - for example in the page header on every page (you never know what will be the starting page for your visitors - Google search might take them deeply inside your site).
Offer a simple and pleasant experience
People scan for information quickly on the Web. If the content on your site is simple and direct, you’ll be more likely to grab their attention. Remember that people don’t read on the Web as much as they scan for information. Keep your message brief and to the point. Use bullet-point lists.
Don’t preach – participate
Direct mail, radio and television marketing still remain an important marketing tool to attract interest in your non-profit. However, with the advent of Web 2.0 tools like blogs, you can initiate a more conversational, intimate and interactive dialogue with your audience to increase loyalty. Solicit feedback and, conversely, participate in any blogs belonging to allied organizations.
Personalize your Web efforts
If someone makes a donation through your site, does your non-profit have an auto-respond message that specifically thanks them? Does your group provide new updates on your Web site or blog specifically to certain types of donors or volunteers? Ask yourself these types of questions, and then take appropriate action.
Don’t spam your visitors!
A Microsoft report from 2004 points out that only one in 100,000 people respond positively to unsolicited e-mail messages. Instead of sending out bulk e-mails, you may want to focus on marketing your Web site through means like Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and participating in meaningful ways on online blogs as better means for being ‘found’ on the Web. Pull people in - instead of pushing stuff onto them.
Learn from your ‘competition’
Watch what similar organizations are doing. How are they branding themselves? What sort of key words or phrases are they using to convey their message to people? How are they designing their sites? What appears to work? What doesn’t?
Provide a privacy / security statement for your visitors explaining how you plan to use any personal information you receive from them. Again, look to other organizations and see what they are doing in this area.
Once you say you treat information securely, make sure you practice exactly what you advertise. I personally worked for a non-profit agency where the original Web site developers left a “back door” open in the Membership area. This risked exposing all sorts of personal information – including credit card information – to very Web savvy users. So be very vigilant here. Work with reputable companies ( like Wild Apricot :-) that have a solid track record.
For more information and ideas, please consult Todd Baker’s e-book Non-Profit Websites: Cutting Through The E-maze (in PDF form).
This post is from contributing writer Zachary Houle, who has been published in SPIN magazine, Canadian Business, The National Post and the book, TVParty!: Television’s Untold Tales. He was nominated for a U.S. Pushcart Prize for his writing, and also received an arts grant from the City of Ottawa in 2005 to complete a short story collection.