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5 Ways Your Nonprofit Organization Can Build Trust on the Web

Building Trust on the Web

Whether you're a small, local nonprofit or a nationally recognized brand, it's critical to build trust among those who visit your website. Your online traffic may come from a Google search, a Facebook ad, a YouTube video or a partner link. Given that this may be the very first encounter they have with your organization, it's critical to instill trust in your online audience. Here are a few simple things you can do on your website to instill confidence in those who may be unfamiliar with your organization and/or your cause.

1. Use real photos.
We've mentioned this in previous posts, but it's worth repeating. Oftentimes, people want to see the real people who work for and with your organization. They want to see actual events you've participated in, actual staff members, and in cases where appropriate, they want to see the faces of the people you've helped. When site visitors can picture themselves among those pictured on your website, they may be more apt to get involved. While stock images may be a little easier to attain, they won't inspire the level of confidence that comes from seeing real people engaging in worthwhile causes.  

2. Put your online donors at ease. 
With the sheer number of security breeches we've heard about over the past few years, people may be more apprehensive than ever about entering their credit card data in an online form, especially if they're unfamiliar with your organization. Make sure your donation form is PCI compliant, and you're handling credit card info according to the highest security standards. Also, be sure to include any pertinent security badges that will show donors you're serious about protecting their identities.  

3. Be transparent about how funding is used. 
Offer real-time data about the work you've done, the people you've helped, and the projects you've been a part of. Consider using an infographic to display the breakdown of your funding so users can see how their donations are being used. Your transparency with funding will go a long way to ensure potential donors that their money will be used responsibly. 

4. Consider blogging. 
If you have the resources to keep up with a blog, invest your energy in sharing helpful information and organizational updates online. By publishing a blog, you'll develop an online voice, which will help people identify with who you are and what you're doing. By publishing regular updates about recent events or projects, you'll give your readers a feel for what you're doing on a day to day basis, and they'll get a better understanding of how their money or time would be spent if they chose to donate or volunteer.

5. Be clear about your mission. 
You may think that your mission statement belongs only on the "About Us" page of your site. In actuality, your mission should be woven throughout all pages of your site. Whether your viewers are reading an article on your blog, a notice about an upcoming service project, or a synopsis of a fundraising event, they should be able to clearly identify your mission. This doesn't mean every page of your site needs a word-for-word mission statement for your organization, but it does mean that your mission should be at the core of all of your online communications.

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Building a Quality Nonprofit Website: Mockups and Templates

Mockups and Templates

Once you've created your sitemap and laid out your wireframes, you're ready to select a template or begin designing mockups. If you have some experience with design and you have access to a developer who can help you convert a mockup into a template or theme for your content management system, you may be able to begin designing a mockup on your own. This is the phase where you can let your creative energies flow, and you can introduce colors, fonts, and images to bring your wireframes to life. If you do not have access to a developer to help you convert a mockup into a template, or you're not comfortable working in Photoshop or similar program to create a page design, it may be a good idea to move directly to selecting a flexible template or theme that will allow you to layout your pages in a way that most closely resembles your wireframes.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when converting your wireframes into beautiful page designs for your site.

1. Consider your color scheme.
Do you already have a logo? If so, you may already have a color pallet in mind. But if you need more options for accent colors or you're starting from scratch without a logo, there are several free online tools that can help you decide on an appropriate color scheme for your site. For example, Pictaculous will allow you to upload a photo to get an idea of the best color pallet to pair with that image. This tool could be particularly helpful if you have a featured image that you'd like your design to revolve around. As long as the photo's color scheme fits in with your overall identity and mission, this tool could help you select the right tones to use throughout your site. Alternatively, sites like Adobe Color CC and Paletton can help you select complimentary colors based on a single color of your choosing.

