Tag Archives: Websites

Chicken or egg dilemma for nonprofits – what’s first: website, email, Facebook, Twitter?


Kathy Gill tweets - what's first?

Kathy Gill tweets - what's first?

I listen when the universe sends me the same message twice in one day.  Yesterday morning, I saw the Twitter post (pictured) from Kathy Gill, University of Washington’s social media senior lecturer.  Attending NTEN’s “Effective Online Communications,” John Kenyon, consultant, asked (and answered) the same question about which online communications component should come first.

Here’s what he said:  “Your website and email are the foundation of your online strategy.”

Here’s what I had tweeted back to Kathy earlier in the day:  “For commercial co, optimize website 1st, then blog and newsletter.”

Came across a summary of a new study (hat tip:  Mack Collier) that suggests blogs are going to play an even bigger role for commercial enterprises going forward.

For a nonprofit, I agree with John.  Make the website sing, and build off of that!  (Kathy, if you happen to see this post I want to know what answers you received from your Twitter followers!)


Filed under Strategy, Websites

Free resource: Gayle Thorsen’s tips on website design

I’ve harrangued you about the importance of website design over and over!  Here’s an easy-to-read overview of best practices for non-profit website design.  What’s more, I agree with it!

Gayle Thorsen of Impact Max explains it all to you!


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Is it exploitation when non-profits use the names and images of real people?


Screen shot of World Vision's home page with 7 year old's story

Screen shot of World Vision's home page with 7 year old's story

Read this brief ethical dilemma and then tell me what you think

:  should non-profits use real people’s names and images, knowing that Americans (now fed a steady diet of reality-based programming) respond to them, or is it wrong to use this approach?



It hit me when I was at a meeting with a non-profit last week.  The internal/external team that is working on the redesign of the non-profit’s website was checking out various approaches.  Two of the most compelling sites we looked at were operated by CARE (title tag:  “Defending Dignity, Fighting Poverty”) and World Vision, which uses rotating images of children like Penina, 7, who bottles and sells milk to help support her family.

The website we’re working on is for an organization that has an iron-clad policy against using clients’ images or names, even with permission.  The executive director feels that the children and youth who are their clients might feel differently about having their faces plastered on the Internet when they get older.

It struck me that many of the organizations that use images of real people provide international aid.  Donors like to know exactly who they’re helping, and I’ve seen many blog posts where individuals provide specific profiles of people they’ve funded through organizations like Kiva.org.

But organizations that work domestically are far more careful about using images of real people.  It seems we feel it’s exploitative if we’re using the image of someone we could run into in the grocery store.

Modest Needs is an organization that addresses domestic need by matching specific requests with donors.  They do this by having individuals in need complete grant applications and submit documentation, when appropriate.  The vetted applications are assigned a number, posted on the website and headlined, as in “Once Homeless Family Needs Car Fix” or “Help Us Keep Our Lights On”.  When you click on the grant application, you can read the brief description of need.  Grant applications get funded when enough people “vote” for them by investing their points, a currency they acquire when they make a donation to the organization.

Here’s the point.  The individual client story is there, but Modest Needs does not use names or photos.  If there’s competition for the heart strings, it happens through the quality of the headline and the compelling nature of the need.  Maybe you’ve got a soft spot for teachers, or single moms, or grandmothers parenting grandchildren.

Without real photos and profiles, there’s no question that local non-profits are pulling their punches.

What say you:  should non-profits use real people’s names and images, knowing that Americans (now fed a steady diet of reality-based programming) respond to them, or is it unethical to use this approach?

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Website features: slide show or Slide Share?

The importance of a non-profit’s website is a recurring theme among my posts.  And it’s on my mind because I am helping a non-profit to redesign its site with the help of its internal IT manager and the graphic designer with whom it has a strong relationship. 

Given trends on news websites and new applications, there are new ways for non-profits to tell a compelling story, without a big investment.  Besides increasing the content on the site, of course we’re thinking about including:

  • Images of clients (or images that look like clients) that draw people in visually and emotionally…
  • Blogs are important that tell the powerful day-to-day story of how staff in the agency make a difference…
  • News and events that provide byte-sized previews of announcements that may be of interest to the user… and
  • Wish lists that help translate the agency’s needs into tangible, right-now opportunities to share and give

Setting aside posting of videos and podcasts for a moment, we’ve been thinking about including a slide show feature.  And today I’m musing about posting Powerpoint slide presentations as an alternative (photos can be placed into a PPT template and show as full screen by setting the photo as the background image).

