Does your nonprofit’s website captivate and engage people, or is it merely an online brochure with a few photos and a mission statement?

Jay Wilkinson of Firespring recently joined us for a webinar in which he showed how to make the former happen.

In case you missed it, you can watch the replay here:

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right. Jay, my watch just struck 1:00. Is it okay if I go ahead and kick us off officially?

Jay: I am ready to roll whenever you are.

Steven: All right. Cool. Well, good afternoon, everyone if you are on the East Coast and good morning if you’re on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for joining us for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “How to Captivate and Engage Constituents with Your Website.” My name is Steven Shattuck and I’m the Chief Engagement Officer here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always.

And before we begin officially, I just want to go over a couple of housekeeping items. I want to let you know that we are recording this presentation. So, if you have to leave early or if perhaps you want to watch the content again later on, you’ll be able to do that, just look for an email from me later on this afternoon. I’ll be emailing the recording as well as the slides just in case you didn’t get those already. So, have no fear. You’ll get all that good stuff.

And as you’re listening today, please feel free to use that chat box right there on your webinar screen. We’d love to hear your questions and comments throughout. We’re going to save some time at the end for Q&A. So, don’t be shy. Don’t sit on those hands. We would love to hear from you and make it as interactive as possible.

Speaking of interactivity, you can follow along on Twitter with #Bloomerang. Our username is @BloomerangTech. We’d love to hear from you there as well.

One more note about technology, webinars typically are as good as your Internet connection. So, if you have any issues, try restarting the program, switching browsers. If you’re listening via your computer speakers, the audio quality is usually a little bit better by phone. There is a phone number that you can dial into in the email from ReadyTalk that went out this morning. So, if you have a phone and you don’t mind doing that, it might be an option for you in case you have any audio difficulties.

For those of you who are new to Bloomerang, if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I want to say an extra special welcome to you. We do these webinars just about every Thursday, but in addition to that, our core business is donor management software. So, if you are in the market for a new donor database, a new donor CRM, check us out. Go to Bloomerang.co. You can even watch a quick video demo and see our software first hand. You don’t even have to talk to a sales person if you don’t want to.

So, enough about that, I want to go ahead and introduce our guest today. He is the handsome gentleman you see on your screen right now, Jay Wilkinson. Jay, how’s it going? Thanks for being here.

Jay: It’s going great, Steven.

Steven: Jay is a great friend of ours here at Bloomerang. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. If you guys don’t know Jay, you’ve got to follow him. He has been very actively involved in the nonprofit community. For most of his life, he is the board member of several nonprofits. He’s a frequent speaker at nonprofit conferences. He’s a great trainer, obviously a great webinar presenter as you will see here in a moment. If you see his name on a schedule, definitely attend that session, you will not be disappointed at all.

He is currently the CEO of Firespring, based in Lincoln, Nebraska, beautiful Lincoln. They help nonprofits with all kinds of website solutions. They have a great CRM for nonprofit websites. Check them out if you’re feeling like your website is getting a little old or stodgy. We’d love for you to learn more about Firespring. But for now, Jay is going to tell us all about how to optimize your current website. So, Jay, I’m going to pipe down. Why don’t you take it away, my friend?

Jay: Steven, thank you very much. I would like to just echo real quickly, those that are listening in today, the sentiments right back at Bloomerang. We’ve been really deep partners with Bloomerang with Steven and Jay Love and the whole crew there since the very beginning when Bloomerang first came online.

I will say that we have a lot of opportunities in the nonprofit sector. There are so many companies and organizations and consultants across the board that are involved and active in this space. You couldn’t find a better company and a better group of people than you’ll find at Bloomerang. We really appreciate the longstanding relationship and partnership we’ve had with them over the years.

So, I’m going to share today a little bit of information for you about how to captivate and engage constituents with your website. It’s a really important topic to me. It’s near and dear to my heart. In fact, I wrote a book called Captivate and Engage: The Definitive Guide for Nonprofit Websites along with my coauthor, Randy Hawthorne, who’s the Founder and Executive Director of Nonprofit Hub, the educational portal for the nonprofit sector.

I’m really, really excited to share this information with you today. By the time we’re done today, you’re going to be an expert. You’ll be able to go back to your team, to your nonprofit and be the one in the room that knows more than everybody else about how you’re going to get your website to the next level.

Your website is the core center of your universe as a nonprofit organization. Everything we do should point people back to our website. It’s the center of our brand, the center of our marketing, center of our fundraising, all of those things and all of the other things we do are really important and complementary to that, but the website serves at the core center of it and we’re going to talk about that quite a bit today.

A tiny little bit about us as we get started here, Firespring is a B-corporation. We’re located in Lincoln, Nebraska. We’ve been in the business of helping nonprofit organizations with their web presence for almost two decades now. We got after it right in the beginning of the Internet in the mid-90s when Al Gore invented the Internet and gave us this wonderful gift. We were there helping nonprofit organizations get started. It’s been really my life’s calling, helping nonprofits go through this process.

At Firespring, our purpose as a B-corporation is to leverage our people, our products and our profit as a force for good. We do this through a really innovative program that we focus on . . . sorry, my slide deck is going a little crazy on me right now. I will fix that. We do this through what we call our Power of 3 program.

The Power of 3 program is all about giving back to the community in a way that’s substantial. It’s 3% of our product offering. So, a total of 3% of all of our products are given away free to nonprofit organizations that are just getting started, nonprofits that are at the early phase of their existence, 3% of our profit, cash donations in the Lincoln and Omaha communities primarily where our employees live, work and play and then 3% of our people. That’s accomplished by having all 250+ of our employees volunteer one full day a month for a nonprofit organization of their choice.

We’re on a tear. We’re really on this pulpit here in the Midwest really focused on helping a lot of companies get on board with this purpose-driven enterprise, not because it’s a marketing strategy, but because it’s the right thing to do. It’s how we can change the world one business, one product, one client at a time. So, we’re really excited about the momentum we’re seeing.

