You checked out my recent post with beautiful donation pages from a couple of nonprofits who are out there making it happen and asked, “So tell me how I can do that.” I listed a few highlights that make each user experience better on each donation page, but you want more. So do I.
Let’s talk about the engagement piece and what makes that happen. Let’s get to the WHY of engagement. I have two stories to tell you to illustrate two strikingly different experiences I’ve had with two nonprofit organizations and their websites.
I’m always comparing the websites of nonprofits to the physical locations of an organization. It’s interesting when there’s a big difference between how organizations create real-life engagement versus online engagement. An offline audience is often completely different than an online one—however, engagement is engagement. How do they create it? What works and what doesn’t?
Story No. 1: American Red Cross
As an American Red Cross volunteer several years ago, I rode along on response calls to local emergencies. I’ll never forget the 2:00 a.m. emergency call to a house fire. The house belonged to a family with small children. When our team of Red Cross volunteers arrived on the scene, we arrived in white Red Cross vehicles, branded with the Red Cross logo on each side. We were wearing our Red Cross vests as we got out of the vehicles and walked up the street.
I’ll never forget the face of the grandmother at that scene. As the children’s guardian, she was responsible for them. She was completely overwhelmed by what was happening. I could tell she felt some level of immediate comfort at the sight of our team. We offered comfort in the form of some blankets for her and the children before we proceeded with asking questions so we could fill out our forms to get the help she needed.
Every American Red Cross volunteer receives training before they are ready to respond to an emergency. Red Cross teams are trained to be thoughtful. They are equipped with the knowledge of what to do when they arrive on scene. They drive recognizable Red Cross vehicles and wear recognizable Red Cross gear. They don’t overwhelm victims of a tragedy with a ton of information at once.
Visiting the American Red Cross website provides a similar experience.
- Just like the white branded Red Cross vehicles that pull up to a physical scene, the website background is white, branded with its logo and corresponding color scheme.
- The website isn’t cluttered. It is clear and clean.
- It’s simple to navigate. You can find exactly what you need right away. You are not overwhelmed with information or confused as you try to get from one page to another.
- Visuals are used across the American Red Cross site to communicate their message.
“…illustrations are much more than digital decor. Individually, they reinforce and even further develop important points in a piece of writing; collectively, they coalesce to form your brand’s visual fingerprint.” —Help Scout
The American Red Cross realizes that its website visitors are a different audience than the audience they respond to offline, but when either audience interacts with them, their experience is the same: thoughtful, clear, and helpful. The Red Cross has successfully created a unified experience from beginning to end with their audience. This results in their highly successful outreach across the world.
Story No. 2: An Unnamed Nonprofit Organization
A more recent experience I had with another nonprofit organization went much differently. I won’t name them because I don’t want to put them in a negative light. They are a truly wonderful organization doing amazing things.
I visited an event put on by this particular organization and learned about their org. More than that, I was guided through an exhibit where I discovered exactly what they do. It was so powerful it moved me to tears. Volunteers answered any questions I had. They were informative, yet never pushed me to get involved. I didn’t hesitate for even a second when I had the opportunity to get involved. I took their paper form, filled in all the fields with my personal information, wrote down my credit card number, and committed to a monthly financial gift. Boom, done.
The messaging was clear, it was branded well, and I felt comfortable enough to give this organization all my personal information on a piece of paper. I trusted them. I was engaged. I could see that I was going to make a difference with what I could give. I felt empowered as I got involved.
The most interesting thing happened to me later when I got home and looked up the same organization’s website. I immediately thought I had typed in the wrong address so I Googled their organization. Sure enough, this was the right website I had found the first time. It just didn’t feel the same.
So many things were crammed into the website, I didn’t know what to read first. There were so many things competing for my attention at one time—I didn’t engage with any of it. Lack of space between elements gave my eyes no place to rest and I found myself blinking drowsily.
The content, or messaging, of the website wasn’t clear. There was no clear path for me to follow. I gave up quickly when I tried to navigate between pages of the site.
I gave up reading anything because it was difficult to read. The color of the screen made me a little dizzy and the text was too small. It’s a good thing I hadn’t looked up their website at their event—I wouldn’t have been able to interact with it at all from my phone!
You’ve been waiting for this negative rant to end and have a point, I know. Here it is:
Had my only experience with this nonprofit organization been through their website, I would have never trusted them enough to give them my personal information. I would have never gotten excited about their mission. I would have never been able to make a difference with a monthly financial commitment to their cause.
What if their website had been clear and engaging?
Would I have gotten further involved with their organization?
Would I have signed up to become a volunteer?
Would I have become an ambassador for their mission?
When you create a unified experience of engagement through everything you do—from events, mailings, campaigns, your website, your social media presence, and your emails—you multiply inspiration and engagement. This multiplication fosters trust, which results in committed, engaged, invested partners.