Website difficulties may be symptom, not problem

publication date: Jun 18, 2012
author/source: Kori Brus, Ryann Miller
Each month the Web 2.0 jury reviews the website of a Canadian charity for fundraising effectiveness. To submit your site for review and coaching from two experts in online communication and fundraising, contact the Editor. This month's candidate is ADRA Canada.

Kori: Happy June Ryann. This month we look at ADRA Canada, a faith-based organization that works internationally to help people affected by natural disasters, famine and extreme poverty.

At least, I think that's what they do. I wrote that after spending 20 minutes drilling into their website to sort out exactly what their purpose is.

On the surface the site has some nice design elements, and at first blush presents a simple, easy-to-read face to online visitors. Unfortunately it's all form over function, leaving a visitor very hard-pressed to find tangible information about who ADRA is, what they do, and what actions they need from their supporters - so much so that a valid critique of their site is nearly impossible.

All of their challenges exist on the level of brand and audience awareness, rather than website presentation and design. I could make a list, but here are a few critical issues they need to address.

State mission and faith up front

First and foremost they need a clear, concise statement of purpose that communicates their mission to prospective donors. I've offered one up gratis and they're welcome to it. If it doesn't work for them, they need to come up with one that does.

Second, they seem shy about stating that they are a faith-based organization. They don't need to be. I'm willing to bet that this is a big reason for the donor support they are already receiving, and by being clear about their values they have a much better chance of finding new donors who share their beliefs and sense of purpose.

Going further, they also receive financial support from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), which offers some objective validation on the merit of their work. (For those not familiar with the sector, CIDA is the federal government agency that administers foreign aid programs in developing countries). That shows ADRA can be very proud of who they are and the work they are doing.

Use a consistent voice

Voice is another huge problem site-wide. They've made several admirable efforts at humour that almost work, but ultimately lead to confusion. They offer a gift catalogue of tangible aid items donors can purchase for needy families - alpaca blankets, gardening tools and seeds to name a few. But while the catalogue targets buyers and donors, the product descriptions target people on behalf of whom gift buyers make donations. Confused? You should be.

Turbo Granny a mystery

You can also support ADRA by purchasing a Turbo Granny DVD. You don't see Turbo Granny on the site. I'm not sure who she is or what she does. Nor do I know why I should be interested in film footage covering her exploits (whatever they are). I might say yes if I knew more.

Last and certainly not least, some deep exploration of the site reveals that ADRA does some pretty great work.  They're bringing relief to people suffering hunger in the Africa's Sahel region, and they were working in the aftermath of Japan's tsunami, but I had to download a PDF version of their most recent newsletter to discover that.

ADRA clearly is doing some amazing work, and they have the potential to do some very focused fundraising to a clearly defined market. But they need to get their communications strategy in order first and foremost - then ensure their website sings along with it.

The site gets a D grade from me, but I'm rooting for much bigger things. Ryann?

Ryann: You are definitely rooting for bigger things. I don't blame you. ADRA Canada seems like a skeleton to me. And skeletons don't have a heart or soul. Here's the thing Kori: is a wonderful example of a website. There are five rotating panels/screens on the homepage banner, and every one highlights mission and fundraising, rolled into a specific program/issue area. Who they are, what they do, and what inspires them is everywhere. So the good news is that won't have to look too far.

Tell donors why

Their fundraising page lacks the answer to the critical question, "why." Why would I give? While I like simplicity, this page doesn't do its job: to get people who are thirsty and standing at the water to drink. There needs to be more personalization, some images, some evidence of where donations go. This page has to encourage people to take that last step! It's the most important page on the website and it's lacklustre.

Regarding engagement, messaging and the voice, Kori really summed it up when he said "they need a clear, concise statement of purpose that communicates their mission to prospective donors." That statement of purpose should then infuse everything else on the site, from the Get Involved to the donation pages.

Mirror, mirror on the wall...

A website acts as a mirror for the organization. So either ADRA Canada doesn't have a functional communications strategy, which the website reflects, or they have one that they don't communicate enough internally, so it doesn't get translated onto the website. Either way, this issue needs addressing.

You know Kori, we both visit sites like this all the time. They seem okay, they have the mandatory pages on who they are and how to give. But they lack heart and soul. And in the case of ADRA Canada, that's such a shame because the nature of this faith-based organization suggests that the people in the organization have heart and soul! They must be inspired to do this work!

They owe it to potential supporters, they owe it to those people they help, and they owe it to themselves to address the critical issue of expressing mission and purpose in their website. I give them a C-. But I look forward to seeing the new and improved version of this website in the future.

Ryann Miller is director of nonprofit services at Care2, where she helps charities and nonprofits recruit online supporters. She is the former managing director of DonorTrends and was a senior fundraising consultant at HJC New Media.

Kori Brus is philanthropic counsel and marketing specialist at Good Works, where he focuses on nonprofit campaign strategy and online engagement. He's the former communications director of Ecojustice Canada and former community manager for Web of Change.

Their websites are and - in case you want to pronounce your web jury judgment on them!

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