So, today we’re going to dig into your website, how to captivate and engage your constituents. We’ll start with the three biggest mistakes that most organizations make when it comes to their website. I’ll cover the five required elements of an engaging website. That will be the meat and potatoes of what we’re talking about today.

Then at the very end, as I always like to do, give you specific action steps, the things that you can begin doing this afternoon, tomorrow to make deep impact on how your website perceives and impacts your organization. Also, of course we’ll take any questions you might have at the end as well.

Again, if you’re tweeting today, use the hashtag #Bloomerang. My handle on Twitter is @JayWilk. I’d love to connect with you there and I’d love to follow folks back that are in the nonprofit sector. So, let’s connect there if you’re interested in using Twitter.

So, let’s start with this — why do nonprofits struggle so much with their website? It’s a big question. We know according to The Hub that 78% of nonprofit websites are designed for less than $750. This is really . . . I know that seems like a crazy number. There are a lot of small nonprofits out there.

For those of you that have spent less than $750 I’m sure that you probably went down this track because of the mantra that seems to just completely define the whole nonprofit sector, this mantra that we’re always trying to do more with less. Have you ever heard this before? It seems to be that this is what every nonprofit operates under, that sentiment of we’re trying to do more with less. I get it. I understand we need to be incredibly effective and efficient with our money.

We need to make sure we’re doing things that right way. I’m going to share with you that I believe it shouldn’t be about what something costs. What it should be about is what is the return on investment on that cost? Your website can be this incredibly powerful, beautiful, mobile-friendly workhorse and you can build websites for thousands and thousands of dollars.

You can go hire the best person in your community, pay them $20,000 and build this amazing website. I know many organizations that have done that. I’m not saying that everyone should. They end up getting two to three times the return on their investment because they increase registrations to their events. They increase the number of volunteers and supporters they have, which raises the tide. They get more donations.

In essence, because they have a powerful and engaging website, they get a 2 to 3 or even a 10x return on whatever investment they put into it. I know other nonprofits that have spent, again, $300-$400 and thrown their money away because they ended up with really nothing more than an online brochure with their mission statement and a couple of pretty photos on the website with no functionality. Which one spent the most money?

Well, I would argue the one that had no return on investment spent the most money. So, I really want to start with this premise. It’s about making sure we make really smart, educated decisions about what we’re investing in and where the return on the investment is going to come from.

So, when we think about our websites at the core center of a nonprofit’s website, are all of these things that we are going to allow people to do when they come to our website. We’re going to allow them to register for an event or sign up to volunteer or donate money or read our blog or our content, whatever. We’ll send them off to social media, whatever. But we have these people that are streaming into our website.

Then what do we do, the vast majority of us, at least, anyway, in the nonprofit sector? We send them right back off of our website. We send them over to Eventbrite, for example, to register for an event, or we’ll send them to some volunteer tool or to PayPal to give money or to WordPress to blog. We refer to this as the WordPress problem in the nonprofit sector.

It’s because so many of us are developing our websites on platforms like WordPress that are low cost or free or inexpensive and we’re doing that because we’re trying to do more with less, but we’re not really giving people a really powerful professional experience when they come to our website because, again, they’re clicking off to someone else’s module or plugin or tool that we’ve plugged in and added to our website and they have this disparate, uneven experience. We call these Frankenstein websites. So many of the websites in the nonprofit sector are just kind of chunked together based on whatever tools and modules we can find and pull together.

So, this leads me in to the three biggest mistakes that nonprofits make when they develop a web strategy. I’m going to start with number three and work my way up to number one. Number three is the “do it cheap” mentality. We sometimes refer to this as the executive director’s really smart 14-year old nephew with the computer syndrome or that we’ve got a volunteer working on it syndrome. This is what happens so often.

Now, in every nonprofit organization, yours included, most of us have kind of a go-to person when it comes to technology. If it’s something technical, if it has to do with the web or the Internet or anything technical, we have someone we go to. Some organizations are really fortunate that we have big enough budgets that we can hire someone that fits in this role.

Most organizations are going to instead kind of latch onto the person on the board. Maybe it’s a volunteer, maybe it’s a member of your staff that is going to fill this role ad hoc, kind of an accidental techie, which a lot of us fill that role. We kind of get thrust into it without knowing enough.

But somebody fills that role. I refer to that person as our go-to geek. Every nonprofit has one. If you don’t know who it is, then it’s probably you. But every nonprofit has a go-to geek that we go to and we lean on for these kinds of things. Here’s the big thing. With this whole do it cheap mentality that we’re talking about, the vast majority of the time, whoever that person is, that person is the one that is guiding the website strategy for the entire organization. There’s an issue with that.

It leads me to the second big issue that we see, the big mistake. That’s how we fail to make the site, your website, part of the overall mission or strategy of the organization. On one end, we have the leadership team–the executive director, the founder, whoever, someone who’s in charge in the organization that’s kind of running the show, clutching the mission close to their chest saying, “This is what we stand for. This is what we’re about.”

Then often times, most often, in fact, we have different people, kind of siloes that we’re creating, people that are working on maybe the different events that we have and the marketing schedule, sometimes it’s a board member or a volunteer staff person.

Sometimes the person doing the website is completely unattached and not inside the organization. It’s just somebody that we bring in because there’s somebody in the community that we value and respect or it’s a relative of somebody on the board or whatever else and so that’s who’s doing our website. So, the challenge that we have here, and this is an interesting stat. I find it kind of alarming, but very interesting. On average in the United States, a nonprofit organization has to restart or rebuild their website every two to two and a half years.

This happens primarily because we’re siloing this and we’re handing off the responsibility to our go-to geeks. It takes way more than just a mission statement. Somewhere on your website and photographs on your websites really truly embody the credibility and the professionalism that should just exude from your website naturally by the way you develop it and build it out.