2. Repurpose design elements for a seamless user experience.
When introducing design elements like button styling, headings, and image styles, consistency is key. Be sure to implement similar styles for features with similar functionality. For instance, if your donate button has a certain color and effect, it's important to keep this consistent throughout all pages of your site. By making your donate button clearly recognizable on all pages, users will notice it with a glance, rather than having to search the page for the word "Donate." Likewise, make sure headings with similar importance share the same font and weight throughout the site. Your users will recognize their importance based on these styling elements and they'll be able to navigate your site with ease.

3. Use appropriate fonts.
Many themes and templates will offer a variety of web fonts for use throughout the site. Oftentimes you can choose a default font to use for your main headings across the board. If you're designing a mockup from scratch, be sure your font selections are from a web font library so they can easily be implemented on your site. Google has a popular web font library available here. If you're not quite sure which font family to use, take a look at this infographic from DesignMantic.com for some ideas. 

What stage are you at in your redesign? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Building a Quality Nonprofit Website: Wireframing

Wireframing

In our last post, we explored the topic of site mapping, the first step in our three-part series on laying the foundation for an effective nonprofit website. Once you've finalized your site map, you're ready to begin the process of wireframing. This is where you'll make decisions about individual page elements and where they should appear on the screen. It's important to remember that even though you'll be working on page layouts, it's not yet time to begin the process of styling these elements. In fact, the most effective wireframes will be devoid of color, images and font selections, like the one pictured here. While your sitemap gives you a good bird's-eye view of the site, your wireframes will provide you with a page-by-page architecture or blueprint, allowing you to consider user interactions on each page.

Wireframe Example

While you might be tempted to skip this step altogether and move on to the look and feel of your website, wireframing is a crucial step in the process for two reasons. First, a wireframe allows you to focus on functionality. Before you make decisions about how anything should look, you'll need to consider the user story, or what users should be able to do once they arrive on your site. Do you want them to call you? Do you want them to subscribe to your newsletter? Do you want them to make a donation? Whatever actions you want them to take will need to be addressed in your wireframes. That said, you'll need to consider where and how to incorporate these functions into your site. You'll also want to use this opportunity to consider what type of priority to give to each of these functions. This can be determined by the placement and size of these features on the page.

Next, a wireframe forces you to consider usability. Without getting caught up in the more subjective discussions about the colors or shading for each element, you'll be able to determine the best placement and priority of specific content or calls to action to direct visitors where you want them to go. Even if you don't have all of your content completed yet, it's a good idea to define what messages will be used and where these will be placed. Once you've defined what you want users to do, you need to consider the most intuitive way to direct them to do it. Maybe that means your donate button should take up a little more real estate. Maybe that means you need to re-think how many fields appear on your newsletter subscription form. Or maybe, you'll want to move some of your content a little lower on the page so the action items are closer to the top of the screen. The key to creating a user-friendly wireframe is to consider the needs of your audience and how to meet these needs in the most intuitive way possible.

Whether you're using a pen and paper or a more sophisticated piece of software to create your wireframes, the goal remains the same. You need to first determine the functions of your website, and then organize and prioritize these elements in the most intuitive way possible. If you're looking for a tool that will allow you to build a wireframe with a web-based application, one great option is pidoco.com. This tool has a minimal monthly fee for a limited number of projects, and it allows you to design and connect countless pages within your project. If you're looking for a tool you can download and use on your computer, Pencil offers the basic functionality you would need to design a wireframe for a simple site. A more comprehensive list of wireframing tools can also be found here.

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Building a Quality Nonprofit Website: Site Mapping

Site Mapping

Are you considering a website redesign? Perhaps you're just getting your nonprofit organization off the ground and you're starting from scratch. In either case, if you're in the planning stages of building a new site, it's important to lay a foundation that will take into consideration your organizational goals, your engagement with site visitors, and your site's overall user experience. No matter what the size of your organization or the amount of content you intend to publish, this three-part series on structuring an effective nonprofit website will outline the basic steps you need to take to get started.

