How to take a website's performance from good to great

publication date: Oct 21, 2011
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author/source: Fraser Green, Kori Brus
Kori Brus  joins Fraser Green each month to review 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 on online communication and fundraising. Submit your site for review.

This month's candidate is the Friends of Hospice Ottawa.

Fraser: Hi Kori - I hope you're ready for a tough one! I found this site really hard to judge because on the one hand I believe deeply in this cause - yet on the other hand, I think there's so much more that this site could do.

So, having admitted my anguish, let me get started. Here's what I like:
  • The second sentence on the home page tells me what this organization believes! I love that! I want to know what charities stand for - and most of us don't say explicitly what beliefs drive us to take on the missions we do.
  • On the About Us page, I think they do a very good job of telling me what their commitments and priorities are. Again, this is important to donors and prospects. Tell me what's important to you. If it's important to me too, I'll give!
  • I like the Resources page. If I was facing the end of a loved one's life, I think I'd find it helpful and comforting to know that I have access to this information.
  • The look is very dated and text-heavy. In this case I think it's a positive. The organization absolutely feels very grass-roots and down-to-basics. No slick marketing or glossy finish to these folks. They're all about the content. And most donors - like me - want content over technique.
Program outshines fundraising, marketing

As I turn from compliments to constructive criticism, I have one overall observation to make. This site is much stronger on the program side than it is on the fundraising and marketing side. I'm a huge believer that successful charities today must be equally strong at both to succeed. This site needs a marketing makeover!
  • The cause here is loved ones in their last weeks of life. It's about saying goodbye, healing wounds and finding peace. This is stuff of the spirit - as deep as it gets in the human journey. I don't see enough here.
  • Tell me stories! This site could be chock full of stories. Stories about patients and their families. Stories about volunteers and donors. Stories by staff members and visiting clergy.
  • Just about all of the content on this site is expressed in the impersonal third person. If I were to rewrite this site from scratch, I'd try to make between half and two-thirds of the content be from someone. In the first person. Real. Personal. Emotive.
  • Last but not least, the site doesn't tell me what the Friends have done with past donations or describe the difference that those donations have made. Plus, the site doesn't tell me what they need the money for now. Tell me why you need my money. What will it buy? How will that help? I think this is critically important.
I suspect the Friends of Hospice Ottawa runs on a shoestring budget and has limited people resources to devote to their web site. But I wish they could find a way to make marketing themselves online a higher priority. There's a lot of good work that could be done here.

All in all Kori, I'll give the site a C-minus rating. How about you?

Kori: Hey Fraser - we're seeing a lot of the same things, but I'm going to be softer than you are.

This might be the most forgiving review I ever write, because I think this group is just super. My impression was of an organization with a tight budget and tremendous heart - so much heart that it's managing to spill past the tremendous limits of an outdated website.

But with that huge caveat in mind, the site needs some work. Here's a top level take.

Fundraising

The fundraising message is clear and up front. The donate button is present and visible, and it links to a clean Beanstream gift processing page. I'd prefer they didn't have the United Way plug front and centre. That space should be for the Friends. Also, they can help the donate button with a cleaner version of their logo and by shortening the text below it.

Further into the site, the Donate page is hampered by technology but features simple, clear and values-driven language. I'd like to see the list of giving options cut way back. Focus and clarity will lead to better response.

Engagement

Their Twitter feed and blog are listed on their home page, and the blog features some great stories. Let's get those on the site!

They're also highlighting their events, and making volunteer opportunities available. I'd like them to investigate integrating the blog onto the home page and use it to highlight their events, stories and fundraising. 

Messaging

They're warm, value-driven and spirited throughout. On each page I have a clear idea of who they are and what they are saying. They answer the "why" question throughout. They need to bring in more individuals and make their voices more prominent.

Voice

Further to what I said above, they're a bit too third-person institutional in their voice. But again, they've still managed to express their vision and values. They even have some testimonials hidden around the site. With a bit more focus, they could bring these elements forward and highlight the perspectives of individuals both inside and outside their organization.  

The site

The site itself is their top challenge. The opening splash page grabbed my attention immediately, but the rest is suffering from outdated design and technology. It's a barrier that makes updating content and storytelling harder than it needs to be. I'd love to see them go through a Web redesign that could empower the good things that they're doing.

Perhaps there's an agency looking to sponsor a charity partner. As it stands now I'll give them a C+ - not for the site itself, but for the sincerity they're communicating despite all challenges.

Fraser Green is chief strategist at Good Works, a consulting firm that teaches charities how to tell their stories with more passion, emotion and soul. He specializes in donor listening and coaching charities on how to meet their donors' expectations, wants and needs.

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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