According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States.
That’s a lot of public service! The majority of these have some form of web presence, be it a Facebook page or a website. Many are difficult to find and don’t utilize their online resources effectively.
For two years, I was the volunteer website administrator and virtual assistant for a local homeless nonprofit organization. This wasn’t my planned path, but rather like many others involved with nonprofits, I fell into it because I opened my mouth. “I hate to tell you this, but your website is awful. It’s really hard to find anything!” I unknowingly kicked open the door by exposing their need for help. And boy did they need help.
What they had, to begin with, was a very clunky site that the founder created with a website builder tool in her web host’s dashboard. It was dark, hard to read, and if she updated it with stories from the ministry, there was no way to tell. If you didn’t know where the new page was, you would never find it.
I started over from scratch with WordPress, customizing a theme for them and including a blog so that all of the updates would show on the main page. I set up a good search engine optimization system so that search engines can find the site. I also set it up so that supporters can sign up to receive updates by email, so everyone knows what’s going on. There is a Paypal donation widget in the sidebar, as well as a list of their current clothing donation needs. But here is the amazing thing.
Without special promotion, their nonprofit website went from being invisible to being found via Bing, Google, Yahoo, and other common search engines every single day.
Their average website traffic went from less than 20 per day to 100 visitors per day when they don’t have new updates, and on days that they do, that number is 3-6 times higher. They are told several times per week that the website is very helpful and that everyone loves seeing what they are doing in the city. Regular updates on their blog keep their content fresh with the search engines, which in turn brings new visitors to the site every day.
So what about Facebook?
This is a touchy issue because often charities will begin with a Facebook page that they use extensively. Re-training yourself to use your website for those updates takes some determination and a bit of self-discipline. The draw of social media is ever-present, and it’s so easy… but don’t discount yourself by focusing on Facebook.
What I constantly told the Executive Director, a confessed Facebook addict, is “Facebook is for PROMOTION. Your website is for POST UPDATES.” It is a hard habit to break. And for us, it was an ongoing process.
Facebook is useful for:
- Promoting what’s being posted on your website
- Quick updates about urgent needs or giving thanks to volunteers and donors
- Time or date changes for events
- Promoting upcoming events and fund raisers
- A quick photo here and there during or after an event
When someone is looking for information about your nonprofit organization, their search results do not pull up your Facebook page.
They pull up your website. If you want people to be able to find you online, you must have a well-organized, functional website. The webspace you pay for does you no good if you only post updates on Facebook.
Use Facebook for quick updates. With Facebook’s algorithm changes every six months or so, the chances that your followers are actually seeing your Facebook updates are pretty slim. Let me explain.
The organization I served had 1,913 followers on Facebook. “Likers”, if you will. When an update is posted on Facebook, we see something like this.
There are several problems with this. First, less than 30% of their followers are shown their updates. It doesn’t matter what time of day things are posted, the number almost always comes out to 25-30%. But 30% isn’t actually 30%. This little number here indicates how many Facebook feeds this post was loaded into. The people may not have scrolled down far enough to even see it or may have quickly scrolled right on by.
There is a distinct possibility that this post was only read by 100 people. Or even less. Facebook is grossly inflating the post view numbers. On top of that, this number includes likes and shares too… so this is actually the maximum number of people who could have possibly seen it… except that now we know, they really haven’t. Add to that the fact that a large majority of the over-45 set doesn’t even have a Facebook account and have no desire to get one. Social media has its place, but it’s time to take our eyes off of Facebook as a means for engaging the people we need to engage.
If you find yourself writing 600-word Facebook updates about your nonprofit events, you should be blogging those. Small nonprofits who want to make their presence known more in the community need to be online. Not just a website; you need to have a blog.
So what is a blog?
The word blog is short for “weblog”, which was a 90s term. Essentially it is a journal. Another way to explain it is a website or part of a website that allows you to easily update your supporters so that they can keep up with what’s happening within your organization. A blog can be integrated into the front page of your site, or it can be set up on its own page. It does not need to be called “blog”. Often it is called News, Stories, Articles, or Updates. My blog is called Tech Talk, as you can see in the navigation bar at the top of this page.
What would a site with a blog do for you?
A website should offer the community everything they need to know about your organization. What you do and why, how to volunteer, what your current needs are, who’s in charge, where donation money and goods go, when you do what you do, and where can they drop off donations.
A blog offers a glimpse into the daily work of your organization.
Are you meeting the needs of people or animals in some way? I promise that your supporters and potential donors want to know what you do and how you do it, and they would love to see pictures. A blog gives you a way to write about who you’re helping, who’s helping you, where you were, and why you need help.
You can update it as seldom, or as often, as you want to. The more frequently you update it, the fresher it will be within search engine results. Newer content always wins out over old. Your site with recent blog updates will show up higher than another similar local charity’s website that hasn’t been updated in two years. How long has it been since you updated YOUR website?
Many very successful charities use blogging as a way to reach out.
Here are some examples with links to their blogs:
- The Trevor Project
- Doctors Without Borders
- Charity Water
- PetFinder Animal Rescue
- Rex Foundation
If you can share stories and photos from the things that you’re doing and the people you are serving, you will open up your world to those who have no idea about it. In many cases, people just don’t see that there is a need or that a need is that great.