That takes me to number one. The biggest mistake that we see is quite simply lack of research and planning. So, here’s how it typically goes when a nonprofit decides that they want to update their website because here in 2016, we all have one already or the vast majority of us if not all of us have one already and we’re just ready to update. We need to upgrade and get to the next level.

What happens is we call a meeting. Someone, maybe it’s the executive director or the marketing coordinator, someone on the board, a volunteer, maybe our go-to geek calls a meeting, but somebody calls a meeting and they say, “All right. We’ve got to get everybody together and talk about a new website because it’s been five years. We’ve got to do something different.”

So everybody will gather together in a conference room and somebody is going to go over the rules of brainstorming. We’ve heard this before, right? It’s like no idea is a bad idea. Let’s get them all up on the board. We get the good ideas from the crazy ones. Let’s get them up there. Somebody takes the pen and starts writing on the whiteboard and the room. We’re coming up with all kinds of ideas, “I’ve got an idea. How about this?” And somebody chimes in over here and we’ve got all kinds of things on the wall.

Eventually, whether it’s two hours or two days or however long later, someone will say, “All right, I think we’ve got enough ideas. Let’s talk about what our strategy should be. Let’s create a plan of what we need to do moving forward.”

Whoever is running the meeting will kind of slowly turn and fix their gaze on the go-to geek sitting at the other end of the table. Their laptop is probably already perched up on their knees or on the edge of the table and they’re searching for things already like modules on WordPress or whatever. The person running the meeting says, “All right, which ones of these things on this list can we actually do? Let’s start there. Let’s cross off the things we know we can’t do.”

So they go through the process. They end up defining what their website is going to be based on what they’re capable of building as opposed to what it is that the end users that come to that website and use it on a daily basis, on a regular basis, what they actually want from us.

Think about all these folks. We have the people employed by our organization. We have volunteers, our donors and contributors. Other nonprofits that are coming to kind of check out what we’re doing. Members of the media hopefully coming to the website to lead more about what we’re doing, our board members and of course, most importantly, the end users themselves, the constituents that we serve in our communities, they’re coming to look for something in particular. That’s what we’re building the website for is for all these different audience members.

So why is it that when we tend to build our websites, we don’t focus in on specifically what it is that these folks want? It’s because we don’t have the ability to do focus groups and do heat mapping where we track the eyeballs and watch the people behind glass and watch them as they experience our website. We just simply have those kinds of resources in the nonprofit sector. So, we kind of just have to go at it in a different direction. That’s how we end up going down this path.

So I know why it happens. It’s expensive. It’s complicated. It’s time consuming, but we have to get over this thing where we’re building these websites out based on what we’re capable of doing instead of building them out specifically for what people are asking us for. And I’ve got great news for you. The rest of this session today, that’s what I’m focused in on.

We have spent more than a decade bringing together thousands of nonprofit constituents and we’ve asked them the question, “If we were to build the perfect website for this organization that you volunteer for, donate to, serve on the board of, whatever their capacity, what would that organization need to do to compel you to engage with them in a meaningful way, where you’re going to come to their website and interact with them in a way that makes you feel really good about that experience?

“What would that look like?” And we’ve defined that. That’s what I’m going to focus in one for the rest of this session today. I’m going to share with you how to build a website that’s truly built on a foundation that’s focused on what it is that your constituents want and need from us through the five elements of a powerful and engaging website.

These five things that I’m going to share with you, some of them sound simple on the surface, but most of us do a horrible job in terms of implementation and how we’re actually carrying them out. I’m calling it like it is. I’ve been on so many nonprofit websites over the course of my lifetime. I really want to see us all take it to another level and really improve how we’re doing it and what we’re doing.

So I’m going to share with you these five elements and I’m going to dig into each one of them a little bit and at the end for this session, you’re going to know exactly what it is that you need to do. You’ll be able to go back and talk to your web designer, your web team, your go-to geek and explain to them exactly what it is that we need to do to take it to the next level.

And it starts with your website structure, number one on the list. So, structure is obvious. It’s the structure that your website is built in. So, when we build out a website, we have this high level hierarchy, the menu that’s supposed to be just intuitive so we can find our way around. A lot of times we refer to this as navigation. How do we navigate a website?

So here’s an example of an organization that really does a good job with this, Nature.org. It’s the Nature Conservancy. When you come to this website, one of the things that I selected this one for is I wanted to show you as an example here at the very high level, at the top of their navigational page, they have this menu of options.

Every organization should have somewhere between three and eight high level menu options, never more than eight, never fewer than three. We’ve learned that when you try to get really creative and fancy by having only one or two options, it confuses people more than it helps them. So, three to eight is the number and five is usually a really good number for us to really know how to navigate.

I want to make a key point on this. You’ll notice that on this particular website in the upper left-hand corner, they have www.nature.org. That is not necessary to put on your website anymore. You know what happens when you click on the logo in any page in a website? Yeah, of course you do. We all know what happens. It takes us back to the homepage of that website. All of our end users know that too. We don’t have to spell that out for them by typing out www.mywebsite.org. So get rid of that.

Then this other thing on the right hand side, where you’re selecting between English or Spanish or French or whatever their language choices are, that can go anywhere. That could go over here by the search bar. It could go down on the footer page. It could go anywhere.

They really have five: about us, news and media, science, login and my nature page. Those are the five that this particular organization has chosen. And it’s really effective. Narrowing it down to those five makes it easy for me to navigate and find my way around when I come to this website.

Also, they have a search tool. If I type in a key word or phrase, it’s going to take me directly to a page that has the results of all the references to that word or phrase on this website. It makes it easy to find what I’m looking for. And then they have at the footer of this page essentially a site map that shows all the different sections and subsections on this entire website. This site map is incredibly effective for helping me find what it is that I’m looking for to get to where it is that I need to be.