Slide shows usually appear as thumbnails of still photos that advance using basic programming like java-script.  Most news sites now include slide show features.

Slide Share is a specific application that’s gaining quite a bit of ground in the social networking crowd.  It’s basically a web-based application that allows you to upload Powerpoint or other files of up to 100 MB, for free.  LinkedIn offers it as a free application.   I’ve got an example posted on my LinkedIn profile (go to the profile, and then click on the yellow button at the bottom to see the full profile.  The Slide Share post is below all of the junk about my background and the Word Press app (a ka blog excerpts).

Advantages of slide shows

  • They take less commitment (of time and interest) than clicking on a video post.  Video can take a long time to load depending on connection speed and cause your computer to hang up.  You can’t always tell how long they are until you’ve started playing them, which may discourage some people from clicking on them at all.
  • Some people just like pictures.  Great pictures really can tell a thousand words.  Not sure if they’re superior to video, just different.

Advantages of Slide Share

  • Business audiences (and, increasingly, students) have a comfort level with Powerpoint.  I can imagine non-profits posting a 10-slide presentation on the business advantages of sponsorship.
  • Powerpoint delivers information in text rather than verbal form.  Text may be better than audio at reinforcing key messages, delivering lists (like sponsors), and listing website links.

So what do you think?  Slide shows, Slide Share, both or neither?

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What non-profits can learn from Dave Mering and celebrity mothers

Turns out that radio audiences are also in decline, the victim of ipods, MP3 file sharing and social media.  Advertising expert Dave Mering of Mering Carson (Sacramento, CA) weighed in on the future of local news via email:  “What makes this future so scary is the loss of readership among young people. Many see no need at all to pick up a newspaper on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, preferring instead to get their news over the internet or by mobile device or through alternative news sources on television. …(V)iewership of local news has declined as well. Whether all four of the major affiliates will continue to maintain news products is in serious doubt, as it becomes more economical at some point to walk away from expensive news programming in a declining viewership environment and replace it with cheaper alternatives such as local talk or syndicated programming.  The real question is who will become the dominant player in local news over the internet and can that business model play out financially.”

These points strengthen my theory that people will have to find what they want through more sources, and they will have to find efficient ways to keep track of it all.  Here are more breadcrumbs for our trail:

  • Last week, Julie Appleby of USA Today announced she is leaving that pub and moving on to be a senior correspondent with Kaiser Health News, a new, foundation-funded news service to provide in-depth coverage of health policy issues.
  • Yahoo is finding some success with online programs aimed at “needs” they have identified.  They find “needs” by mining search queries and traffic data; then they develop niche Web shows like “Spotlight to Nightlight”, a show comprised of short segments about celebrity mothers.  (Ick.  Obviously I am not the target audience.)  These shows are less expensive to produce that TV-style programs, short (for the attention-span challenged) and can be watched at any time according to user convenience.
  • Though it’s reportedly not very useful yet, Twitter is getting around to adding search functionality.  Once there’s an algorithm that distinguishes the junk from the useful, it will make micro-blogs more accessible and useful, even for people who aren’t spending their day following others on Twitter.

So what?  For non-profits, it underscores the importance of figuring out how to reach people through online environments rather than through traditional newspaper, radio and television news.  If Yahoo can find audiences through search queries and traffic data, methinks a few local news corps may be able to figure out how to do the same thing for local programming.  Or, a few national outlets – like the NY Times – will figure out how to use this data to develop locally-appealing niche programs.

It brings to the fore the importance of survival in an online world.  Look at the strategies in the past two posts – online participation, etc.  As a starting point, if your website isn’t in good shape to serve up interesting content to those you attract (which means having both content and some degree of effective optimization for search), better get cracking.

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The “good”: 5 emerging opportunities for non-profits from changes in mass media

My last post appealed to the Eeyore in you.  This one appeals to your inner Tigger.  (I can’t write that without hearing Tigger’s voice:  “T-I-DOUBLE GUH-ER”)

Unfortunately, it’s hard not to imagine the continued collapse of traditional newspapers  (read the Bee’s lament, here – which, tellingly, was a reprint from another publication).  As Sandy (she with the fresh new media graduate degree) pointed out, “The real estate and automotive industries have basically been the only thing supporting the ‘meatspace’ newspapers but as money gets tighter in those industries they also have been moving pretty quickly to the online environment.”

