Websites Are Different
I really don’t take great pleasure in being mean – except sometimes when I’m working with programmers (they’re just weird and sometimes they deserve it) – but I’m so surprised that with all that great marketing advice available to nonprofits (including some great books that have hit the market recently) that people still aren’t adjusting their writing and adding enough visual elements to their websites.
The website is a MARKETING tool so you aren’t going to get anywhere boring people to death with all your words words words or if your site features any of the following indicators that your website needs help:
The 13 Signs
Your mission statement is featured front and center.
If I had my druthers, mission statements would all disappear. They are usually way to long, written by a current or ex federal government grant writer, with phrases so overused and without real meaning that we could all probably randomly interchange parts of our mission statements with someone else’s mission statement and never know the difference. I’d much rather see a really relevant (and brief) tagline on the main page than anything else. If you feel compelled to display your mission statement, put it in the About Us section, not ever on your main page.
You have no graphical message to SHOW what you do.
Instead of talking about what you do, it’s far better to SHOW what you do through images and photos with captions or messages – which makes a slideshow the perfect vehicle where you can easily have both text and images together. People are in a hurry; when they land on your site they will make a split-second decision as to whether or not they will stay based on the likelihood that this site will have the information they need. They aren’t likely to need your mission statement nor will they read a bunch of text to find out….your graphics need to show it.
You have an outdated calendar widget that looks like an actual calendar.
Everyone here knows not to get me started on website calendars. Its’ my biggest pet peeve. The ONLY benefit of having a little calendar (that looks like an actual calendar) with little links on event titles or little blacked out days is to make your organization look like a super-stud with the number of events you have – or, as is more likely the case, how very little you are actually doing event-wise when all you see is BLANK DATES.
If you are really thinking about the website visitor (and you REALLY should be) then you would realize that people don’t have a specific date in mind that they might be free and then check that specific date to see what’s happening. They look to see what’s happening and then see if they are available that day. So if you make them click on every single, frigging day to see what’s happening, that is just outright cruel. Just LIST your events somewhere in order by date. Really – it’s that easy.
You have text and/or clip art centered all the way down the page.
Centering is just strange and I’m really not sure why people do it other than maybe they think it makes the page look more interesting since there is really nothing exciting about plain text anyway. This phenomenon is really prevalent in content management sites, where the staff is only able to edit the little text portion of the page and not knowing what do do, they just pour text down it….and then center it….. (see number 12).
You have WELCOME anywhere on the page.
This really ties in with number 1 since most often you will see the mission and vision statement directly below it. I know it’s supposed to look like it’s conversational and personal but really there is no need for a Welcome unless people are completely lost and don’t realize they are on your site (is your logo too small?) and if that’s the case maybe the Welcome should be accompanied with a YOU ARE HERE map?
You have more than 8 menu options or dropdowns with their own dropdowns.
This signifies a serious organization problem which always spells trouble for website visitors who are then either going to be so overwhelmed with menu choices that they can’t decide where they need to go first or they are likely to get lost once inside OR get frustrated with the menu as they try to keep their cursor on the dropdowns long enough to get to the page. If you HAVE to have lots of menu options, help people get to information based on who they are i.e. a shortcut button and landing page to guide parents through to pages that would be important to them.
You have stock photos that don’t seem to have any connection to what you do or photos that just don’t work.
Real photos are always better – and you have to have photos. It’s just not that expensive to have a real photographer follow you around for a day and grab some great photos you can use in all your marketing materials. And if you have staff taking photos, send them to a class – REALLY – you would not believe the photos I’ve seen like event photos where there isn’t a single photo of anyone FACING the camera, or a fundraiser for a children’s organization where the only photos are of scantily-clad women with drinks in their hands. You can’t just slap a camera in a volunteer’ s hands and miraculously get good, usable photos. It takes some thought and effort just like everything else you do that represents your brand.
Everything on the page is in a little box with a border and the text smacks up against the box.
We’re supposed to be thinking OUTSIDE the box but we keep seeing text inside boxes on websites. I think boxes can be a useful design tool but not the ONLY design tool. And having the text too close the the edge of the page or box just smacks of amateurism. Use text or box PADDING to define the amount of space surrounding the text – it always looks better and makes it easier to read if there is some padding.
Your page background is your logo repeated.
I think “tiling” your logo was the only thing people could think of to do (and what was even possible) way back when. But there is really no excuse for it now! The background need to complement your site not distract or detract from it; a logo or anything repeated over and over just looks cluttered.
You have 3 columns and none of them are the same length (leaving blank spaces).
This is another major sign that a nonprofit is using a content management system and non-marketing people updating the site. It may seem inconsequential, but it’s just more visually appealing to have the columns all line up and TRUST ME when you visit the sites of the top 50 nonprofits in the U.S. you aren’t likely to see any columns mismatched. It’s just a big waste of space and marketing opportunity; it doesn’t take much effort to add or edit content to make it fit and use the space wisely…by the way, the same applies to your enewsletters…
You have any kind of graphic that is animated (flag waving etc.) or text scrolling across the page.
Is there really any news that is so important that it has to ticker tape parade across your screen? If it’s that important, place it in your slideshow on your site – if it’s the absolute latest news feed, just place the feed somewhere on the page statically but use a title to indicate it’s the LATEST very exciting news. Otherwise that thing chug chug chugging across the page is really distracting (not to mention hard to read) when people are trying to figure out where they want to go first.
You have Content Management Syndrome.
These sites are easy to spot. The overall site design or top banner is beautiful but then the rest of the site doesn’t match because staff have taken over and are spewing text down the page with no attention to marketing or design. This is where you will also often see centered text down the middle of the page, and the page will be almost all text – no visuals – and those pesky columns that don’t line up at all. Content Management systems are great for adding basic text but most systems aren’t set up for more complex changes or updates and most staff aren’t trained in marketing and design to ensure that the content is interesting and helps convert visitors into donors.
You have a big Paypal donate button on your main page.
This very likely means you don’t have your own donation page where you would have an additional opportunity to convince the person that they should donate (or donate more) by providing links to your Form 990, your annual report, or showing a list of where funds would be used (where your greatest needs are) , share a great client story, all tools that are needed in this competitive environment. The button that goes directly to Paypal usually indicates that none of these items are in place and the nonprofit is naively expecting that people with “just donate” without them.