Answering “Who Are You?” on Nonprofit Websites [aside]

Editor’s note: Just like you, I think about things everyday. Sometimes, those thoughts feel worth sharing but not worthy of a full blog post for various reasons—time-constraints, simplicity, etc. I’m going to try to start sharing those more on my blog as “[aside]” posts in hopes of sharing the occasional aha! moment. I hope they make this blog that much better to read.

Recently, I’ve worked on two projects that have a focus on donors and first-time visitors. With those audiences, one of the primary tasks of the website is simply to answer the question “Who are you and what do you do?” The tricky part is that the answer must inspire and excite the visitor into taking further action.

Here’s how I see a lot of websites handle this. Right after “Home” in their navigation comes  the “About” page with text like this:

Widgets for the World ((You might remember this organization from the post, “Think Before You Link”))  is a nonprofit organization, recognized as a 501(c)(3) organization by the Internal Revenue Service of the government of the United States of America, that was founded by Walter Haas-Website ((Also famous for his ill-fated art museum.)) on April 33, 1904. “WftW”‘s mission is “to enhance and reactivate the primary, secondary, and tertiary methods for youth engagement with widgets in the Northern Hemisphere”…

This is only mildly facetious.

That information is important, but it belongs on a “History” or “Mission” page or an “About” page that is not the very first or second item in the navigation. That above snippet does answer the question “Who are you and what do you do?” but not in the way that actually matters to most visitors. Here’s what I want to see more of, ideally with menu items labeled “Programs” or “What We Do” (note: the links are not real):

Widgets for the World improves the access to widgets for Scandinavian children and has done so for over 100 years. Our programs include Widgets for Finland, Widgets Sweden Inc., and the globally-recognized annual World Walk for Widgets 5K & Fun Run.

The examples are playful, but I hope it’s obvious that the second option still says what the organization does but has some key differences:

  1. It’s more accessibly written, avoiding the mission statement language completely.
  2. It focuses on the organization’s activities and not the organization itself.
  3. It places its impact (increasing access to widgets) even before its programs.
  4. It gives the reader clear paths to engage further such as learning about the organization’s history or one of their programs.

This is just one example of trying to change a website’s approach from being organization-centric—This is who we are and what we do—to impact-centric—We help other people by doing exciting things.

But my big take-away is this: Let’s downplay—or drop entirely—the “About” page and replace it with something much more engaging.

What do you think?

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