Sample Site MapThe first step in building an effective nonprofit website is the creation of a site map. A site map is a flow chart or basic mapping of the pages on your site and how they are connected. This map will show you a hierarchy of your content, while also allowing you to see paths of navigation from one page to the next. Typically, a site map will display your main menu items, and show you how sub-pages will be organized and connected to these main pages or categories. Be sure to consider the key elements and action areas of your site, and how you want to direct users to these areas.

By laying out your website architecture at the outset of your project, you will be able to get a bird's-eye view of the structure of your site, and you'll also be able to ask yourself some good questions about the "why" behind what you're doing.

For example, when reviewing your site map, you may want to consider the following questions:

    • Why are X, Y, and Z, the main level navigation items? Do these categories provide the best structure to organize my content?
    • Does the main page include direct access to the key areas of the site where I want users to navigate most frequently?
    • Are there any sub-navigation items that need to receive a higher priority? Have I allowed for easy access to these pages? Do any of these pages need to be more prominent or directly accessible from the top level navigation?
    • Is the hierarchy of content intuitive for site visitors?
    • Is any of the content redundant?
    • Did I leave anything out that should be included?

If this is your first time developing a site map, the process can be a little overwhelming. Be sure to invest some time to think through and identify your key objectives in building a site. It's easy to get caught up in the look and feel, but your primary goal should always be to drive your audience to action in a way that is user-centered. In order to do this, you'll need a solid site map. Once you've reviewed your site map to make any necessary adjustments, you'll be prepared to move on to your wireframes, which we'll discuss in our next post.

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ServanTek Team Continues to Improve Online Donation Processor

On the ServanTek Blog, we are constantly talking about improving usability for your constituents by making sure your website and online donation form are both responsive and intuitive. At ServanTek, we are regularly making improvements to give our responsive donation processor, to ensure the donation process is easier and more intuitive for both the donors who give and the clients we serve.

In 2015, we introduced a new look and feel to our giving pages, which included a customizable, fully-responsive design. And in 2016, the ServanTek team made additional improvements to the system, which allow donors to donate to multiple funds in a single transaction. Donors who give regularly to a specific charity can now designate a portion of their gifts to be given to a specific fund and the rest to be designated elsewhere. Whether they're setting up gifts from a laptop, tablet, or phone, the process is simple. 

This improvement will be particularly beneficial to nonprofits that raise funds for a variety of campaigns. It allows donors to split both one-time donations, as well as scheduled monthly, quarterly, or annual donations, among a variety of funds, while indicating exactly what amount should be given to each fund. Furthermore, if donors need to edit their gift at any time to increase or decrease amounts given to a specific fund, they can easily do so with the click of a button.

Our advanced tools and algorithms that allow our clients to recover failed transactions are helping nonprofit organizations all around the country collect scheduled gifts that might otherwise be lost using a different online processor.

With so many benefits to our online donation system, we've also had the opportunity in recent months to share it with new nonprofit clients, as well as pastors and church leaders. Is your organization looking for an online donation processor? If so, we offer competitive rates to keep costs down for the nonprofits we serve. If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about the benefits of our online donation processor, visit payments.servantek.org for more information.

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Free or Discounted Tech Tools for Nonprofits

Free and Discounted Tech Tools

In the spirit of giving, we'd like to share some free and discounted tech resources for nonprofits. Whether you're looking for an email marketing platform, software and licenses for your office, or tech training, there are a variety of resources available to nonprofits at discounted rates.

MailChimp is a great resource for organizations interested in getting their message out through email marketing campaigns. It allows you to send up to 12,000 emails a month to up to 2,000 subscribers for free. And if you need to reach more than 2,000 subscribers, you can purchase a plan and receive a 15% non-profit discount. Learn more about MailChimp's non-profit discount here.

Looking for software? Techsoup provides a wide range of donated and discounted software, hardware, and online trainings for nonprofits. Whether you need a server for your office, some training on Microsoft tools, or software for your team, Techsoup may have what you're looking for at significantly reduced prices. In fact, their website advertises that "The average nonprofit saves $12,000 on technology products over the course of its TechSoup membership."

