People rarely read websites in the way they read newspapers and magazines. The internet is for browsing, and the most popular sites are organised for casual visitors. So what features help a website to attract high levels of traffic? And once people visit a site, how do you turn them into donors? Here are some tips.
1. DON'T TRY TO DO EVERYTHING AT ONCE
Resist the temptation to launch a site with every conceivable online fundraising function already in place.
"Create a modular site that will allow you to add later fundraising functions as you go along," advises Niroo Rad, chief executive of ASI Europe, a company specialising in web systems for not-for-profit organisations.
"A modular structure gives a charity the agility to deal with the uncertainty of the future. You can, for example, quickly exploit public interest in a news story that is relevant to your cause."
Howard Lake, publisher of the UK Fundraising website, agrees. "A modular site lets you hijack the front page sometimes," he says. "The big aid agencies do this well during humanitarian emergencies - it's an effective way of drawing attention to key news."
2. DON'T ALLOW FUNDRAISING TO BE DRIVEN BY DESIGN
Beware of overusing hi-tech features, such as Adobe Flash player graphics, that could distract visitors from the content of your website and hold them up when they are downloading your pages. "Many charities make the mistake of being seduced by attractive designs, but they end up digging holes for themselves because such features can restrict how they develop the site later on," says Rad.
"The fundraising function should drive the design, rather than the other way round."
Lake believes too many charities describe ways to donate only on the fundraising sections of their sites. "Many people just give lists," he says. "You should bring attention to fundraising events on different areas of the site, perhaps by using banner ads that change, and get your fundraising message out elsewhere."
3. INTERACT WITH DONORS
Charities that treat online donors like members of their organisations, rather than as one-off visitors, encourage donors to return to the site. For example, the NSPCC uses Google Maps technology to create an online map showing where its supporters are located.
"It's a great idea," says Lake. "The maps change minute by minute, making a powerful tool."
Rad believes few charity websites offer potential donors a sense of belonging.
"A website is the perfect way to encourage people who give money to stay with the cause," he says. "People use sites to exchange views, so create a forum where they can do this. You have a better chance of keeping them if they have a sense of belonging to a cause." World Emergency Relief's site, for example, has a news ticker on its homepage, giving donors information on how their money is being spent.
Lake adds: "Encourage forum users to reveal who they are by requesting their email addresses and permission to use them for fundraising communication."
4. CAPTURE INFORMATION
Marketers need good quality information and tools to analyse it. If a website is integrated with offline marketing databases, they can analyse how donors behave and target emails effectively, so it makes sense to allow supporters to express preferences about the online information they like to receive. "It makes a subtle yet profound difference from blasting out emails about every little bit of progress if you push information that's solicited and highly targeted," says Rad.
Supporters' behaviour can be analysed not just by the number of page impressions, but also by how many read the email marketing message, how many passed it to a friend and how many and who didn't read it at all.
"Find out if your supplier has a good track record of integrating websites with marketing databases, and seek recommendations from clients," advises Rad.
5. COLLECT THE MONEY
Give visitors to your website every opportunity to donate. You don't necessarily need a donate button on every page, but make the option accessible all over the site.
"A donate button should be at the top of a web page," says Lake. He says internet users can be fickle, so it pays to keep abreast of user trends.
"A few years ago, research showed that users look at graphics before text, but this year research suggested the opposite," he adds. "If you feature fancy graphics such as revolving donate buttons, they can quickly look dated."
- See At Work Communications, page 27, and At Work Finance, page 30.