On your website, on any nonprofit website, here’s the goal — when someone comes to your website, they should be able to get from where they are, no matter where they are on your website at any given moment, to anywhere else that they want to be in three clicks or less. If they can’t get from where they are to where they want to be in three clicks, then you have a structure problem. It’s important to come in and fix that.

All right. Let’s move on to design. I will share right out of the gate that design is not what you probably think it is. Design is not about making your website look or feel cool or really current or with it. There’s a lot of talk these days about all the different design styles. The biggest one right now is the parallax design, where you scroll down one long page and the graphics kind of morph into the next graphic as you go through it. It’s called parallax. It’s a design trend that we’re seeing. That design trend will phase out at some point and move on to something else.

But here’s the key point. When you build your website as a nonprofit organization, you do not need to build it with fancy or creative or knocks my socks off and make me impressed with your design. That’s not what we need to focus on. We instead should be focused on telling the story of our organization. That’s what a good design will do.

When I go to a website that’s designed well, I know that it’s . . . I get it right away. I understand who this organization is, what they stand for, what they’re about within a matter of seconds because I just get it. I understand. And I’m deliberately going to share with you a website in this next screen here that doesn’t necessarily knock your socks off with its beauty. In fact, it has a lot of design issues that I would fix if I were counseling them.

But they do a great job telling the story of their organization. We know because we’ve heat-mapped it. We’ve put it in front of several constituents of nonprofits and we’ve tested it to see how long it takes and where their eyeballs go and how long it takes them to get it, to understand this organization. So, I’m going to bring it up. This organization is called the Community Childcare Council of Santa Clara County Incorporated, an obnoxiously long name, but they have the world’s shortest domain name, 4C.org.

So, if you look at this, see all the different colors. I’m a parent. I’m a provider for the community, all those different colors. Then they have a yellow background with white text reversed into it. That’s not a good decision. So, they’ve made some design errors that I would counsel against.

But I’m using this as my example because we, again, have heat map tested it and we know that when the leverage person comes to this website, they connect. They get it. They understand who this organization is very quickly because it tells the story. The photograph of the children holding fruit to their eyes is the first thing that people will fix their eyes on when they come to this website.

And then the average person is going to jump to that headline on the right, “Providing Early Care and Education for Children,” or perhaps the headline right underneath, “Ensuring Children and Childcare Receive Nutritious Meals.” Whichever headline our eye jumps to in any case, in combination with the photograph that we see out of the gate, we connect, we get it. We understand who this organization is and what they’re about and that’s what a good website will do.

Another organization that does this well, Groundwater.org, “It’s the water we drink: We educate people and inspire action to ensure sustainable, clean groundwater for future generations.” Very clear, very straightforward. Now, these are easy examples, right? We have children, groundwater — those are easy.

What about organizations that exist in a niche or a really small, narrow sub-segment of a niche or an industry where it’s really hard to define exactly what it is that they do? I’m going to show you an example of an organization that does a really good job with this. It’s an organization that leads with their acronym, which I don’t always recommend, but in this case it’s not a bad idea because when you spell out the acronym and use the full words, it’s more convoluted than it is if you just do the acronym. You’ll see what I’m talking about.

So I’m going to click over and give you a second to look at this and see how long it takes you to get any sense whatsoever as to what this organization is about. Again, this is EDSF.org. I’ll ask the question does it help if you see Electronic Document Scholarship Foundation? Probably not. That doesn’t help us much at all. I’m going to share with you where the average person looks and sees when they come to this website, the very first thing we look at and we fix our gaze on, which is nearly always the case is the dominant graphic on the page.

It happens to be two young people looking at the camera and we identify them very quickly as students. Why do we identify them as students? Well, they’re young, number one. The gentleman has like a book sash hanging over his shoulder and a blue shirt that kind of looks a little uniform-y, like it might be some kind of standardized issue. Instantly we identify these young people as students.

The next place that the eyeball goes is we skip over all of those long words. We don’t really pay attention to words on these pages. We jump down to those buttons, those blue bottoms. So, the average person is going to . . . in fact, more than 95% of the people transfix their gaze right on the photograph and more than half of those are instantly going to jump to donate now, scholarships, education.

So our mind walks through this process. We see the photograph. We recognize them as students. So, we see students. They want us to donate now so they can have scholarships and get an education. All right. I get it. At least I get it enough. This happens to be an organization that exists again, in a very narrow niche. It’s in the printing and digital copying world.

This organization exists to help provide education and opportunities for young people so that they can continue to have really qualified talent and people coming into working for their companies and organizations. So, it’s a really great example of how you can take a complex idea or nonprofit or concept or mission and make sense of it.

One more thing that I want to mention on design. It’s really important that we follow the elements of the ADA compliance checklist, the American Disabilities Act. It helps us really make sure that all of the people that are coming to view are website are able to see and interact with something that’s meaningful to them.

I’m going to give you an example here. One thing on this list is making sure that we are tagging all of our photographs. So, for example, if I’m a site impaired visitor to your website, I probably have a little machine connected to my computer that’s going to read to me as I scroll across the page.

So, as I move my mouse around on the page and I scroll over the words Electronic Document Scholarship Foundation, it will read those words to me. What happens when I scroll over the photograph? What does it read to me? It reads whatever is embedded in the alt tag underneath the photograph. So, it’s going to actually read what’s there. What do the vast majority of nonprofit organizations do? We name our photographs with things like “front page upper-right,” “front page lower-left,” whatever. Or we just leave the name that the camera gave it or some random string of characters.

That’s how the vast majority, more than half of nonprofits, when we dig into their website and their code, that’s how they’re designed. I understand we’re trying to do more with less. We’re probably having our websites built by whoever did the lowest bid and that’s probably somebody who’s newest and least experienced at building them. So we have this challenge of making sure we’re doing things right.