Need some tech advice? Idealware.org provides a wealth of articles and presentations regarding tech decisions for your nonprofit. Their content includes how-to articles, pro and con reviews, tech trends, tips, and more.

If you want to get started with online advertising, Google for Nonprofits offers $10,000 per month in Adwords grants for eligible nonprofits! They also offer a variety of services including email, Google Drive, and YouTube for Nonprofits, among others. Learn more at Google for Nonprofits.

What nonprofit discounts does your organization enjoy? Share with others in the comments below. 

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A Few Helpful Resources to Improve Your Year-End Giving Campaign

We've scoured the web and found several great resources to help you out when approaching your year-end fundraising campaign. Whether you've been planning for months, or you're just getting started now, you can find several helpful tips in the posts below:

1. "6 Fundraising Psychology Hacks You Need to Know" by Allison Gauss This one's a quick read with some insightful thoughts to consider when approaching your donors with a year-end appeal. 

2. This Year-End Fundraising Infographic by MobileCause contains some important facts as well as some great tips to consider when making your end-of-the-year ask.

3. "My Top Five Tips for a Profitable Year-End Campaign" by Gail Perry  
Gail Perry outlines some very practical steps to keep in mind when working on a year-end fundraising campaign.

4. "Comprehensive Guide to Year-End Giving" by Causevox  
This in-depth guide covers every aspect the campaign from figuring out your actual need, to planning, to marketing, and more. It offers a wealth of information that is well worth the read.

5. "10 Year-End Giving Statistics Every Fundraiser Should Know" by Andrew Dain
This post is not so much instructive as it is informative. It provides some interesting facts about how donors behave with regard to year-end appeals, as well as how your fellow nonprofit marketers approach the ask. 

6. "8 Ways to Make the Most of Your Year-End Fundraising Campaign" by Caryn Stein This post offers some great tips about the placement of Donate buttons and simple changes you can make to ensure the Donation process is simple and accessible to donors. 

Have you found other resources you've found helpful on this topic? Let us know in the comments below.

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Four Things You're Not Doing That Are Hurting Your Online Presence

Have you ever thought about whether or not your nonprofit has a quality online presence? Here are four things you may not be in the habit of doing right now, which could be hurting your online presence in the long run. 
 
1. Not regularly adding fresh content
When was the last time you added new content to your site? If it's been over a month, your content may be getting stale. Potential donors are far more likely to make a donation if they can see tangible results of the work you're doing to benefit your cause. Encourage your donors to give by showing them just how far their money is going. Not only is it important to keep your constituents well-informed of the happenings within your organization, but it's also important to add fresh content to improve your SEO. By regularly adding new updates to your site, you're telling the search engines that you're still relevant.  
 
2. Not keeping your CMS up to date
Keeping your CMS up-to-date is an important security measure for any website. If you're not keeping your CMS current, you could be opening yourself up to security vulnerabilities. You can learn more about the benefits of updating your content management system here.
 
3. Not taking the time to regularly review the online giving experience
Whether you've been accepting online donations for years or just a few short months, it's important to regularly reevaluate the process to ensure a smooth experience for all donors. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when you walk through the process on your site:
  • Is it obvious where how to donate from any page of our website?
  • Is the giving form straight forward? Is all of the information we're collecting necessary to request of all donors? Or am I taking unnecessary information that could be cumbersome for the donor?
  • Is the giving process fast? Does the form load quickly? Do subsequent pages (receipt or thank you pages) load quickly?
  • Does it work just as easily from a mobile device? This question is critical. We need to begin anticipating that a good portion of donors will be visiting from a smart phone.  
4. Not publishing the results/impact of fundraising efforts
Have you ever been guilty of requesting funds for a specific event or goal, without letting your donors know whether you reached the goal or how you used the funds? When donors give toward a goal, it brings a sense of satisfaction to see that the goal was achieved. Furthermore, if donors contribute to a goal and they see that the fundraising is not reaching the target, they may be more likely to share it with others to help you reach your goal. Consider adding a funding thermometer for specific campaigns to ensure donors can see your progress and understand the impact of their contribution. 
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Is it Really Critical to Update my CMS?

