Community Foundation of Whistler

publication date: Dec 16, 2011
 | 
author/source: Leah Eustace and Kori Brus
Each month the team from Good Works reviews the website of a selected Canadian charity, focusing on its fundraising effectiveness. It's a chance for the charity to receive personal coaching from two experts in online communication and fundraising. To submit your site for review, contact the eNEWS editor, Janet Gadeski.

This month's candidate is the Community Foundation of Whistler.

Leah: I don't know what it's like in Toronto, Kori, but here in Ottawa we have a sprinkling of snow on the ground and I can see my breath more often than not. My thoughts are turning from long hot days at the cottage, to cool crisp days on my skis. And, speaking of skiing, there's no better place to hang out this month than on the website of the Community Foundation of Whistler (CFOW).

Full disclosure: I'm a huge fan of community foundations. My grandfather was a founder of Community Foundations of Canada, and my mother is president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Ottawa. I guess you could say that my admiration for their work is genetic. So, as someone interested in the cause and wanting to find out how I could help, I jumped into the website with two feet.

Lead with stories

First off, CFOW seems to have some great stories to tell. They're a little hidden within sub-pages of the site, and they're a little academic, but they have lots of potential. Stories are what motivate people to take action, so I'd love to see these stories pulled onto other pages throughout the site and infused with more emotional and inspirational language.

In fact, knowing a little more about community foundations than the average person, I'd be willing to bet there's a great founder's story to tell. And I'd love to read it! I'd also love to read first-person stories from some of CFOW's grant recipients and volunteers.

The home page has all the right elements: photos, information on what CFOW does, a donate button and lots of navigation options. It could go further though: the donate button should be more vivid and should occupy prime real estate at the top right corner of the page.

Pumping up the home page

The description of what CFOW does could be more compelling and emotional (by using "you" for example, as in "we're your foundation in your community"). Photos could be larger and more compelling (real people looking out at the viewer). Contact information should be included in the footer (address, email and phone number), and the social media buttons should be brought up above the fold.

Some of the elements included on the front page could be pulled into all pages of the website: the donate button; the social media buttons; and the contact information in the footer.

Focus on just two ways to give

The "make a donation" page has lots of great information on it, but perhaps a bit too much. Why not focus on two ways to give: immediate gifts and bequests (I'd be willing to bet that the vast majority of donations come in under those two headings), then use sub-pages to talk about some of the other ways of giving. Also, the Foundation should focus more on why and less on how. Motivate and inspire ... that should be CFOW's mantra.

Give the website visitors lots of reasons to come back: make the page dynamic. You can do this by adding a blog, or adding a news feed (with dates and headlines so folks can quickly see what they've missed since the last time they visited).

All in all, the basics are in place and all the right information is there. With a little work making the information more digestible and compelling, CFOW ought to see a much higher level of online engagement. I'll give it a C.

P.S. With so many community foundations out there, I'd suggest CFOW might want to steal some best practices from the websites of others.

Kori: Hey Leah, welcome to Web Jury 2.0. It's getting colder in TO but so far we've still been seeing some sunshine. I can live with that.

The Whistler Community Foundation feels like a bit of a homecoming for me. Being a west coast boy, I know that area far too well. Let's see what I can say about their online presence...

Fundraising

They get full points for leading with a fundraising message. There is a donate button and a campaign pitch front and centre. I'm also a fan of Canadahelps.ca and the great work they do bringing online giving capabilities to a host of Canadian charities.

The main challenge here is that there is little else besides the fundraising graphics on the home page to offer context and reasons why I should be making a gift. Likewise, the Make a Donation page gives a lot of information on ways of giving, but spends too little time showing why my gift is crucial.

Using their home page real estate to build a fuller case for support - showing where money goes, who and what it helps, and why my support is needed - would add a lot of strength to their web fundraising.

Engagement

Kudos for bringing in Facebook integration to support the SHARE Whistler campaign. Direct engagement for a community foundation can be a challenge, so it's worth spending a bit of time getting creative with ways to bring donors into closer contact with the work being funded.

Annual online surveys of funding interests, driven through social media and a space in their website for comments could be one idea. Likewise, presenting success stories directly from the causes being helped would help bridge the gap. Right now, there are success stories but they're deeper in the site and written in third person institutional. Pictures and individual voices would be a good first addition.

Messaging

Related to engagement, community foundations also face a big challenge with messaging. Much of the language here is third person, internally focused, and a bit bland. That unfortunately extends from the CFOW mission statement all the way through. "Achievements" are a particularly good (or bad) example. Every bullet is a monetary or numeric result.

The foundation can't own the projects it funds, since they belong to other organizations and individuals, but they can do a great deal to show what those projects are and why they are important. This is an absolute must.

Voice

Not to beat the same drum, but I mostly summed this up in engagement and messaging. The foundation is creating impact throughout the community from the health of local forests to opportunities for outdoor engagement, and helping create solutions for mental health challenges. I'd love to hear some passionate testimonials about this work, and the difference it's made in the Whistler community.

The site

Overall the site is quite dated. This is less a problem than is the content. Tightening up the main navigation into four to six clear focus areas, making a stronger case for why my donation matters, and bringing in the voices of some of the hundreds (or thousands) of people they have directly helped would create life and verve.

I'm a definite fan of their work and focus, but overall I'll need to place the site in the mid C range, with credit for being focused and defined. Now it needs to show me a human heart.

Leah Eustace is principal and managing partner with Good Works. A "fundraiser's fundraiser" with a wide background in charitable fund development, she's worked with clients including the Canadian Red Cross, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, CARE Canada and the UN Refugee Agency Canada on social media, direct marketing, donor research and legacy marketing. She's president of the Ottawa Chapter of AFP and a member of AHP, NTEN, the CMA and CAGP.

Kori Brus is philanthropic counsel and marketing specialist at Good Works, where he focuses on nonprofit campaign strategy and online engagement. He's the former communications director of Ecojustice Canada and also former community manager for Web of Change.

Their website is www.goodworksco.ca - in case you want to pronounce your web jury judgment on them!

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