I just heard it again this week.
I had the pleasure of having an invigorating discussion with a couple of women at a local nonprofit...two people who have very strong ideas of how they wish to improve the situation at their NGO. Not only are they coming at it from a program & services delivery point of view, but they also considering how to become more self-sustaining in the future from a business perspective. Additionally, they want to be more "present" for their clients. In short, they have a good sized list of things they want to do, and they are very much aware that improving their online presence is going to be a strategic part of realizing their goals.
And then came the line that is unfortunately all to common in many nonprofits:
they had to try and "convince" some people about the value of improving the website.
I'm not putting my head in the sand here and pretending that I don't at least partially understand why some people would need convincing...but I have to say that it wouldn't take me too long to be convinced if I started looking at how the website was being used at my own particular NGO versus how other NGOs use their online presence. Eventually I would be asking myself "Why shouldn't we be taking our fair share of the online pie?"
So, for those who need a little ammunition for the "we don't need a website" argument, here are some points to reflect on.
A website helps people know you exist
When you want to find something, or learn about something, what do you do? Are you opening up the encyclopedia on your bookshelf? Thumbing through the Yellow Pages? Phoning a friend and asking? Odds are you go online and ask one of our marvellous search engines your question.
So, what question do you think most of your clients or supporters or other online audience members are asking? Now go type that question in Google or your preferred search engine and see what the response is. If your nonprofit is present in the top pages, and you are confident that people are finding you...great. If not...odds are many don't know you exist, so you aren't reaching as many as you could or should.
A website helps you educate & collaborate
When I go online, I am looking for information. In my own personal area of nonprofit technology, I want to know about websites, search engine optimization, marketing, analytics & metrics. I find a wealth of information, spread out everywhere...and as I keep looking certain people or organizations consistently provide awesome information and they get my attention. They get bookmarked. I will "tweet" about them.
What areas of service has your nonprofit developed an expertise in? Are you sharing this information locally & globally? Are you engaging in educating those who are in need of this information, collaborating with others who might be working in the same area, developing relationships centred around knowledge? If not...why not? Why go it alone, why work in a vaccuum?
The power of "one" isn't nearly as strong as the power of the "many". Wikipedia is a collaborative educational tool. Its impact is immense. This website blog is being written in Drupal, an open source software that benefited from another form of collaboration...which in turn helps to educate by sharing information. It is this collaborative software tool that is powering website like Amnesty, Greenpeace UK, The White House, and VIA Rail.
Every day, every week your nonprofit is gaining knowledge, expertise, experience. Share it with others!
A website helps you raise funds
If you are asking for financial support, whether from an individual or a corporation, there are certain questions that most will ask. Questions such as:
- How will my money be used?
- What fraction of the money goes to programs, what percent goes to administration?
- How successful have your programs been?
- Who have you helped so far?
These sort of questions can be easily addressed, online, via your website. Show financials. Share annual reports. Post videos of those you help. Give people access to programs along with your metrics (where appropriate).
This sort of transparent sharing of information goes a long way to instilling a sense of trust in online donors. And for corporations who support you...create a page on your site acknowledging them and the great work they do! Use your website as a big "thank you" vehicle.
A website helps you recruit volunteers
If I am looking for an opportunity to donate time & skills to an organization, the first thing I will do is go online. What sort of "feeling" does your present website convey? Is it encouraging? Up to date? Progressive? Or is it bland, boring, out of date, somewhat apathetic looking?
I'm going to put my efforts behind the progressive nonprofits, because those are the ones I find most inspiring. Don't let a poor online presence give a false, negative impression to potential volunteers. If you are doing great work, meaningful work, hard work...day in, day out...shout about it! Let people know. A little positive, truthful marketing can go a long way.
Another thing, how easy is it for potential volunteers to get more information via your website? If they want to sign up to volunteer, are there easy forms they can use? Approach your website as if you were a potential volunteer and perform the tasks you think they might be interested in.
A website helps you deliver services
If there is a portion of your services that is educational, based on sharing & conveying information, consider posting it on your website. It can free up staff time from being involved in repetitive, non-value-add work such as answering emails or phone calls about service X.
A website helps you promote advocacy issues
For those who believe in your cause, who want to help support your mission, a website can make it simple to "get involved". You can supply the necessary email addresses, website URLs, packages to download, event details etc in order for people to help advocate on behalf of your nonprofit organization.
It's about need, timing, budget...
Like I mentioned earlier...I can sort of understand why some people need to be convinced about the necessity of building, improving, redeveloping a website for their nonprofit organization. Perhaps the needs haven't been clearly defined. Or the timing might be bad, with no staff available to devote the non-trivial amount of time required. Or it might be a case of needing to apply for funding.
There are many good reasons why a website project might not be a good idea "right now". But here is the acid test for whether or not you should be considering a redevelopment of your online presence. Can your nonprofit honestly say:
- We have enough publicity.
- We educate enough.
- We have enough volunteers.
- We have enough online donations.
- We deliver our services effectively enough.
- We don't need any more advocacy champions.
Unless you can clearly agree with each of those statements, I would say that the "we don't need a website" argument is very much open for debate.