So here’s what I would consider a “good” scenario for news distribution.  And why do I consider it optimistic?  Because change shakes up the hierarchy.  Organizations that don’t “get it” will lose ground with their intended audiences, and organizations – even small ones – will gain ground if they are fast-moving and seize upon emerging opportunities.

  • Some newspapers will be left standing but they will become regionals or nationals.  The New York Times is certain to be among them.  With a strong national content delivered both print and online, these stalwarts will be positioned to expand online into large metro markets, a la   www.chicago.nytimes.com.  (Don’t try to follow that if it appears as a link – I’m hypothesizing!)
  • Likewise, there will be at least one strong news-oriented radio station and relatively strong TV news program.  (The economics of radio are more favorable for radio than TV, but I expect at least one TV news program to survive.)
  • The Jon Stewartization of news will continue, merging somewhere along the way with personality-based radio shows.   Just imagine the opportunities associated with juxtaposing info about your favorite cause alongside the banter of morning radio anchors,  such as Mark and Mercedes’ recent discussion about what proportion of people will pee in the shower or use the “farmer’s hankie” (100.5 The Zone, here in Sacramento).
  • On television, look for a similar “View-ization” or “Oprah-ization” of local, personality-based shows that incorporate current issues and events.  In Sacramento, Good Day Sacramento probably is the furthest along in this direction.
  • News outlets are all aggressively trying to incorporate the other mediums for communications, and to prompt dialogue.  The Sacramento Bee now has a small battalion of bloggers that they’ve recruited to blog about everything from sports to technology to non-profits.  (Watch for United Way’s Gabrielle Stephenson’s posts.)  “The Swarm” blog is aimed at letting you “mix it up” with The Bee’s editorial board although it sure looks like more telling than listening to me.   The Bee’s Forum has an online component where the editor moderates discussion each week. CNN is turning the we’ll-tell-you-what-we-think-and-you-comment model on its head with ireport.  CNN is using a website and a Facebook page as a way of collecting ideas for stories directly from the audience and then turning it into a news report.  While the show is on the air, they show comments coming in from these live sources as they speak.  The proverbial tail wags the dog.
  • People who really need to understand something deeply will find good sources.  They’ll find bloggers or publications (online or offline) that they trust.  Or hire consultants to acquire and consolidate good information as a time-saver.  Most likely, they’ll pay — or at least pay more — for the access.
  • They’ll also find sources that cater to their specific interests.  They might subscribe to an online political publication, a car e-newsletter and a local restaurant review blog.  (And they’ll miss the convenient good-old days when they could get most of that in the local paper.)
  • They’ll also turn to people that they trust.  Opinion-leaders will be the people with lots of followers on Twitter, large numbers of readers to their blogs, and so on.  Sure, they’ll be the standard cadre of grass-tops (people who know people in office) but we’ll also be looking for people who just seem to know what the heck is going on with respect to social and demographic trends, technology, the economy, politics and so on.

And I’ll throw in some related trends that may smerge with these media developments:

  • Search(a la Google) will continue to be massively important because people will have to seek and find information.
  • As people get back to basics in a down economy, they will continue to try to support the things they already care about — education, for example.  They may try to give more to offset those who are giving less, or they may volunteer more to make up for what they cannot give.
  • After years of “thinking globally” messages, a “hyper local” trend will emerge.  More than local-vores or buying local, this will be an upsurge in concern about one’s own community as economic threats to local communities become more evident.  One doesn’t need Oprah to notice the shuttered storefronts.
  • The use of “readers” and personalized home pageswill grow.  If you can’t get the information you care about in one convenient cover, or through one news outlet, you’re going to have to find multiple worthwhile sources.  But managing them through your email inbox will quickly become untenable.  Imagine a home page with blocks you create where you can see the headlines from all of the sources you care about.  You’d read it in the morning, like a Kindle, but with customized content.  (And, PS, you’ll be able to use your Kindle or your iphone if you don’t want to sit at your computer screen.)

