Looking-Glass ... the art of compassion

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 your cause.

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.

Animal Adoption - No.1 Rule: Avoiding favouritism based purely on website visuals

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.

12 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".
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.

9. Advertising ... 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.

10. Maintain 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 well!

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.

Advice About 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 security issues.

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.

John O'Donnell


The Looking-Glass and VeggieGlobal philosophy on charities, philanthropic website beneficiaries and other aspects of charitable web promotion click here

Directories and Related Paths to Explore

*The Global Charities Directory

*The Global Animal, Vegetarian, Environmental and Conservation Groups Directory.

*Crisis SOS International

*Back to the Looking-Glass Homelands

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Looking-Glass ... the art of compassion