Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Field of Dreams" Makes A Better Movie Than A Website Strategy

Everyone remembers the 1989 hit movie Field of Dreams. The most famous scene, of course, is when an Iowa farmer (played by Kevin Costner) hears this haunting voice tell him "If you build it, they will come." He then proceeds to use all his money to build a baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield and risks foreclosure as a result.

Many nonprofits today approach their website design in just the same way. An executive will say, "This Internet thing is taking off, we need to be online too." They then hire someone to build them a site and wait around for the lines of donors to log on, satisfied that they're properly represented on the Net.

I think they've gone to batting practice without their helmets one too many times.

With over 175,000,000 web sites existing online and millions more added every month, how is your nonprofit going to attract visitors and keep them coming back? This is the question that has plagued many a fundraiser who's taken their nonprofit online. The answer is not too different from a traditional method you all know: e-mail newsletters.

Health Check
Sites with Anemia
  • Site is static for long periods.
  • Site doesn't make new content known.
  • Can't subscribe to an e-mail update.
Sites with Vigor
  • Site adds new stories or articles continually
  • Site draws visitors with compelling e-mail.
  • Newsletter sign-ups are found throughout the site.

Newsletters have been used for years by nonprofits to increase visibility and to let donors know what's happening. They also allow you to communicate with your donors in a more detailed fashion. E-mail type newsletters do much of the same thing, with some very important differences.

First, because people approach e-mail with a limited attention span, long newsletters don't work well. Instead, you need to use short synopses of your newsletter articles and provide a link to that article on your website. This allows people to read what they're interested in and skip what they're not an important benefit in today's time-strapped lifestyle.

Also, the linking to articles on your site brings the donor onto your playing field, if you will. They're usually online already because they must be connected to receive their mail. Once they've clicked onto your site, they're just one click away from your donation process (if you've set up your site properly). Also, though one story may not compel them to give, you now have many more stories within their reach and another may resonate with them.

Finally, an e-mail approach allows donors to pass the e-mail onto their friends and family, creating a viral effect and giving you more eyes for your efforts. These are the best kind of leads; not only are they free, but they're pre-endorsed by a trusted source - the sender.

Next month, I'll be discussing ways to approach your e-mail strategy. Until then, I hope you'll continue to go the distance.