Here are some strategies that a non-profit might pursue in this new post-newspaper world.  But before I do that, refresh your memory with the list of strategies in the “bad/ugly” scenario post (you should see a line at the top of this post with yesterday’s title and an arrow point to the left).  THOSE STRATEGIES ALL APPLY HERE, TOO.  And here’s that tip again:  you can’t do all of these; choose those you think could differentiate your organization and would deliver the greatest impact for the least amount of time and money.

  1. Ugh.  (I recoil a bit at this one.)  Start thinking of news-light ways to get your message across.   If you want to reach a younger demographic, how can you create an activity that is quirky, fun or just plain silly enough to warrant people posting about it on their Facebook wall or talking about it on The Zone during the morning hours?  Almost every single news outlet right now is actively looking for “silver lining” or inspirational stories to offset the doom-and-gloom stories that are making their audience tune out.
  2. So the news media wants to start a conversation with us.  Be prepared with spokespersons – some staff, some volunteer – who are familiar with your message and facile in particular formats.  Have your “fun, hip” spokesperson ready for news-light TV and radio.  Have an expert ready for more serious news features.  Have a Spanish-speaking spokesperson prepped for Univision.  Have a left-leaner and a right-leaner (looks like some of those who have given up on newspapers felt they weren’t balanced and were too liberal.)  Have someone else who’s a whiz with blogging tracking and jumping in on news websites (and have them do it often).  Seems to me it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to find one or even two spokespersons that are attractive to, and good at, the full range of formats from radio to TV to print and online.
  3. Anticipate that more unauthenticated negative comments will be made about your cause or organization and ramp up your organizational listening.  More self-published reporters mean fewer editors – editors who used to insist on fact-checking.  Come to an internal point of view about when you will correct the record and when you will simply count on short attention spans and let stuff slide (for example, when you are dealing with a blogger who likes to rant – or Rush Limbaugh).
  4. Make your website more of a destination – which means enhancing content.  If you’re a food closet, for example, can your website become a credible source of information about hunger in general?  If you’re United Way, how can you showcase the many causes and organizations in a local community?   Can you recruit citizen journalists to help you develop a stronger voice for a particular group or cause?  Or maybe pay some of those unemployed journalists as freelancers?
  5. Start thinking about who the new local opinion leaders may be, and cultivate a relationship with them (ideally:  a face-to-face one).  Whose emails are often forwarded to you?  Who gets quoted in conversations?  How can you make them knowledgeable about your cause or organization?  (PS one of the best approaches is to ask for their input or feedback.)

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Microsites to promote a cause? Not so fast! (And microsites, explained)

I’ve recently noticed two examples of websites that were established by specific organizations using separate campaign identities (and URLs) rather than the parent organization’s website URL and identity.  Both are really cool campaigns — the Sacramento Tree Foundation has staked out its goal of planting 5 million trees, while CARES has established the ambitious goal of eradicating new HIV infections in 5 years:

Here’s the Sac Tree Foundation campaign, greenprintonline

And here’s the CARES campaign, areyouthedifference

I could think of pros and cons associated with separate websites, but I decided to reach out to Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz.  (My Monday post included an excerpt from one of Rand’s recent posts on SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog.)  Busy as he is, Rand weighed in.

The verdict:  from a search perspective, go with a subfolder (e.g. www.sactree.com/greenprintonline) rather than a separate microsite (http://greenprintonline).

Rand pointed me to two recent posts on SEOmoz’s blog describing the distinctions between subdomains, subfolders and microsites in this post, and this post.

Here are the pros and cons I saw when thinking about the use of microsites:


Flexibility – the sponsoring organizations may have limited flexibility to modify their main site; it may be easier to build a functional microsite, with links

Enables a national organization to set up a tool that can be used/modified by a local organization

If the organization has limited brand recognition and appeal, could attract new interest

Possibly could be used as a transition to a new brand

Enables collaborative effort with more than one non-profit (less arguing about who “owns” benefits of halo)


If you click through a link from the main site, it could take a whole lot of clicks to find the information (wears out patience of user)

Challenge of managing two sites instead of one for resource-constrained organization

Could muddy image of main brand

Split traffic

Some could wonder who the sponsor really is; lacks credible image of established NFP

At breakfast recently, I batted around the idea of a website that could serve as a clearinghouse for information about human service agencies affected by the potentially humongous Sacramento County budget cuts – kind of a virtual coalition.  I’ve thought about the same thing as a way of pooling information about the incidence and effects of hunger in the area.  That still might be a good idea, but I’d recommend against establishing campaign microsites if there is only one sponsoring non-profit.

