Nonprofit Websites: Cutting Through the E-Maze

Nonprofit Websites: Cutting Through the E-Maze
by Todd Baker

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

Todd Baker’s excellent, free primer on how nonprofits should approach going online begins with the 250-year old phrase above, which means “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The theme is central to the twin theses that: 1) the Internet is not a “new world,” but rather a potentially valuable additional tool for nonprofits in the “real” world; and 2) that a nonprofit’s online presence should be a component of an overall marketing plan, not a technological island divorced from the rest of the organization’s strategic and marketing plans.

Nonprofit Websites itself is also an illustration of the phrase, since: 1) it’s a variety of e-book available for free for download in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format; 2) from a Grizzard website named, appropriately, (see “branding strategy,” below). The only drawback to the e-book format is the issue of downloading and then (probably) printing and binding/stapling a 90-page book. Most of us are still accustomed to reading longer texts offline. However, the book reads just fine on a computer monitor, too, and those with the easy capability to transfer it to hardcopy may do so.

The book’s six chapters address Involvement Strategy, Brand Strategy, Marketing Strategy, Content Strategy, Design Strategy, and Technology Philosophy. The book is written in a very accessible prose style, and the author sprinkles in his own “Baker’s Dozen” hints, helps, and checklists throughout the narrative.

In the movie “City Slickers,” Jack Palance’s character, Curly, says that the secret of life is “this — one thing,” holding up his index finger. A nonprofit establishing an online presence should keep it simple and focus on one thing — one message — they wish to associate with their online presence. For organizations with a complex mission, rather than establishing a single “corporate” web site and marketing that corporate brand online, Baker makes a good case for establishing web sites around your organization’s key activities, with linkages to a central and other related sites. Resist the temptation to dilute your organization’s online message by pulling your visitors in too many directions at once.

The author’s recommendations on design are basic and sound. Simplicity and accessibility (user-friendliness) should be the watchwords. When art collides with functionality, functionality wins. People spend amazingly little time at a web site before they make a decision whether to stay or never visit again. Consider your specific audience, provide for ease of navigation, and unity of web site content (words and pictures), and you’re far more likely to have a site that people will return to.

A free e-book put out by an author and company in the business of, among other things, helping nonprofits use the Internet effectively, might be seen as self-serving and an advertising “come-on.” However, this e-book barely mentions Grizzard and their services. It stands as a valuable reference and guide for anyone designing an online presence, and I recommend it highly. It’s especially recommended for people who see themselves as non-technical. After all, as Todd Baker observes, “…the Internet is really a marketing medium.”