Design and Presentation
Advice for small charities and groups running their own websites
If you are an animal, environmental
or humanitarian based charity or group administrating your own website
while also trying to run your mission, the following tips may help
you to improve your hit rate and support base.
Empathy and support from
the general public is achievable by moderating the way you present
the message of your cause. The impression you give out on your website
is the key to creating a rapport with potential supporters.
The internet is full of websites
made by novice designers and artists - and all too often their efforts
fall short of being professionally attractive or functional. Web
design companies, without any former creative experience, are selling
their services via the internet and local papers, so beware who
you choose when looking for someone to design and manage your good-cause
website. Look at their work first and see how the sites they have
made are ranking on search engines etc. Without professional design
and web programming experience, you may find that aspects of your
site is turning your visitors away, rather than inviting them to
stay and explore your work.There are various reasons for this, ranging
from upsetting pictures unsuitably placed on your opening pages,
to confusing navigation and even general grammar issues. However,
just because your website hasn't been professionaly designed, it
may not be all bad. In fact, some smaller websites doing good-cause
work can often attract a person's interest simply because the website
isn't flashy and overstated and may ooze charm through its simplicity.
But these are few and far between and often good-cause sites can
be a real hit and miss affair. Striking the right balance in design
and content is the key to attracting supporters who empathise with
Tips to help you make improvements
to your site can be found below. By following these examples you
may find that you can dramatically increase your number of site
visitors and therefore donations and volunteers.
Adoption - No.1 Rule: Avoiding favouritism based purely on website
Before we run through the tips below,
I would like bring attention to an issue doing its rounds on the
internet. It refers to what has been called "Black Dog Syndrome".
There is apparently anecdotal evidence that black dogs are harder
to adopt. One of the reasons appears to be that black dogs are harder
to photograph, so that when shown on shelter adoption websites they
don't stand out amongst the other lighter or mixed coloured animals.
On a simplistic level, there is certainly an element of truth to
this as regards to superficial photographic "appeal".
To get an idea Google "black dogs" and click on the "Images"
option so that you'll see many thumbnails of black dogs. Notice
how the poor contrast of many of the pictures don't help to show
the animal's finer characteristics. Now Google "white dogs"
or even simply "dogs" and click on the "Images"
option. The visual contrast is clearly favourable for lighter animals.
Quite a stark difference in fact.
Technically, it can be harder to grab a "characteristic"
snapshot of an all-black animal because of light reflection, contrast
and all sorts of photographic anomalies - meaning it's more difficult
to capture and visually depict the nature of the animal.
The first thing to point out is that animal adoption websites should
have the common sense NOT to be showing photos of ANY of their current
animals for adoption / rehoming in the first place - regardless
of whether it is black or any other of colour dog or other animal.
Shelter websites should not depict their animals for adoption as
if in a pet shop window display. Photographs can only be superficially
referred to in such a display, I.e. the “cute” indicator on a sliding
scale. It's unfortunate that many people initially go on looks when
choosing an animal ... a fixture to fit with a potential owner's
home environment - or even in the most shallow cases to match their
personal colour scheme.
If people want to adopt an animal, for the right reasons, they should
get off their backsides, go to the shelter and see and interact
with the animals directly.
Advice for shelters:
If you want to help level the playing field for any kind of animal
by ensuring they all have a fighting chance, remove their pictures
from your website. Written introductory descriptions are good enough.
Explain on your website such words as:
“We do not show photos of our current animals seeking adoption.
Such photos can never express the natural empathy and connection
which you can only discover with real contact. If you are serious
about adoption, please come and see the animals in person.”
Obviously you don't have to remove all animal pictures from your
pages. You can still feature animals which have previously been
homed as pictorial embellishment ... and if its dogs, why not make
sure its a black dog!
NOTE: These charity website tips are
also relevant to humanitarian issues. As regards human adoptions,
it may also be argued that such adoption sites examine the pros
and cons of showing photos of their children for adoption. At present
we have found no evidence of research that provides statistical
proof either way.
