Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Donors Aren't the Only Ones Online

If you visit any social service non-profit's website looking to donate or volunteer or just learn more, you'll be happy to find a well placed donation link, ways to get more involved and content on the success of its numerous programs. But if you go looking for information on how to enroll in those programs or benefit from those donations, you might be out of luck.

For most small- to medium-sized social service non-profits, websites are a way to recruit donors and volunteers, not clients. Many organizations have a bare-bones site to give people an idea of what they do and (of course) how to donate. Most charity evaluators (Charity Rater, GiveWell, Charity Navigator) rely on an organization's website to learn about a non-profit and then use this information to make recommendations to donors. In turn, non-profits have developed their sites as vehicles to draw in money. But as internet use grows, clients themselves are now going to the sites looking for information about programs and services.

When I started my job at a community health center a few months ago, my first task was to completely overhaul its site. Almost none of the programmatic information was up-to-date and the site was explicitly maintained to engage donors and volunteers. I updated content, shifted things around and designed pages exclusively for patients. It's not perfect, but at least someone thought through the process with our patients in mind.

Similarly, one of my friends at a legal assistance non-profit recently sent out a frustrated email to a listserv decrying local social service organizations for not having updated contact information and hours, making it very difficult for her to refer any of her clients to other organizations. The lack of information makes it seem like clients are expected to have someone help them navigate the system, instead of just having the information up front, which she said creates a "paternalistic" vibe.

Each non-profit has many constituents to serve--clients, donors, volunteers, other organizations. A website is the public face of an organization and its important to cater to all constituents with it. If you are in control of a social-service website, or are involved with a social service organization, make recommendations to revamp the site with clients in mind. Making necessary changes to can be as easy has having the organization's contact information and hours of operation on the main page. The site of the organization where I work has a resources page "For Patients," "For Donors," and "For Volunteers." Including these changes will not only benefit clients, but also can help other organizations seeking to learn from or partner with your non-profit.

No comments:

Post a Comment