PS The Sacramento Tree Foundation also includes a subfolder/page on its main website.

I’d be very interested in any experience that you want to report – pro or con – with cause-related microsites.

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How to re-vamp your website

Yesterday’s post trumpeted the importance of a website as a part of an organization’s marketing platform.  Today’s post points you to an online “how to” guide created by the Tactical Technology Collective (part of their free message-in-a-box series), and offers my handy (though unabashedly ugly) 7-page tactical plan for evaluating and revamping your website.  Feel free to share it if it’s useful. 

To get my tactical plan, email me at bstonehome@aol.com

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Why your website matters more than social media

Since starting The Philanthrophile back in October, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, thinking and writing about social media… along with the rest of the world.  Social media is hot, steamy hot.  While I think it’s important and MUST be a part of the tactical mix, it shouldn’t be top priority for a small non-profit.  Presuming that your organization has its mission and strategy figured out (hint:  that comes first), and knows what outcomes it is trying to achieve…

Da da da daaaaah!  (Marine Corps band trumpets here)  Your website should be top priority.

Why?  Social media doesn’t yet compare with the power – and numbers – of search.   We now Google for everything, even the stuff that might just as easily be found in the contacts section of Outlook. 

As Rand Fishkin, CEO and co-founder of SEOmoz posted today on the SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog:

Social media is great for:

  • Connecting with your users (assuming they’re already on social media platforms and talking about you)
  • Building another channel for communication, branding & messaging
  • Appealing to early adopters
  • Wasting time on non-business essential communication 🙂

But it can’t do what search/SEO does:

  • Answer a direct need precisely when it’s requested in a scalable fashion
  • Gain visibility from virtually all Internet users with an interest in your brand/product/sector/content at once

if you’re ignoring other important fundamentals of online marketing, like:

  • Building a website with a unique value proposition
  • Create amazingly useful content that people want to share
  • Conduct effective email marketing
  • Find ways to scalably acquire new users & retain existing ones

A website is home base, the platform for your marketing and communications efforts.   Here’s another blog post worth checking out from the Non-profit Tech Blog that puts websites into a “Maslow’s hierarchy” of needs.  Note that Customer Relationship Management (e.g. database/campaign management) and social media are ranked as less important than websites.  NEXT:  HOW TO TIPS FOR EVALUATING AND POSSIBLY RE-VAMPING YOUR WEBSITE, AND THEN:  ARE MICROSITES A GOOD IDEA FOR NON-PROFITS (AND WHAT ARE THEY, ANYWAY?)

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How are coalitions forming and evolving to lead visionary change, in new ways, through the Internet?

I stumbled across the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s listing of grant-recipients of its “Community Information Challenge.”  The Foundation’s five-year program was established last year as a matching fund for community foundations interested in projects that would use media and technology in new, creative ways to keep their communities informed.  A few of the funded programs aim to bring together a large number of organizations to collaborate on a particular issue.  One example is “The Green Table Virtual Meeting Place” in Buffalo, NY.  Here’s the project description:


The more than 170 groups concerned with western New York’s environment are splintered and isolated, with no effective way of knowing what each is doing. In order to improve community dialogue and – ultimately – help revive the region centered around post-industrial Buffalo, the community foundation will create a new website for information exchange. Known as The Green Table, the site will feature discussion groups, resource directories, event calendars and job or volunteer opportunities. In addition, The Green Table will invite citizen participation through a pledge wall for a greener community and tools such as carbon footprint calculators.

Historically, it’s been tough sledding to convince organizations that “all boats rise” if they are able to create awareness of a problem or tackle a problem by working together.

Though it’s no panacea, the Internet and social media open up new opportunities for collaborative campaigns to tackle issues.  In a time of draconian budget cuts, the challenges we face require more than producing a report card as a means of tackling problems.

What are you seeing in terms of collaborative, Internet-based campaigns?  I’m interested in learning: 

·         How they got started

·         Who underwrote the development cost (if only the time to create the campaign)

·         Whether organizations or individuals – rather than foundations or grant-making organizations – are finding it worthwhile to act as conveners and campaign leaders

·         What elements they’re incorporating:  just a website, or traditional public relations and other tactics?

·         Whether they’re working – or working better than an organization working alone – in terms of raising awareness of an issue or solving a community problem









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