There are a lot of reasons why you want to have your images tagged, not just so your sight-impaired visitors can hear and see and experience the website differently. It’s also really critical for your engine optimization. Your photographs are going to give you just as much search juice as the words that you use on your page. It’s really important that if we want to be found, if we want people to find us using keywords that people type in. If we want them to find our websites, we have to make sure we’re optimizing the use of those kind of tags.

So this entire list, this ADA checklist, print this page out. You’re going to get a copy of this presentation. Everything that you see on the screen today you can print out, hand this to your web designer and make sure you’re doing all the things on that checklist.

All right. Number three is content. Content, as they have said from the dawn of the Internet back in the mid-90s when it started to become commercialized, content is king. It’s all about making sure you have ample, deep, diverse content on your website for all the different audiences you serve. I’m going to kind of adjust this a little bit for 2016. I think even more important than content is the context of that information.

How relevant is it to the end user who’s clicking on it, who’s reading it, who’s using it, who’s consuming the information you’re posting? Is it meaningful? Is it relevant? Is it something that I can use or that I can access that will affect me in some way? It’s not about quantity of content. It’s about quality of content, making sure that the information we’re providing has contextual relevance for the person that is visiting your website.

Here’s an organization that does a great job with this, NonprofitRisk.org. This organization exists to help other nonprofits learn, understand and mitigate their risk. If you come to their library — fact sheets, glossaries, all kinds of really great resources for nonprofits to find and get help when it comes to managing the risk in their organization.

Another organization that does this realty well, ChildrensRights.org. Children’s Rights, if you come in to their issues and resources section is loaded with knowing your rights, adoption, foster care, all the things that people coming to this website are looking for when they come there in the first place. The information is organized and sorted in a way that doesn’t require me to sort through one thing to find something else. I can really get right to it and find what I’m looking for. Great examples of websites and organizations that understand content.

But I’m going to make one more key point on this. It’s really not even all about the content itself. That’s really important. But what’s even more important is how do we get the content into the website in the first place. To that end, every nonprofit organization in existence today who has a website should have a content management system that makes it drop and drag simple, point and click easy for you and other members of your team to update and modify that content of your own website.

Every organization should have a minimum of three people who have the ability to update and modify content on your website. So someone who’s managing your events, for example, should be able to login and very simply change out the dress code is going to be smart casual, whatever that means, so maybe they want to create a link and an explanation of what that means. So they can go in and update this content themselves.

What happens so often is that if we have to go through one person, our go-to geek or someone else, it creates this bottleneck and then what happens over time in maybe two weeks, two months, but at some point in time, we stop trying to update things because it’s just such a hassle.

Even if we have people that are designated and dedicated to doing that, most often these are people that have other things too. There are things going on in their lives. Maybe they’ve had a child, a third child or they’ve gone to college and now they’ve got all this stuff. They’ve got a new job and it’s really intensive or maybe they graduated from middle school, like our 14-year old genius from earlier and that homework is really serious all of a sudden. I’ve got to go in and do a lot of work. Whatever, things happen and they get busy and they simply don’t have the capacity to keep up anymore.

It’s so critically important in 2016 that we have the ability to update and modify the content of our own website without having to learn code and go through a lot of complicated steps to do that. That’s another one of the issues and challenges that people have with WordPress because it’s not that easy to use for most of us.

Some of us, if you’re advanced in the technical area, you can pick it up pretty quickly. But I volunteer and work with a lot of nonprofits and I have a hard time really understanding how to use WordPress and I’ve been in and around the technology end of the nonprofit sector for more than 20 years.

So it’s not easy. It takes some work. The important thing is there are so many opportunities and so many platforms and so many options for nonprofit organizations to make sure that your website is built on a content management system that’s point and click easy. That’s what I highly recommend you do.

Instead of the next version of your website being built on WordPress, build it on a platform built and constructed for nonprofits and there are dozens of them out there. There are lots of options out there in the world that make it really easy for you to do that.

So let’s move to the fourth area of focus today, the fourth element of an engaging website, and that is functionality. So, functionality refers to the tools that we build into our websites that make it not only possibly but in many cases necessary for the people that are coming to engage with us through our website to use those tools as a way to engage.

So it’s making it easy for them to come to our website and actually do something substantive. Other than just read or see something cool, they can actually engage with us. So, there are things that you can do where people can come and sign up to volunteer or they can sign up or engage in the various programs you offer, come to your even calendar and sort through all the things that are coming up.

The single most important online tool according to the focus group research from the last five years that we’ve seen rise to the top of the list and become really important, it’s not online donations, although we would like it to be. We would like the single most important tool from our constituent’s perspective to be, “I want to go give them money.” But it’s really important that we have a great online donations system setup through our website.

But the number one thing that constituents want on average is the ability to come and sign up and register for events. So, if your organization is the type of organization that has any event throughout the year or multiple events throughout the year, having an easy way for people to sign up and engage with those.

So, I’m going to break a few hearts when I say this next part because I want to be really clear about this. I apologize if this fits how you’ve been doing it. But posting a PDF file on your website that I can print out, download, print out, sign, fill out manually, scan and then email back to you, that is not online registration. That’s online frustration. People get very frustrated with having to deal with that.

I want to back up for a moment and say that it’s better to provide a PDF file than nothing at all than it is to make me call you and have you mail me a registration form or call me and do it over the phone or whatever. It’s better to do a PDF than nothing. But what people really want is the ability to come to a web-based forum that allows me to sign up and register right to your website and pay through the same system so that I’m all set and ready to go.

What’s even better is if you have tools build into your registration system so that as a registrant, as a signee to your event, I’m going to get an email back from you automatically. It will have a link to a map that says this is where the venue is, all the things that I need to know and maybe two days before the event, I’ll get another email with a reminder and a link to the map, etc. I want to be catered to, like with red carpet, I want you to lay it all out for me, make it really remarkably easy.

Because we’re talking to a Bloomerang audience today, I’m going to throw this out there as well. The most important thing is to make sure that when people are entering data into our website, we have the ability to get that data into our donor database tool.

