During yesterday’s webinar on “Successful Nonprofit Websites: How to Make Your Website Work for You,” I asked participants to rank their own websites on 8 of the 10 criteria we discussed.

About 30 people participated, mostly from small nonprofits, producing some interesting results from their own evaluations of their websites.

56% said that their website didn’t allow visitors to sign-up for email communication at all. Only 11% said their email newsletter sign-up form appeared either within their site template (and thus on every page) or at least on all of the major pages of the site.

Getting people to your website is the hard part. Don’t let them just disappear back into cyberspace. Encourage visitors to stay in touch with you by signing up for an email newsletter, action alerts, or whatever you’d like to call your email correspondence. The point is to capture those email addresses so you can start a conversation with those website visitors.

In contrast, only 27% said they didn’t offer visitors a way to donate online. Hmmm . . . What’s the reasoning here? You’ll take their money, but not their email address? Maybe because following through with producing the e-communication is more work and throwing a donate button on the site is easy? You need to do both — email communication and online fundraising — and I’m willing to bet that the orgs with donate links with no e-newsletter aren’t raising much online.

72% own just a single domain name. I strongly recommend that at a minimum, nonprofits own the .org, .com, and .net versions of their main domain names. Ideally, you should also own any reasonable guesses that people might make. For example, The Nature Conservancy owns nature.org (its main site), natureconservancy.org, and thenatureconservancy.org. They own most, but not all, of the .com versions as well. When you don’t buy all the versions, someone else will eventually snatch them up and most likely put an advertising site up.

Only 27% said they usually or always have a story on their homepage. 45% said there were no stories on their websites at all! Ack! Storytelling is probably the most powerful marketing tool nonprofits have and yet it’s not being used on websites. Stories are the easiest ways to give examples of the need for your organization, the challenges you face, what you are doing to overcome them, and your successes. If I had to pick one single area for improvement among the group as a whole, it would be this one.

Only 34% said their home page offered visitors a clear path to the top answers and actions they were most likely seeking. To help focus your site on your visitors instead of your organization itself, I recommend that you think about why people would come to your website in the first place. What three questions would they be seeking answers for? What three actions would they like to take (e.g. registering for an event, donating online)?  The path to those answers and actions should be crystal clear on your home page.

It’s a lot to absorb, but the good news is that all of these problems are very fixable. Here’s what a few people said about what they learned during the webinar:

“You hit on so many of the issues I’ve been trying to articulate to my organization about our website that I’m thinking about just having them listen to the recording at our next committee meeting.  The idea of a CMS, of making the website relevant to our clients (and donors and volunteers) and of loosening IT’s grip on the website is so intimidating to agency management that I feel I need another voice to back me up.  They’re open to making changes, so I hope an expert voice will help me make my case!”  ~ Rebekah Hickey, Community Services Consortium

“(Liked) the reinforcing comments about having pictures and stories. Also, I like it when you pose questions about how to improve example websites – the interactivity is great. Also nice to hear other suggestions and get my brain thinking, rather than just being a passive listener.  ~  Erin Kangas, Manitoba Children’s Museum

“(The webinar) had a lot of practical ideas. We are in the process of selecting a company to re-do our website as part of a capacity building grant and I wanted to have some information on what I should ask for. I got it!”  ~ Belisa Urbina, Renovacion Conyugal, Inc

Wish you’d joined us? You can get the next best thing – the video recording – by purchasing an All-Access Pass to Nonprofit Marketing Guide.com. The recording is available in the Webinar Archive right now, along with nearly all the recording from the past year. Your All-Access Pass also let you RSVP for live webinars for the next 12 weeks at no additional cost. Get the details.

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