Tips on Your Site Layout
1. If you are
an animal welfare based site, the first thing to do is think carefully
about the key colours of your site's layout. The worst you can
do is use black backgrounds and red-based overlays of text and
graphics. This combination immediately gives visitors the impression
they are entering a dismal and angry environment of extreemist-style
activity. You need to draw in people's possible interest in your
cause with subtleness, so they don't feel overwhelmed. Therefore,
avoid pictures of animals in distress on your opening page. Many
people can't stomach the sight of tortured or dead animals and
will simply turn away from your site before exploring any further.
Therefore, you are simply loosing their potential help.
Give your visitors the option to choose if they do or don't want
to see distressing pictures. Place a link on your front page leading
to them, but next to the link make sure you write "Caution,
these pictures may upset you".
2. Avoid too
much clutter on your opening page. Don't make it too wordy. Keep
it simple and provide a clear, straight forward menu for your
visitors to quickly choose from. As mentioned in the previous
tip, design your website with a bright and inviting hue - not
dark and gloomy. Your site should reflect hope and positiveness
- to show that your mission is there to help improve matters,
not to dwell on the despair. The information on your site will
explain the plight of your mission clearly enough. So make the
graphical experience of your site an aspiring environment that
suggests that you are driving to succeed with your cause.
3. If you are
not a natural artist, don't use your website as your testing-bed
to play with your hobby! Remember, people are coming to visit
your site to read about your mission and your needs - not to be
bombarded with tacky animations and messy layouts. Above all,
avoid all superfluous G**gle style streaming adverts, they will
only distract people from your cause. (see more on this at 9.)
4. Your donation
button is your lifeline. Make sure your link is always displayed
at the same place on each page, above the "scroll-line"
and preferably on top left or right. If you are using Paypal,
then keep the donation button graphic looking like it is part
of Paypal (or simply use their own buttons) This recognizable
graphic reassures visitors that their donation is being administered
by a safe on-line payment process.
5. Avoid using
"frames". That is unless you make sure that all menu
links are on your main page as well as your margin frame. This
is because its more likely that a site visitor has entered your
site from a search engine which has listed a link to your main
page outside the frame.
This means only the search engine listed page appears on the visitors
browser - and not the accompanying menu margin. So make sure you
always put a "home-page" link and a small menu (and
your donation link) on your main page - not just on the margin
pages when using frames. In fact, if your site uses frames you
are advised to redesign it as soon as possible and remove frames
completely. They are highly unaffective and can reduce your ranking
in search engines.
6. Avoid using
Flash presentations - particularly as a front page opener - can
be extremely irritating for web users with slow connections. With
charity websites, Flash is particularly unnecessary to your cause
and simply diverts attention away from your appeals etc. If you
insist on using Flash, only experienced web designers should be
hired to programme something suitable. Otherwise, don't use Flash
or even other Java based animation unless you really have an understanding
how to make it appealing to your site visitors. Some operating
systems, particularly on portable devices don't support flash.
(If you have tools to create an HTML 5 website then you can create
animalted regions of your site which prove to more browser and
OS friendly for the longer term).
7. Text links
(apart from a common menu table) are far more reliable and effective
than graphic buttons. If you have to have graphic buttons make
sure they are small in file size so they download quickly - and
if possible provide a text link next to the button as well.
8. If you are
a charity web site in a non-English speaking country whose pages
are in the English language, make sure that the grammar is correct.
In many cases translated websites become quite garbled and hard
to understand - where grammatical mistakes can provide confusing
and even misleading information. This of course also goes for
English sites with translated pages into other languages. Don't
depend on automated translation systems on web browsers either.
They can translate your site into a mess.
... One of the most popular advertising trends in the last few
years has been streaming "pay-per-click" ads provided
by major search engine companies. However, its become increasingly
obvious that web-masters are "vulgarizing" their web-sites
with far too many strips of these ad feeds. If a site visitor
has come to your site to find information about your charity etc.,
the last thing they want to be staring at is a collection of irrelevant
ads as soon as your page opens up. This approach cheapens the
look of your site and your cause - and gives your organization
an irreverent feel about it. If you have to display "pay
per click" ads on your site then use them subtly - in relation
to the cause and layout of your site / organization. You should
also be aware that even though the ads automatically displayed
on your site are supposed to be relevant to your site content,
they are often not ... particularly if you are an animal welfare
site (or vegetarian). For example, if your web page is describing
the fate of farm animals, the last thing you want on your page
is adverts selling farm animal implements. Or else if your vegetarian
page relates to organic vegetables, you don't want ads appearing
trying to sell your site visitors organic beef!