It’s really important that we have the ability to get the data from the website to whatever donor database tool you’re using and hopefully if you’re in the session today, you are already a client and user of Bloomerang, which is a fantastic donor database tool, but having the ability to make sure your website and your donor database tool work together in 2016 is really important. So, there are lots of other important functional tools.

But there’s one more thing in particular that I want to focus in on. It’s such an important topic for nonprofit organizations and that is having landing pages on your website. So, think for a moment about all the different ways that people get to your website. You send out an email marketing piece.

Maybe you send out a mailer, a direct mail piece that’s going to hundreds or thousands of people in your community. Maybe you’re going to be out in the community at various other events and pointing people over to your organization. Maybe there’s some kind of conference of people that are supporting nonprofits, all these different ways and different things in the community where people are being told about and being pointed to our website.

Instead of sending those people to the front page of your website, to your homepage and dumping them off there and letting them fend for themselves to do whatever it is that they might want to do, here’s a much better strategy — create many different landing pages. You should have a minimum of 5. I know organizations that have more than 50.

But have many different landing pages where people can land on your website and take action on something specific. What is it that you want them to take action on? In this example on the screen, no kid hungry, take the pledge, 45,000 other people have done it. there’s a place to type in your email and zip code. Take the pledge, really simple, right?

So think about it from this perspective. Instead of sending people directly to your website when you want them to do something specific, send them to a landing page that allows them to take action on whatever it is that you want them to take action on. So, you should have a powerful, engaging headline that complements the anchor text that brought them there in the first place.

So, if you send out an email marketing piece that says “sign up for our fall event”, the headline on the landing page should say something similar to that. You want to make sure that whatever they clicked on or whatever they typed in is similar to what they’re going to see as a headline so they have that contextual engagement.

Then you need a video or an image that’s going to draw their attention in. We’re going to strip out all of the top line navigation so they can’t do anything else other than click on your logo and go back to the homepage. The only other thing they can do is click on the register now button or whatever your call to action is and then make sure you provide supporting material and sell them on why they should take action on this.

It’s very simple the anatomy of a landing page, but we need to be using these in our organizations. Again, every organization should have five minimum and preferably a lot more than that. You should have the ability to set these up on the fly. You should be able to set this up yourself without having to go through your go-to geek to get it done. It’s really important.

But site visitors — this is why I’m talking about this — site visitors who enter through a landing page are ten times more likely going to convert. In other words, 10 times more likely to make a donation, sign up to your event, sign up to volunteer, whatever it is you want them to do as a result of landing on that page. So it’s a really important aspect.

I have an entire session dedicated to this, converting supporters with powerful landing pages. If you’re interested, I’d encourage you to go to Firespring.org and sign up for one of those webinars. It’s one of many webinars. But this one in particular is one that every nonprofit needs to be thinking about but so few are taking the time and paying the proper attention to it that they should be.

That takes us to our fifth and final element today. Aside from being a great Bruce Willis movie, the fifth element that I want to talk about is vitality. Simply put, vitality is the perception of the freshness of content. I’m going to repeat that. It’s really important what this means — the perception of the freshness of content.

What that means is that we have to build our website out so when people come to it, they get this feeling that the website must be constantly updated all the time. An organization that gets this really well is MichaelJFox.org. When you go to his website and you see on the front page there’s a blog and he’s posting dated content on that blog a minimum . . . in fact, I’m going to walk you through the formula.

This is the vitality formula. If you follow this, it will help you get more repeat visitors to your website guaranteed. I’ve never seen it not work and not work in a substantial way. It’s posting dated content on your front page of your website, never more than seven days apart and making sure that you have three occurrences showing. That’s what makes my brain say, “Well, this is happening all the time. I can see over time that this continues to happen.”

So dated content on your front page, never more than seven days apart and show three occurrences. If you follow that simple formula, your vitality is going to go through the ceiling. When people come to your website, they’re going to feel like everything must be updated all the time. It’s kind of like imagine a Jedi knight waving his hands in front of the screen saying, “This website is up to date,” even though we may never change anything but these blog post items here on the front page. The rest of the site may never change. It feels to us like everything is evolving over time. It’s really magical what this does.

I will share with you that I’ve gone through phases where I’ve questioned this. We discovered this phenomenon more than a decade ago by searching through hundreds upon hundreds of analytical reports from nonprofit websites, really trying to learn which nonprofits had the highest repeat visitor count, where people kept coming back and engaging with this organization over and over and over again.

I went through a phase about six years ago now where I questioned substantially whether or not this made sense. The truth of the matter is you’re going to have less than 5% of the people that come to your front page will ever click on one of these articles and read them on the average nonprofit website.

Some do better than that, some do worse. But the average is a little less than 5%. That sounds horrible, right? Why would you build a website out with this feature that’s some prominent and so important and only 5% or less of the people that come to your home page will click on it? I questioned that. I went to our team and said, “We’ve got to come up with some ways to make this better. There have to be things that we can do that will get more people to engage.”

So, we experimented with all kinds of things. We had several hundred nonprofit clients we were working with at the time that participated in this study with us. What we did is we tried all kinds of different experimental things with animated .gifs and rotating graphics and things that would absolutely get more people to click on them.

I’m going to apologize for those of you that had to endure one of the things that we did during that timeframe. If you ever went to one of those websites and there’s a little like head in the bottom corner and then all of a sudden it springs up and bounces around on the screen and says, “Hello, welcome to our website. We’re so glad you’re here.” That was us. We apologize for that.

But it worked. We had upwards . . . we went from 5 to 50% of people would actually click on that little icon or the guy or gal that popped up out and was talking to them. But we later learned that the reason they were clicking on it was to try to mute it to shut the dang thing up because it annoyed the heck out of them.

