Use your website to spotlight your strengths

publication date: May 23, 2011
author/source: Ryann Miller, Fraser Green
Fraser: Hi Ryann. I hope you and the new baby are doing wonderfully!

I've just spent some time on the site of the Richmond Art Gallery. It seems like a pretty cool place that specializes in contemporary art. I'm going to be in the Vancouver area in early June and I hope I'll get a couple of hours to drop by and check it out.

Now to their web site...

As you know, I like to look at sites as a potential donor who's heard about the organization and is kicking the tires to decide if I should make a gift.

Immediate donor engagement missing

While I like the cause - and I think I like the organization - after kicking these tires, my cheque's going to stay in my pocket. This site doesn't motivate me to give for several reasons:

  • They don't tell me why they need my money.
  • When I go to the thank-you page, all I see are organizational gifts. Don't they want money from regular people like me?
  • Every piece of art has a story. Every piece is an expression of the human soul. Every piece comes from the unique person who created it. Great art - to me at least - is an intimate sharing between people. This site lacks people. It lacks stories. It lacks emotion and passion.

Having been so harsh, I do want to mention that some of the programs listed on the site sound very imaginative and cool! I could get behind some of these if I was asked to. Maybe some realignment and meshing of program descriptions and statements of needs would pull me in.

Easy, economical changes

There are some pretty easy ways I think this site could become more compelling and interesting from a potential donor's perspective.

  • Make the font bigger! (Remember, serious charitable giving starts at age 50 - just as people start wearing bifocals.)
  • Make the pictures bigger and more colourful. This gallery deals in a visual medium. This site in particular has to look great!
  • Rewrite some of the existing material into a new format. Re-focus on people and stories!

I'm not a technical expert, but I can't help thinking that some video clips could really bring this gallery and its programs to life.

Speaking only as a potential donor, I'm going to be very generous and give this site a C- rating. What do you think?

Ryann: Hi Fraser. The new baby and I are great! One of the things I'm focused on right now is learning to communicate with Julian and understand his cues. It's got me thinking about communication in general and how websites so often miss an opportunity to communicate properly with their audiences. Granted, it's a passive and one-sided medium, but the most effective websites do their best to be engaging, dynamic, and direct about what they're trying to accomplish. Here's my breakdown.

Fundraising - make giving easy

This is the page that needs the most work. Rewrite the case for support so that it's more emotionally appealing, more concise, and connects visitors to much-needed funding. Also, add some images!

Include the name, phone and email address of the person who can accept a gift over the phone. Make the page personal and warm, and explain where the money goes and the difference donors make. And importantly, make donating a priority on every page. Move it higher on the navigation bar, and call it donating, not fundraising, since donating is what you want donors to do.

Engagement - add interactive features

I'd call engagement on this site all right but not great. There are almost no social media links. The gallery runs some great programs, but doesn't do anything online besides list them. I'd love to see some interactive features, games, puzzles to engage kids, as well as a calendar to highlight all the activities the gallery has. It's great that there's an e-newsletter, but infuse some fundraising into it (interview a donor, write about ways to give).

Messaging - inject soul

The gallery should be much more inspiring with its messaging and speak directly to its audience. If art is a window to the soul, the Richmond Art Gallery could use a large dose of soulfulness. I just don't see much real communication between the gallery and site visitors. A new look at messaging should improve the communication channel.

Voice - needs personality

Either there is either no voice to this site, or it's just too institutional. An art gallery website could use more personality. Whether it's funky or quirky or poetic, give the site some character. But do it knowing your audience, so that the voice speaks to the visitors and engages them. 

Solid design wins points

Here the gallery actually wins some points from me. The site is pretty good. It's clean, it's modern, it's not offensive. If my budget were limited, I'd focus on adding more images, infusing the site with character and revamping the donation page/area, but I wouldn't focus on a site re-design.

My core concern is that the gallery seems to take the communication between itself and its constituency for granted on the site. It does a good job of documenting its programs and activities, but it doesn't foster a relationship between the gallery and its visitors, members and donors.

And it doesn't clearly communicate an important part of that relationship - the need for support. Plus as a gallery, it misses a huge opportunity to make use of a visual medium: add more images, include polls and other interactive elements.

I'm not as tough as you are Fraser. But at the end of the day, it's not a bad website. I think the Richmond Art Gallery deserves a C+. On that note, I hear Julian starting to wake up from a nap so I have to go...

To submit your site for review, contact

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.

Fraser Green is chief strategist at Good Works, a consulting firm that teaches charities how to tell their stories with more passion, emotion and soul. He specializes in donor listening and coaching charities on how to meet their donors' expectations, wants and needs.

Ryann's web site is and Fraser's is - in case you want to pronounce your web jury judgement on them!

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