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Is Your Non-Profit Website Turning Off New Readers?

Nobody cares about your website,” Gerry McGovern tells business folks: “Your customers couldn’t care less about your new look, your new design or whether your dog has just had kittens.”

So never mind the navel-gazing and self-congratulation, the personal stories, the excuses for a lack of recent updates, or the announcement of your new blog design... The primary job of your website is to meet the needs of your "customers," not to blow your own horn. 

Focus on your audience: That’s the single most important piece of advice you’ll ever get about publishing a successful website or blog.

Does this advice apply equally to non-profits?

Yes, and no.

When nonprofit organizations build websites they spend loads of time and money on the design, the functionality and bells and whistles that are cool and fun to work on. But, in reality, as important as those things are, they aren’t what tend to make great nonprofit websites. It’s about the content… ~ frogloop: 10 Best Web Content Practices

You are excited about what your non-profit is doing, about its programs and services, about what you’re able to accomplish on a shoestring. Of course you are!  So, naturally, you will want to give regular updates on the practical operations that support your mission. That’s perfectly appropriate, in moderation — in fact, it’s part of being accountable. Your members, donors and volunteers do need to know how their contributions are used in furthering your cause, and that could very well include the costs of a new website design.

And if you’ve redesigned your website, changing how your members and supporters interact with the site to get the information they need, or if you’re offering new online services, I see nothing wrong with letting folks know about it — briefly. Better, however, would be to make sure that your website navigation does the job for you. Menu items should  be clearly labelled, vital information no more than a click or two away, and the call to action clear. Good website usability lets you concentrate on crafting your message, instead of wasting words on directing traffic.

But the thing is, any member-based organization has two different audiences to serve — the old faithfuls, and those who have stumbled upon your non-profit’s website (perhaps by way of the search engines) because they have an interest, to some degree, in your cause.

Most new website visitors have no idea what your site looked like before your redesign — nor do they particularly care. They just want the site to work for them right now, on the first visit. They want to find out what you do, why they should care, and how they can learn or do more. And you've got no more than a couple of seconds to grab their attention with some compelling content:

The best nonprofit blogs are a mix of true stories about their organization’s work and its constituents, invitations for readers to check out other bloggers’ post or news stories about related issues, organizational news, and editorials on the daily news as it relates to the organization. ~ Case Foundation: 5 Tips to Start a NonProfit Blog

What’s in it for me?

The old marketing catch-phrase (WIIFM) holds true for non-profits as much as for businesses. Think about it: If you’re considering a donation to a cause, which would you prefer to read on the NPO’s blog — “news” of a updated color scheme for its website, or inspiring feel-good stories of its “hero donors”?

Here are some ways that might play out in your blog:

  • Accounts about individual donors and what motivated them to give.
  • Posts about donors encountering your work, perhaps even authored by the donors.
  • Interesting accounts about your work, tied back to the generosity of donors.
  • Posts that are calls to action (for donations, volunteers, advocacy, etc.) to help work in progress.

I’ve yet to see a nonprofit blog that does any of these things consistently. Most are obsessively self-focused posts in which the organization shines a spotlight on itself day after day. That just doesn’t stay interesting for very long. ~ Donor Power Blog: How to write a nonprofit blog that will be read

Gerry McGovern’s entertaining but to-the-point “Nobody cares about your website” is a valuable reminder that your website is simply a tool for delivering content, and it’s the content itself that must deliver value both to your constituents and to new website visitors.

Yes, sometimes you may genuinely need to let supporters know what’s going on behind the scenes of your non-profit’s boardroom or website, but gauge it carefully... There’s a very fine line between informing a committed supporter of news from within your organization, and turning off a potential new supporter with too much inward focus.

How does your organization handle the tricky business of creating website or newsletter content for that dual audience of new visitors and long-term members? How do you ensure that your editorial calendar reflects those differing needs and interests?

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Posted by 

Published Monday, 10 August 2009 at 5:05 PM


  • Jeff Hurt

    Jeff Hurt said:

    Tuesday, 11 August 2009 at 5:46 AM

    Very well said. WIIFM is so true and if I can't find the WIIFM in the first 30 seconds, I'm gone to another site.

    I'll add another one that's particularly important for nonprofit websites, DIMTY "Do I Matter To You?" I'm looking for WIFFM & DIMTY on your website quickly. Not only do you need to help me find what I'm looking for quickly, but you must also show me that you actually care about me the visitor to your website. That means providing value and authenticity.

  • Kate sokoloff

    Kate sokoloff said:

    Wednesday, 12 August 2009 at 12:56 PM

    I'd be interested to hear from other non-profit arts organizations on this.  As "creatives," we have the expectation - and opportunity - to use our sites as additional stages that showcase our work.  We also need to sell tickets, provide programming /schedule of events information and raise money, all in the voice (in our case, comic-edgy) of our programming.  That's a lot for one website.  Thoughts and ideas?

  • Jennifer Smith

    Jennifer Smith said:

    Thursday, 13 August 2009 at 7:04 AM

    Perfectly stated!

  • tobi indyke

    tobi indyke said:

    Sunday, 16 August 2009 at 10:31 AM

    thank you for the guidelines...the reader's perspective is what it's all about!

  • David Parr

    David Parr said:

    Sunday, 16 August 2009 at 10:46 AM

    "Mission Continuance" is our term for what Katie was saying. We try to make our website experience a continuation of our patron experience.

    Hi Katie.

  • Rebecca said:

    Monday, 17 August 2009 at 6:38 AM

    "We try to make our website experience a continuation of our patron experience." - that's a great way to approach website content/design, David: thanks!

  • Wild Apricot Blog

    Wild Apricot Blog said:

    Tuesday, 16 February 2010 at 6:11 PM

    You’re excited about your association or cause, and keen to share your pride in the good work it has accomplished? Great! But is your organization speaking to your website visitors... or at them?

Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.
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