After paying a sizable up-front cost to have your website built, you may be wondering if it's really necessary to install regular CMS updates as they become available. Many nonprofit professionals mistakenly assume that websites are a one-time expense, when in reality, they should become a line item in your organization's annual budget. So why is it so critical to update your CMS? Here are the top reasons to regularly update your content management system.

1. Security
The first and most important reason to keep your CMS up to date is to protect your site from security vulnerabilities. While you may think your site is too small to be a target for hackers, there is still reason for concern if your CMS is not current. According to opensourcecms.com, more than 4 million websites are currently powered by Wordpress, while more than 600,000 are powered by Joomla. Judging by these statistics, even though your website may not be the most popular one out there, the CMS running it could be well known by hackers. Furthermore, because Wordpress and Joomla are open source systems, the code that powers them can be viewed by anyone, allowing hackers to study the code and look for loopholes. If your website is running an outdated version of your CMS, hackers will be able to find your site and target its vulnerabilities. In order to find and remove these vulnerabilities, open source developers release security patches in new releases.

2. Bug Fixes
While open source content management systems are heavily tested before they're released to the public, there is always the possibility that bugs can be overlooked. If a bug is introduced in a given version of the CMS, subsequent releases will often include a fix.

3. Performance and Feature Enhancements
As CMS developers constantly seek ways to make their software faster and more efficient, subsequent releases of the software will often include performance enhancements. Likewise, CMS updates can also include features that were previously unavailable. Many times, upon completing an update, you'll notice subtle differences in the user interface that make the overall system more intuitive and easy to use.

While it is critical to keep your site up to date, it's also possible that updating the CMS can cause conflicts with outdated plugins and components. If you need assistance with a Wordpress or Joomla update, feel free to drop us a line on our contact form. Our team would be happy to help.

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What's in a Logo?

What's in a Logo?

Does your nonprofit organization have an established and easily recognizable logo? If not, it may be time to consider what type of logo would best represent your brand. In our last post, we addressed the topic of effective branding for nonprofits. While branding encompasses far more than your organization's logo, your logo should certainly be central to all branding efforts. So what's in a great logo? Here are a few key qualities of effective logo design:

1. Effective logos are simple.
When creating a graphic that will be used to identify your organization and in effect, your cause, it needs to be both simple and versatile. A simple design will be easily understood at first glance, and it will be quickly recognizable at any size. If your logo is cluttered with unnecessary elements and effects, it may be difficult to decipher when shrunk down to a smaller size. If you have a sketch or mockup in mind, consider what it would look like on a billboard as well as on a business card. Is it easily recognizable in both applications?

It's also important to test your logo out in black and white as well as the inverse, using a white version of your logo against a dark background. The inverse will allow you to see how your logo could look on a variety of applications where the background may not always be white, while a black and white version will help you determine if your logo will be just as effective on photocopies and flyers.

2. Effective logos are timeless.
If your logo is going to withstand the test of time, you'll need to steer clear of trendy design fads that come and go. While your design needs to be relevant to today's audience, you should also think about how well it will be received 10, 20 or even 30 years from now. With no way of knowing exactly which design trends will be popular down the road, it's a good idea to stick with a classic typeface instead of using a decorative font.

3. Effective logos use appropriate fonts and colors.
When it comes to fonts and color, you'll want to consider the implications of each. Typefaces can be strong and firm or dainty and whimsical, and colors can communicate a variety of moods and ideas. For example, if you look around, you'll notice that blue is often used to depict corporate logos, while green is often used by environmentally friendly companies or organizations. The color red often communicates power and energy, while yellow suggests optimism. If you look at typefaces, you'll notice they can evoke emotion too. For example, serif fonts are often used in the names of law offices, communicating seriousness, longevity and sophistication, while script fonts represent elegance, and are often seen on invitations to weddings or other formal events.

