High-potential site needs more ‘who,’ less ‘how’

publication date: Mar 15, 2012
 | 
author/source: Kori Brus, Ryann Miller
Each month the Web 2.0 jury 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 Editor. This month's candidate is Street Kids International.

Kori: Hi Ryann, ready for spring yet? It's felt like it's wanted to arrive for the past month, but can't figure out how. This month's candidate, Street Kids International, provides youth living below the poverty line with sustainable job opportunities.

Branding-wise, this site screams "youth." The home page welcomes visitors with cartoon-style characters reminiscent of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, creating a playful tone that's both optimistic and hopeful. It expresses what youth should be, as opposed to what it too often is for the world's 700 million youth who live in poverty - an unjust struggle.

Great visuals but ...

The visual positioning is emotional and strong. The skilled use of negative space in the banner and the outstanding stick figure animation presented via YouTube give it an additional boost. But unfortunately, the site starts to slide after the strong visual presentation.

Overall, streetkids.org has a bad case of the "hows." They speak of innovative learning tools, primary prevention programs, microfinance, and something called a "catalyst circle." If you know what any of that means, you're one up on me.

Overhaul jargon now!

Charities, take note. If your core messaging hinges on the words "policy," "strategy," "tools," "techniques," "programs," "support," "collaboration," or any other phrases that point to process over people, you need to do an immediate overhaul. This is jargon. It's safe, impersonal, utterly uninspiring and completely ineffective for motivating people or bringing in donations.

Bring stories to the forefront

But unlike many charity sites, Street Kids is sharing stories of impact, drama and courage. At the very bottom of the home page is Samuel's story. We don't see Samuel's story here, but after clicking through, we hear all about his burgeoning new business, the new life he's leading, and what this means for his two sisters, his mother, and his three close friends. This is impact, this is a story, but I doubt many people are finding it. Likewise for the dozen other stories buried on the inside pages.

What Street Kids International needs is a bit of focus and distillation. They've started strongly with their clear visual branding, engaging social media presence, and the strong work they've done to find and express the stories of those they help.

What they need next is to bring those stories to the forefront. They have the raw tools in place to create a leading user experience that puts potential donors in direct contact with the people they're helping and the best work they're doing.

Can Street Kids create a leading web presence? To paraphrase Samuel, "yes they can," but to do it they'll need to move away from talking about their work from their own perspective, and start showing it through the eyes of the youth they're helping.

I give them a B- with a strong potential for improvement. What are you seeing, Ryann?

Ryann: Kori, I sure hope spring is on its way, because I'm seeing re-growth and renewal at every turn. So it's a good time for a website redesign!

Kori, I love your line "streetkids.org has a bad case of the ‘hows.'" I love that line because that's probably the defining issue of most nonprofit websites. It's Street Kids International's main problem. But you're right: it is fixable. This website definitely has quality content; it just needs proper focus.

Fundraising

It's March! Either lose or repurpose the holiday giving focus that's taken over the giving homepage. Don't you want to send the message to potential donors that you're paying attention? Cut all that copy down to one or two sentences on why someone should give. Also, have a prominent link at the top leading to your main fundraising page, and offer a monthly giving link as well (links in the left column are peripheral, not essential). 

You're trying to convert folks to donors: keep them focused on the goal! Post images of the kids they'll be helping. This is the low hanging fruit.

Engagement

You guys seem engaged. You have Facebook, Twitter, blog and YouTube links. But your Facebook page has almost no content. No videos, no interaction with your friends. You have videos and great stories - that's the place to use them.

But back to the website, the great thing about that stick-figure animated video - besides the video itself, which is great - is that I felt connected to the street kids who might have watched that same video. That's a powerful connection to your cause, and that's what makes me want to contribute. I'd like to see a campaign or two, because it's an opportunity to focus attention on one specific goal or event and act as a giving catalyst.

Messaging

Too much ‘how,' not enough ‘why.' The homepage should lose the ‘about us' info and instead focus on news, events, developments, and of course, compelling stories. Assume that people visiting your site have an idea about who you are. Now you want to wow them with great content and have them fall in love with you.

The messaging needs to be personal. I want to see stories from the founder/ED/program worker. I want to see some bullet points that relate the problem you're trying to solve, the organization's successes in different countries, and those dramatic personal stories. You have some great content in your e-newsletter - cross-post that on your homepage.

I really want to see a sign-up field for the e-newsletter so you can build your list more strategically. And related to signing up, I'd like to see more ways to get involved beyond infrequent volunteer positions. You guys are well positioned to do some advocacy - it's a great way to get people who are interested in your cause to take action and feel connected to you. Plus, those activists make great donors.

Voice

Who is your target audience? You seem to be talking to adults, but the cartoon characters are targeting kids. While I like the origin of the cartoon characters on the fundraising links, and it works in your logo, I don't think they're going to convince a donor to give. The photos you have of actual street kids, however, will.

Design

The overall site design isn't bad. It could use some updating, but I see worse websites. It would be nice to have the banner be dynamically rotating and have more dynamic content on the homepage. You're good at prioritizing giving - which is nice to see. Otherwise, the site looks a dated but works well enough.

Kori, I'll also give Street Kids International a B-. While there's room for improvement, I think they get a lot of things right. These guys could pretty easily become an A website. I hear they have a website redesign in their future, so who knows, they might become an A website sooner than later!

Natasha from Street Kids International says

"Strangely enough, we couldn't agree with you more! We have long felt that our unique selling features were buried under several layers of explanation but did not know how to get to these important points. It seems from what you say that we simply go too far. Good to know that less "how" is more. Actually, maybe all we have to do is to dynamically demonstrate "who" we are!

Part of our fast-approaching website overhaul means moving towards a CRM site so we can  refresh and add content in-house. We want to go a more visual and personal route. We can easily say what we do in stories, videos and pictures. This review will give us plenty to base our changes on. Thank you for your expert advice!"

Ryann Miller is director of nonprofit services at Care2, where she helps charities and nonprofits recruit online supporters. She is the former managing director of DonorTrends and was a senior fundraising consultant at HJC New Media.

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 former community manager for Web of Change.

Their websites are www.Care2.com and www.goodworksco.ca - in case you want to pronounce your web jury judgment on them!


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