This week I came across three interesting articles that deal with non profits, website usability and donations. Taken together, I think they can be useful and instructive to non profit organizations working on developing new websites or optimizing existing websites and communication strategies.

Donation Usability

The first was an article from Jakob Nielsen on Donation Usability. While I will summarize what I found most interesting, I strongly encourage you to read it for yourself. Nielsen's team conducted a usability study (actually watching users behavior on real websites for non profit organizations. The first sentence really sets the stage for the rest of the article: "Non-profits would collect much more from their websites if only they'd clearly state what they are about and how they use donations." Sadly, only 43% of the sites we studied answered the first question on their homepage. Further, only a ridiculously low 4% answered the second question on the homepage. Although organizations typically provided these answers somewhere within the site, users often had problems finding this crucial information. The study reports on the leading killers of donations:
  • 47% were usability problems relating to page and site design, including unintuitive information architecture, cluttered pages, and confusing workflow.
    • Amazingly, on 17% of the sites, users couldn't find where to make a donation. You'd imagine that donation-dependent sites would at least get that one design element right, but banner-blindness or over-formatting caused people to overlook some donation buttons.
  • 53% were content issues related to writing for the Web, including unclear or missing information and confusing terms.
The full report is for sale for $98 from Nielsen's consulting company.

Nonprofit Online Marketing

Convio released their 3rd annual Nonprofit Online Marketing Benchmarks Study which i read about on Care2's Frogloop Blog. Two salient points: “People are still giving. Charities shouldn't be afraid to keep asking. After all, the number one reason people cite for not donating is that they weren't asked”, said Robert Weiner, who provides technology consulting to nonprofit organizations. “Charities need to communicate with their constituents about the impact of their work and continue building relationships. Donors hate feeling like cash machines.” Allyson Kapin, Editor-In-Chief of Frogloop cites Kelly O’Neal an online marketing consultant as recommending that it is essential for nonprofits to, among other things, market their site through online advertising, earned media, and other channels to drive traffic to the website. While I don't know how much I agree with buying advertising as a long term strategy, I can't agree more that nonprofit organizations need to use earned media and social media to drive traffic to their website combined with improved content and search engine optimization. Neilsen's study cites the need to improve web content to increase donations, nonprofits also need to improve their writing for the web to increase organic search traffic.

Email Communication Strategy

I recently remarked that I barely read solicited bulk email anymore because I am so overloaded, and instead rely on appeals and calls to action that I see on sites like Twitter. The solicited bulk email that I do read tends to be short, timely and clearly written. I tend not to read email from orgs that seem to send me messages daily. So I was heartened when I read an article by Steven Daigneault of Amnesty International USA about AI USA's email strategy on Frogloop. When he started at AI USA, he discovered the organization was sending on average 19 to 25 messages per month to their subscribers (on a variety of segmented lists). He said his first order of business was to shift his team from merely sending out emails requested by other parts of the organization to acting as gatekeepers of the lists, and rewriting emails to achieve the best results. Steven writes: Ben Brandzel, formerly with MoveOn, Avaaz and the Edwards campaign, conducted a 5 hour training with us on what makes a great email. The gist is that email really is only effective when you can clearly articulate a crisis, an opportunity (crisitunity), and a theory of change (how taking action now will resolve the crisitunity). I sum this concept up as: Don't send an email unless you:
  • Know who the target audience is
  • Know what you are going to ask them to do, and can state it clearly and simply
  • Can convey how what you are asking them to do will help
This is similar in some ways to Nielsen's finding that people are more inclined to give if they know what your organization is about and what you are going to do with the money. People are more likely to respond to your email if they know what you are asking them to do, and how it will solve the problem that you work on.

Conclusion

What these three articles are saying is that if nonprofits want to be successful in moving people to act and donate they need to focus on usability, content and strategy (content strategy, SEO Strategy, communications strategy).
  • Convey what your organization does, and how donations support that work.
  • Ask for donations, drop the euphemisms (you know, join us, contribute, support... you need money, ask for it).
  • Make it easy and obvious how people can make their donation, remove as many impediments as possible.
  • Improve your content both on your site and in your newsletter.
Again, I strongly suggest reading these three articles yourself to learn more. It is worth noting that I discovered the three articles referenced in this blog post via Twitter, where people I follow posted them.