Causes and Effects: Web Design for Social-Change Organizations

“I’d love to change the world,” runs the old Ten Years After song, “but I don’t know what to do.” Recent events in the U.S. have caused many people to wonder what they should do, and the resulting wave of activism has become one of the great stories of this young year. No matter what side of any issue you subscribe to, there seems to be at least one organization promoting it.

These days, the internet presence of a social-change organization often starts, and sometimes ends, on social media, such as a Facebook page or Meetup group. As an organization grows and matures, however, its members may feel the need to establish a standalone website for the group. Here are some tips for designing and operating such a website.

It’s Like Any Other Business

Designing a website for an activist organization is not remarkably different from that for a for-profit business. The goals are the same: Draw visitors in, tell them your story, get their support. To that end, the organization’s website needs the following:

  • A consistent, identifiable brand: It’s not just about eye-catching logos and memorable tag lines, although those are important too. It’s the consistent look and feel, color scheme, graphical elements, and message that set your organization apart from the crowd.
  • Compelling copy: If you want to change the world, or even just your neighborhood, you have to change people’s minds first. That means having compelling, internally consistent, well-written copy that persuades with solid arguments, facts, and data. Remember that your target audience includes not only people who already agree with you but also those who aren’t sure – the all-important “undecideds.”
  • Clear calls to action: If you want people’s support, you have to ask for it. Support can take many forms; not just financial, but in the form of equipment, supplies, transportation,  advertising, and time. Let your visitors know what you need and give them an easy way to sign up to provide it.
  • Design to drive repeat visits: This means keeping your content fresh, and keeping visitors informed of recent and upcoming activities. Stale content makes it look like the organization isn’t doing anything, and no one wants to support a movement that doesn’t move.
  • Intuitive navigation: Make it easy for visitors to get around your site, find what they need, and give their support.
  • Ties to social media: Don’t forget your social-media roots. Website or no website, social media is still going to be the key to getting your message to as many people as possible. Make sure social media presence can connect people to your site, and make sure you site connects visitors to your social media presence.

Special Considerations for Organizations

Although a social-change organization’s site resembles a profit-seeking business site in all fundamental ways, there are special considerations that must be addressed:

  • Who’s who: Tell visitors who runs the organization (preferably a committee or board of directors, not just one person), and include some background information on them to show that the group has the expertise leadership to make things happen. People are more likely to support causes led by real, non-anonymous people.
  • Easy support: Make it easy for visitors to give financial support, whether by PayPal, a crowdfunding site such as Kickstarter of GoFundme, or some other means. A “Donate Now” link on every page doesn’t hurt.
  • Transparency: People want to know that their contributions are being spent on actual activities, and not administrative overhead. Provide details on where the money comes from and how it is spent.
  • Legal/tax status: Some people are more likely to provide financial support if they can take a tax deduction for it. Include information on the organization’s legal and tax status. Is the organization incorporated? If so, what type of entity is it? Is it a registered charitable organization?

An organization that doesn’t think it needs some marketing know-how and web-design smarts is one that is won’t last long.  Think like a business and design your cause’s website accordingly, then get out there and drive some change.