I’ve always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come. —Michael Jordan
True! But Michael Jordan wouldn’t have become a legendary basketball player if he hadn’t had an idea of what kind of commitment he needed in order to get the results he dreamed of.
In the same way, there are organizations who have clearly defined their goal in having a website, and they have invested a lot into making those goals a reality. Take, for instance, Charity Water, listed as one of the top 20 nonprofit websites for 2017, rated foremost on design, with “additional scrutiny placed on mobile friendliness, donation user experience, contact pages, creative use of content, and other factors.” (We also noticed the splash Charity Water was making in the nonprofit realm and explained how the design elements they used made their site so powerful in raising $30 million.)
What are your website goals? What is the value of a website to your organization? What return on investment do you expect to see? Do you know whether your front-end design is maximizing conversions? Are you using your website to drive interactions? Are your back-end tools increasing efficiency and saving you money?
Obviously, hosting a site requires ongoing output of time and money, but if you’re seeing an exponential return on that investment, it’s time and money well spent. Here are a few pointers in helping you answer some of those questions as you plan to grow your organization.
Defining Goals for the Public-Facing Side of Your Website
This is no easy feat. Any organization has multiple goals, but distilling those ideas until they are as succinct as possible is important. You must have a clear message on an uncluttered home page. And that message needs to establish your brand, define your purpose, and mobilize your audience—all on one clean, compelling home page.
Remember, you have about 50 milliseconds for someone to decide whether they like your site enough to even scroll down!
Establish your brand
This has been taken for granted among for-profits for a long time already, but it’s becoming more and more important to the nonprofit sector, says the Stanford Social Innovation Review, because it not only defines your identity, it also establishes trust. It is an intangible asset, and a promise that conveys who you are, what you do, and why that matters. A strong brand elicits action because of the authority and credibility it establishes. So invest some time right now to determine whether your brand needs some refining or not.
Define your purpose
There are some similarities in defining your brand and your purpose, as this article about how Charity Water raised $30 million demonstrates. Still, it’s not unusual for an organization to struggle with knowing who exactly their website’s target audience is. Is it the people they represent? Donors? Volunteers? Some of the nonprofits we’ve worked with on design were primarily attracting visitors (such as to a state park). However, most nonprofits’ sites focus on fundraising, and the goal in their design is to lead from telling about who they serve to showing how site visitors can help.
Being succinct—in design and in messaging—is not an easy feat. This is what clients need to understand and in some cases, pay more for. —Justin Hein
Mobilize your audience
Ever notice the difference in cover design on a New York Times bestseller compared to 75 percent of the books you find at the thrift store? Design is compelling. Design leaves people with subtle impressions. Nobody is going to say, “I decided to donate on that site because of the shade of blue, the professional images, clean margins, and sans-serif font.” But color, images, white space, and font have been proven in multiple studies to impact revenue.
Of course, design isn’t all of it. A clear call to action at places visitor’s eyes are likely to land as they scan your page is important. We don’t expect to have to search for calls to action in a cluttered sidebar or footer. Notice how Reach Out and Read, CO has multiple CTAs (calls to action), so that visitors know what they can do. Before I even scroll down, I can choose to purchase a ticket, donate, watch a video, or “Change a Life”! And none of it is pushy. It’s part of an attractive, expected flow.
Studies say that 94 percent of visitors’ first impressions are based on design. The other 6 percent? Speed, mobile-friendliness, and site security, which we mention at the end of this article.
Every dollar invested in ease-of-use returns $10 to $100. —IBM
Assessing the Value of Your Website’s Front End
Look at the traffic data
This starts with analyzing the traffic to and activity on your site. Google Analytics, which is totally free, is renowned for measuring such data as site visits, page views, bounce rate, the average time a visitor spends on your site, number of pages viewed per visit and percentage of new visits. If you have already been tracking these things, measuring before and after stats on an upgraded site design can give you some idea of the return you’re getting on your investment. (In this case, the data should cover a period of several months before and after to get an accurate picture.)