So while we got more people to click on it, it didn’t have the same effect. Over time on all of those experiments that we were running we saw that the average repeat visitor count for these websites kept going down, down, down. It kept declining down. The minute we defaulted back to our vitality formula here and posted dated content, it was like miraculously within a month all the back to where it was and continuing to climb upwards. It’s a magical formula and it will work for you, I guarantee you.

It’s important that you put content out that is relevant and contextually connected with the audience. The best way to do that is a blog post where you become a thought leader in your mission, your purpose, your segment, whatever your focus as a nonprofit is, that’s the best way to do it, but hey, I get it.

If there’s only one or two or three or five of you and you’re not big enough to do a blog and can’t become a thought leader, at the very last, spend a couple of hours over the weekend, go to Thought Garden or something like that and pull together 52 inspirational thoughts of the week that tie back or jive with your mission and post those. Even the most novice web developer can figure out how to take a database and have it automatically post a new entry every Monday morning at 7:00 a.m. or something like that, very simple to do.

But get that dated content on your front page. It will have a huge effect on how people feel about your website when they come to it. That combined with the structure, the design, the content, the functionality, these five elements working together, it’s remarkable the impact that this will have on your organization and how people feel about your professionalism and your credibility.

Let’s run through a few action steps here today. Number one, I encourage you to focus on return on investment instead of cost. Always ask the question if we put $500 into something, how much are we going to get back? Make sure that you’re focused on getting a return on investment, not necessarily how little you can spend on something. It makes so much more sense.

Build a logical site structure. Make sure you have three or more different ways to navigate and when I come to your website, I need to be able to get from where I am to where it is that I want to be in three clicks or less.

The design should tell the story of our organization through the use of photographs and headlines. The content on the website should cater to all the different types of end users and it should be relevant and have context with your audience. The functional tools built in, like event registration and having a calendar of events that I can sort through, and having the ability to make it simple and easy to make an online donation.

Those tools should just make it really simple and straightforward for me to engage with you and then post dated content once a week with three occurrences for strong vitality so people feel like your entire website is constantly evolving. And use a content management system that simple, that’s point and click easy so that when you and other members of your team come to update and modify that content, you don’t have to fight to get it done.

Have a minimum of five landing pages to increase conversions. So, landing pages, again, are things like event registration. If you have two events a year, there are two landing pages right there. A volunteer sign up or opt in page, maybe an email marketing opt in page. You’ve got all these different ways you can create landing pages. There so many options. Make sure you have at least five.

And keep learning. I’m a huge believer in the concept of R&D, which for me stands for rip-off and duplicate. It’s find out what others are doing and iterate and tweak it to make it yours, but you can learn so much from others.

One of the great ways to do that is to go to NonprofitHub.org and connect with them. It’s a fantastic organization. Firespring — we have a ton of webinars that we’d love to share with you. And of course, our great friends at Bloomerang who I’d like to just thank absolutely for today, the fact that you invited us in to particular in this. We appreciate it a great deal.

One last thing before we go to quick questions, I’m going to take a quick second. We have a philosophy here at Firespring to educate without expectation. That’s our philosophy. We do on I think about 12-13 different content types for all of the educational components that we have and we’re huge believers in just showing and sharing the best information we can find. We do several topics that have nothing at all to do with any products or service that we have, like building a fantastic culture in your organization and things like that.

I’m going to take a quick moment today and probably take three or four minutes and share with you a little bit about what we do at Firespring. So, I am going to educate now with some expectations. I want it to be very clear that I’m making this transition just for a moment as I click over.

I’m going to share with you what we’re doing. At Firespring, we exist to solve this huge problem in the nonprofit sector where websites are built for so little money because we’re trying to do more with less. The results of that, as I shared earlier, is that the average nonprofit has to start rebuilding their website every two to two and a half years.

We’ve built a solution that makes it remarkably simple and straightforward for you to take whatever you have right now, your existing website, talk to your go-to geek, your web developer and instead of having them build your website on a WordPress platform, have them or consider building your website on the Firespring platform.

It’s a simple process of taking your content and moving it into our content management system and then we bundle into that really powerful email marketing tool. It’s built right into the technology. Event registration tools, from soup to nuts, it allows you to do everything you need to do with point and click simplicity.

The news feed — if you can’t develop that blog post liked we talked about and you need to have content for your vitality, we help you with that. We have some really great options for you to plugin for your content. And landing page templates, the ability for you to come in and launch your own event page or signup page or whatever, it’s point and click simple where you can launch them yourself. We have search engine optimization built into every page on the website. So, you will be found.

We not only give you the tools but the education, really simple tools and education built right in so you know exactly what to put. And then online donations. One of the things that we know is that tools like PayPal, for example, if I give money to your organization and you use PayPal for your processing, do you know what shows up on my credit card? It says, “PayPal: (the name of your organization).”

So I feel it’s tremendously more professional for you to use a tool that costs the same or less than PayPal, so pay no more than you need to, but instead of getting your money in two weeks, which is the average PayPal time, you get it in two days. It’s all built right in. So, your name appears on the credit card statement, not PayPal’s.

And then we also sign you up for Nonprofit Hub’s boot camp. We pay your registration fee for that. It’s an awesome boot camp that includes some of the best thought leaders and trainers across the nonprofit sector worldwide, actually, to walk you through. It’s a really cool program. And then of course our support and training. You can pick up the phone to learn how to do anything with your website and talk to a lie person or just come in and take a three-minute video class or whatever you want to do. Every website includes a responsive design.

So, if you’ve been following the news, you know that Google has made a change that if you do not have a mobile-friendly website and someone searches for you on their mobile device, their phone or tablet, you will be invisible. You simply won’t show up. It’s critically important that you evolve your website to a mobile friendly site.

Our pricing plan is straightforward, very simple. It’s a flat fee. It never gets more than this. There’s no nickel and diming that happens. It’s $129 for everything including event registration, email marketing tools. If you don’t need those two tools, you can do the $89 plan. It’s straightforward. It’s month to month. There’s no contract. We think we should earn our keep every month.

