Donors and volunteers don’t give to your organization because they want to lighten their pockets or fill their calendars on the weekends. They do so because they feel a connection to your organization, your cause, your constituents, and the other supporters that make up your community.
Unfortunately, many organizations have struggled to build and maintain strong connections with supporters when fundraising during the COVID-19 pandemic. In-person volunteering, face-to-face fundraising events, one-on-one lunches—many organizations needed to cancel these types of gatherings in 2020 and will likely continue to do so for the immediate future. But that doesn’t mean that your organization needs to lose touch with the community you’ve grown over the years.
Instead, turn to your website and other areas of digital presence to foster stronger relationships between supporters and your nonprofit.
At Cornershop Creative, we work with nonprofits to craft and maintain effective websites to greet their audience and reach their fundraising and advocacy goals. Because of this work, we’ve seen firsthand the impact that your organization’s digital presence has when building community with your online supporters. We’re going to walk through the following steps you can take to foster stronger connections with supporters online:
- Optimize your website.
- Create engaging content.
- Encourage virtual interaction.
Building community using your nonprofit’s digital presence comes down to a few key factors: prioritizing accessibility, garnering your audience’s interest, and providing an outlet for supporters to respond. Let’s dive into a few tips to help you do all of the above.
Optimize your website.
Did you know that 47% of website visitors expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less? Or, that 39% of people will stop engaging with a site if images or multimedia elements won’t load (or take too long to do so)?
If you want to foster stronger connections using your site, it naturally follows that users need to visit— and stay on— the site long enough to experience the valuable content and interactive elements. However, these statistics paint a clear picture: if your website isn’t optimized for user experience (UX), your online supporters aren’t going to engage with it to begin with.
Optimizing your website for user experience means choosing content, visual design, and back-end technical decisions that make your site as easy as possible for visitors to engage with. So, for example, if you’re optimizing your online fundraising process you would need:
- A straightforward navigational hierarchy. The user should be able to find giving opportunities from your site’s main menu and through calls-to-action throughout the site.
- A well-designed donation form. According to this Cornershop Creative guide, nonprofits should consider using a multi-step donation form. This breaks out the various steps in giving (ex: amount, payment information, etc.) into streamlined, click-through pages. It’s a great alternative to overwhelming, single-page forms with many fields to fill out.
The goal here is to make it simple for users who want to donate through your website to do so. But digital fundraising isn’t the only way to foster connections with your supporters through your website— as we’ll cover, volunteering, virtual interaction, and even robust content can all strengthen your supporters’ relationships with your organization.
Here are a few best practices that you can use to optimize your site overall to ensure supporters can interact with all points of engagement you provide:
- Make sure everything works. Ongoing website maintenance is key to ensure images, videos, and other multimedia elements load properly and quickly. Additionally, check for broken links across your site, paying close attention to navigational elements. A search engine optimization tool such as Yoast SEO can be helpful in this regard.
- Prioritize user-friendly navigation. Not only should your main menu have a clear hierarchical structure, but it should also be mobile-responsive. This doesn’t mean that it simply shrinks to fit smaller screens, but that it adapts to be viewed in an optimum manner on all screen sizes.
- Create a visually pleasing design. Your nonprofit’s branding should be carried throughout the site. Additionally, it’s a great idea to use impactful, heartstrings-tugging images— but it’s also important to design your site in a way that these images don’t distract from the informational content.
The benefits of optimizing your site can extend beyond user experience, as well. For example, one technical optimization is ensuring there is a streamlined integration between your content management system (CMS or website builder) and your constituent relationship management (CRM or database) system. According to this guide to donor databases, this integration allows for the streamlined flow of data between the two platforms. With a full picture of your web data in your CRM, your team can collect information about your website’s visitors and continue optimizing your digital offerings based on what’s proven to catch their attention.
Create engaging content.