You are advised not to use this cheap and tacky type of advertising
and instead use the more directly relevant "affiliate"
advertising methods. To help bring in supplementary income to
your cause through advertising then choose affiliated products
that you genuinely believe in yourself ... things that you feel
your site visitors will also appreciate. Instead of ads being
displayed on all your pages just have a link to your "shopping"
page and put the ads on there.
Keep advertising on your site proportional, simple ... but stylish.
your links page properly. Reciprocal links help you to reach higher
search engine rankings. Make sure your links page is accessible
from each page on your site, and don't make them hard for your
visitors to find them. The sites you are linked to appreciate
the etiquette of respecting each other's links exposure, as you
are helping each other with similar missions. When you set up
links to other sites remember to set the html to "_blank"
so that your reciprocating site opens up a seperate window. This
way your site will remain open and won't be overwritten.
11. If you receive
donations from sponsors, such as companies etc. make sure you
keep a separate and clearly linked page for them. On the page,
list your sponsors (with a small graphic of their logo if passable)
and make sure you keep in touch with your sponsor to point out
that they are being well publicized on your site. Companies like
to feel involved with showing compassion or philanthropic support
for charities and will often repeat their donation annually, as
long as you look after their company promotional interests as
12. Finally ...
keep it simple and keep all your files small. Remember, many web
users around the planet are still using slow modem connections
to download web pages. If you are using high speed internet connections
you are still one of the few rather than the majority - in the
global sense, so make sure the important text information of your
pages loads first and pictures afterwards.
Again, keep it simple ... but stylish.
Newsletters and Attachments.
Because spam creates
increased difficulty in determining a genuine e-mail from an unsolicited
one, you are advised to only write the name of your organization
in the email subject area when sending out newsletters. If you
write anything else in the "subject" space your newsletter
may be trashed by mistake. So, for example if your organization
is called "Save the Tigers" then make sure the subject
of your email simply states "Save The Tigers Newsletter"
rather than creating a name for your newsletter like "Tiger
Tales". Your subscribers will recognise "Save The Tiger",
but will rarely associate a flashy magazine style name with your
organization. Obviously, it's fine to title your newsletter "Tiger
Tales" in the main email text area itself, but keep the subject
title the name of your organization. Never send mails to multiple
recepients by adding their email addresses in the "To"
or "CC" options in your Email progromme. Add recipents
address ONLY in the "BCC" option. This way, recipents
remain private to each other and their email address is not shared
amongst all other recipients. It also greatly helps to avoid spamming
and virus infections caused by other recipients computers with
Avoid mailing out your
newsletters with oversized pictures.
If you have to send pictures you must first learn how to optimize
a picture's file size, using a picture editor program. This is
so you can make the file size small enough to be easily received
by your subscribers in their e-mail.
Unless specifically requested by your subscribers, it is bad etiquette
to send a huge picture file with an e-mail. This is because the
receiver of the picture will have to wait a long time for the
file to download into their e-mail box! Such practices can block
a users e-mail box - and if they are still using a slow dial-up
modem, their service provider might "time-out" a connection
before such a large file can be downloaded to the subscriber's
computer. This means that your subscriber's mail box is made unusable.
Besides really winding people up, misuse of file sending certainly
doesn't give your charity or group a good impression. Any picture
file over 50 kilobytes is unacceptable. And if you have to send
pictures, don't attach more than one or two at time. As mentioned
before, it's far more practical - for everybody's sake - if you
simply post the pictures on a web page on your site and then add
a link to the pictures from your newsletter.
The Looking-Glass and VeggieGlobal
philosophy on charities, philanthropic website beneficiaries and
other aspects of charitable web promotion click
and Related Paths to Explore
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