So you have the ability to make changes at any point in time. But here’s the key point with this. If you take this to your designer or your web developer that you’re using now, whoever it might be and say, “Hey, build me everything that’s on this list. I want to have the ability to build my own landing pages and to go in and make my own updates, all the things we have listed here, at minimum, because we’ve actually done this, we’ve presented the list of features to developers in communities across the country and asked them to bid on it. More than $50,000, plus it would take a full time person year round to just maintain it.

That’s the value of software as a service, where you pay a flat monthly fee and get everything all bundled in together. You can totally do this yourself. It’s DIY, meaning that you can take it from beginning to end and do it all yourself and just pay that flat monthly fee.

Or if you’re the type of organization that doesn’t want to do it yourself or you don’t have the time and you have a little budget to do it, we can do it for you as well. So, we can take your content and migrate it over for you, for example. And if you want us to do any of that work for you, we are offering a $500 onboarding grant. It’s free money applicable to any Firespring product or service simply by the fact that you’re here today and you’re part of this session.

If you just go on and setup a free trial, Firespring.org/Trial, again, no obligation. There’s no payment or credit card you need to do that. It will automatically make you eligible for the $500 grant from the Firespring Foundation so that if you decide to apply that towards any Firespring product or service you can do that.

So that’s it. That’s all I have. I’m going to put this reminder screen up. These are all the educational sessions we have coming up for Firespring. We’d love to have you join us for any of those. With that, I’m going to ask Steven to share any questions to might be relevant to share with the entire group. Steven?

Steven: Yeah. We’ve got quite a few here and probably more than we’ll be able to get to over the next three to five minutes. I don’t want to keep anyone over 2:00, especially if you haven’t had lunch yet. But Jay, would you be willing to take questions via email, Twitter and all that good stuff?

Jay: Yes. I have Laurie’s email address on the screen in front of me right now. So LaurieKadavy@Firespring.org, she is our Director of Nonprofit Education and Outreach. Laurie either will get any questions you have directly to me or whichever team member makes the most sense because we have a lot of people that are experts at different things. So, send it to Laurie. She’ll channel it to the right person. I would love to address any questions you have.

Steven: Very cool. Jay, we’ve got a lot of questions centered around the concept of landing pages, probably seven or so. I don’t want to go through all of them because they’re kind of all the same, at least somewhat similar. Could you explain the concept of landing pages again for folks? These are pages that people can get to from anywhere. They have forms on them typically. Maybe you can go over that real quick if you don’t mind.

Jay: Yeah. The simplest way to think about it is a landing page is the page that you land on as part of your website that when someone comes to it, it allows them to take some specific action. So, if you have one page on your website that is an event registration page for your fall event, that would be considered a landing page.

The challenge that most organizations have is they don’t really separate out or treat landing pages differently than they do any interior page of their website. So they have their topline navigation in the footer bar, the same thing that you see on every interior page, most organizations just post up an event sign up page or an event registration page as part of their typical structure.

That’s a big mistake because what happens if you have a specific landing page and it’s designed a certain way where it minimizes distractions, it minimizes actions the user can take and limits them only to being able to take action on whatever it is this landing page is asking them to do, like register for the event, for example, or click on the logo and go back to the homepage. It has a really profound impact on the conversion rate, on how many people will actually take action on that page.

There’s a whole science behind getting people . . . understanding how to use landing pages on the front end. You send it out via an email marketing piece or it might be a landing page domain that you send out in a letter, like your annual appeal letter at the end of the year, come to OurOrganization.org/ what word do you want to plug in here? Campaign, like winter campaign, whatever.

But give them a specific page to go to instead of just directing them to your homepage and it increases the conversion rates anywhere. It’s all over the board based on the type of organization. But we see conversion rates increase anywhere from 10% all the way up to 80% simply by using a landing page philosophy. Again, I have entire session.

It’s really hard, Steven, to explain it to and to give justice to it in a matter of like a minute or two, an entire session, an hour-long session dedicated to the science behind how to do it. It’s really an easy session to understand. I would encourage you just to attend that to know more if you’d like to know more about it.

Steven: Fair enough. Check out those webinars and Nonprofit Hub as well. They have some awesome webinars. We’ll get you all that information to sign up. Jay, it’s 2:00, so I’ll end it there if that’s okay with you. This was really awesome. Thanks for hanging out with us for an hour or so.

Jay: Thanks for the invitation. We appreciate your commitment to the nonprofit sector. It’s something that we’re passionate about. I’d like to just say to everyone who attended today thank you for giving us an hour of your time. I know there are so many things you could have done today, the fact you chose to spend part of your day with us we don’t take lightly. We work really hard to make sure the content is actionable and valuable. So, thank you very much for the time today.

Steven: Sure thing. I just want to echo. I know it’s a busy time of year. So, thanks for hanging out with us for an hour today. We will be sending out the recording and the slides in just a few hours here. You’ll definitely get those this afternoon. So, be on the lookout for them. We’ve got lots of resources on the Bloomerang website as well.

We also have our regular Thursday webinars. We’ve got a great presentation planned one week from today. Mark Pittman is going to be our guest. He’s going to go over some really awesome research that he did earlier on this year. He did a massive survey of the nonprofit sector regarding leadership — leadership issues, leadership struggles. He’s going to share the findings of that survey with us.

So do not miss that one. It’s going to be really cool, very unique, brand new data. We’d love to see you there one week from today, 1:00 Eastern. We’ve got a lot for other great webinars scheduled throughout the end of the year already. Hard to believe we’re in the third quarter, but you may see another topic there that piques your interest and if so, we’d love for you to register and see you again.

With that, we’ll end it there. Have a great rest of your afternoon, have a great weekend and hopefully we will see you soon. Next week, hopefully. We will talk to you soon.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.
Kristen Hay