While Google Analytics is great (which is why we’ve partnered in a Google Analytics Forum for Nonprofits, in Denver, Colorado), there are other tools you can use as well. Think CrazyEgg, Hotjar, SemRush, and more. There’s a plethora of tools (and tool kits) out there! And don’t forget the heat maps as well as the numbers. They tell you how your visitors are interacting with your site.
What are good conversion rates? That varies from one industry to another, of course, though a study done by Word Stream suggests that the top 10 percent of any kind of site gets at least a 10 percent conversion rate.
Track the ultimate metric
But the ultimate metric is very simple. Are more people signing up for emails, newsletters, volunteering, and events? Are more donations coming in? Ultimately, these are the numbers that really matter, and they are measured most effectively by your back-end tools, such as CiviCRM.
One of the most easy and cost effective ways to double your revenue is to begin focusing on ways to double your conversions rather than doubling your traffic.
Choosing the Right Back-End Tools
As often as possible, we advise building on open source platforms and frameworks (such as CiviCRM and Drupal or WordPress). This serves to extend the lifespan of the platform due to the community of support and ongoing modular updates to the platform. It also allows the flexibility to re-theme guest interfaces easily without completely rebuilding the platform. Also, there are no per-user or licensing fees of any kind.
Open source technology with a broad support community is often the best from an overall budget standpoint–with more options for security, support, add-ons, and an accessible knowledge base.
Determine your needs
The back end of your site is the best place to store all the relevant data you need in running your organization. This makes your tools available to everyone from any location, thanks to “the cloud.” And it keeps all your tools in the same spot. No more tracking event attendance, volunteer contact information, newsletter signees, and more on multiple spreadsheets.
In today’s world, centralized and local is expected, and there are plenty of tools to choose from. But first determine your organization’s needs. What relationships and activities do you need to track? Certainly donors and donations. Probably events, memberships, and volunteer management. And don’t forget a way to communicate! Do you run email campaigns, send out newsletters, or need other automated email options?
Find the tools to match
Depending on the size of your organization, you might not need something as robust as CiviCRM, our favorite go-to contact database. However, before you look for something slimmer, consider whether you might grow into CiviCRM over the next few years. If so, you’re better off learning it from the beginning. We’ve found, in 98 percent of the cases, it has all the features our clients are looking for. In fact, many of our clients have come to us either already using CiviCRM or wanting to switch to it.
Why? Because it covers so many bases. Contributions, donations, events, memberships, email, and even campaigns. Not only that, all of your data is kept in one place. It’s your “single source of truth,” because that’s where you go to see what’s happening on every front.
However, as Gerry Rasel said, be thorough about researching and testing your options before you move forward on anything. She gave some excellent recommendations about what questions to ask and some specific websites to browse. She also suggests you figure out what kind of technical support each vendor offers, because no matter how good a program may be, you’ll run into questions.
What About the Other 6 Percent of First Impressions?
That 6 percent that noticed speed, mobile-friendliness, and security before design? It doesn’t sound all that important until you realize we’re talking about the first 3 seconds here. Once those 3 seconds are over, you’ll lose 40 percent of your visitors due to a slow site rather than to design. You’ll lose between 51 percent and 60 percent of mobile visitors if your site isn’t mobile-optimized. And security? Who wants to donate on an insecure site?
Consider a site maintenance contract
Technical support is a good idea in relation to both the front end and back end of your site. Ideally, you’ll opt for a good SLA (Service Level Agreement) that includes monitoring of website and server security, speed optimization, software updates, website backups with emergency recovery options, and a help desk you can turn to for technical support.
Trying to remedy an error after development is up to 100 times more expensive than it would have been prior.
Plan to succeed
Ultimately, every website and all its tools require upkeep. Plan for it in your yearly budget, and it won’t take you by surprise.
There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. —Colin Powell