Optimizing your website to make all portions easily accessible is crucial to ensure supporters can engage with your site. But, what can you do to make users want to engage with your site and your organization’s digital community?
This is where the content of your site comes into play. From your “About Us” page to your blog posts, your volunteer testimonials, and everything in between— the content on your site should draw site visitors in, capture their interest, and encourage them to learn more.
Here are a few tips to create engaging content across your site:
- Keep content up-to-date. Make sure any upcoming events and news items are current, something that can be easily accomplished with a regularly updated blog. Additionally, ensure your organization’s annual reports and Form 990 are clearly displayed on your site. The nonprofit accounting specialists at Jitasa note that sharing your Form 990 with supporters is key to communicating openly. This is especially crucial for major donors and grant funders.
- Acknowledge current events. Whether a global pandemic or a headline-grabbing presidential election, don’t operate your website as if your nonprofit exists in a bubble. While you don’t have to go too in-depth on any one topic, it’s still valuable to acknowledge how current events have impacted your efforts— such as any new procedures rolled out for COVID-19 safety.
- Make content that’s easy to digest. Blog posts should be easy to read and digest, which means you’ll want to avoid writing a full dissertation each week and use language that can be understood by the average reader. Additionally, any presentations (such as webinars) should be accessible and easy-to-understand. Speaking clearly and including closed captions can go a long way.
Last but not least, remember that engaging content goes beyond educational blog posts, informational web pages, or unifying virtual events. Sometimes the best way to draw users into your site and through that, a lifetime of engagement, is bold visuals. After all, the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text!
The example above, showing The END Fund’s website, uses visual content design best practices that can elevate a site from just okay to one of the best nonprofit websites. Most importantly, the site uses a bold visual design— especially the red menu— and includes compelling images of the communities that benefit from the nonprofit’s work. Looking at this site, a visitor will be surely be inspired to get involved to keep those smiles bright.
Encourage virtual interaction.
The internet allows you to connect with supporters near and far, helping you reach an audience you would have never found through fully analog, local means. However, while engaging copy and visuals on social media, email newsletters, and your website can build stronger connections between supporters and your organization, it’s still hard to beat face-to-face engagement.
Encourage face-to-face, virtual interaction between your supporters and your organization online. There are a few ways to go about this, but we’re going to focus on virtual events and conferences.
Rather than broadcasting information to supporters, invite these supporters to provide feedback in real-time. This could mean livestreaming a webinar using a streaming platform that accepts viewer chat, hosting a multi-day conference through a robust virtual event platform, or even just setting up a few “happy hour” chats where supporters can speak with members of your staff to learn more about your organization. To be successful and engage donors and supporters through this type of event, you’ll need to create a two-way street for participation.
Finally, remember that virtual events don’t need to be one-dimensional or exist through a screen alone. Consider using in-person or tangible experiences alongside online engagements. If you’re hosting a virtual event, consider ways that you can add tactile engagement into the mix. For example, if you’re hosting a virtual art class, mail the materials to event attendees to ensure everyone is equipped to create alongside the instructor.
To wrap up, what are your team’s next steps to begin building community using your digital presence?
We’d recommend reviewing your existing website and digital tools to make sure they’re optimized to provide a positive user experience. Remember, this encompasses both the technical aspects and the content you share, both of which should be accessible and valuable for site visitors. If your team is unfamiliar with making technical updates to your site, consider working with a nonprofit web consultant to ensure any maintenance is handled properly.
Once you’ve optimized your digital presence, explore new ways you can foster virtual interaction. This could be a virtual event or conference, or even weekly digital “hangouts.” Whatever you choose, make sure you invite active participation from viewers!
With 15 years’ experience, Ira is an expert in nonprofit online communications and online fundraising. His work has resulted in increased funds and resounding supporter engagement for hundreds of organizations.
Ira oversees our project management team and works with clients to provide our clients with the best possible final product. He also manages all of our strategic engagements and helps guide nonprofits to determine their long-term strategy goals for online communications.