4. Effective logos are well researched.
In order to come up with the best logo possible for your organization, it's important to do your homework. You'll want to start out by learning everything there is to know about your cause as well as the ideals of your organization. Think about your brand and how you could best represent it from a graphical perspective. By looking around at photos and logos of other similar organizations and causes, you can learn more about the work that's being done with respect to your cause, and you can gather some inspiration regarding your design.

5. Effective logos are unique.
Once you've looked around at similar organizations and causes, and you have a firm grasp of your own organization's vision and goals, you're ready to start designing. While it's a good idea to look around for inspiration, your logo needs to be just as unique as your organization. So be sure to let your creativity flow, and design something that is uniquely yours. 

How about your organization? Do you have a strong logo and branding strategy? Have you recently come up with something new? Let us know in the comments below.

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Four Steps to Create an Effective Nonprofit Brand

How to Create a Successful Nonprofit Brand

Have you ever considered what your brand says about your nonprofit organization? Is it identifiable? Is it effective? When thinking about your nonprofit's brand, it's important to realize that a brand encompasses so much more than a logo and graphic design. It is your identity as an organization. It's what comes to mind when people hear your name, and it's the personality behind all of your communications. Have you effectively branded your organization? Follow these four steps to ensure your branding is successful.

Step 1: Define Your Brand.
This may seem obvious, but it's the most critical step in the process. If you were to identify your nonprofit brand in two or three sentences, what would you say? What information would you include? Your brand goes beyond what you do, and states who you are. Think of your brand as a person. How would you describe him or her? What type of emotion do you aim to elicit in your audience when they hear your brand name, or when they think of your organization? Once you can clearly define the identity of your organization, it becomes much easier to promote this identity among your constituents.

Step 2: Aim For Consistency
Whether you're creating a post for your blog, or sending out an email newsletter, consistency is key in all of your channels of communication. Mixed messages can at best create confusion among your audience and at worst, cause them to question your credibility. Not only do you want to be consistent in the messages you send and the content you promote, but you also want to be consistent in your use of color, images, and typography. As important as it is to create a consistent look among your online and offline communications, it's even more important to be sure your messages carry the same tone of voice. You may have several writers who contribute to the content you create, but their voices should all match the personality communicated in your brand. Finally, it's important to consistently communicate your overall mission. Every piece of content you create should draw readers back to your ultimate mission and show them how you're accomplishing it.

Step 3: Establish Written Guidelines
As your organization grows, and more and more people become involved with the dissemination of your content, it's important to have a set of written guidelines as to how your branding should be used. For example, when is it appropriate to use an inverse logo? When is it appropriate to use a serif or sans serif font? What should headings look like in a typical newsletter? By streamlining your design and making sure all of your publications adhere to the same look, you can promote recognition among your constituents.

Step 4: Be Relatable and Engaging.
When thinking about the voice behind your brand, it's important to review your messages - whether they're shared through a written post, a video, an image, or a tweet - to ensure the message is both engaging and relatable for your constituents. In other words, make sure the content you're creating is content that readers or viewers would want to share. If you are passionate about your mission, your enthusiasm will oftentimes come across in the way you present stories about that mission. Be sure all of your communications present an equal level of enthusiasm, that will cause followers to take notice and choose to share.

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Why Choose an Open Source CMS?

Reasons to Choose an Open Source CMS

As an organization that develops systems on both open source content management systems as well as custom-built platforms, we fully understand the benefits of both options. While custom-built systems have many benefits for complex projects, open source content management systems can be incredibly beneficial and cost effective for nonprofit organizations. Here are a few good reasons to consider an open source platform for your organization's next web project:

1. Our website is mainly used for fundraising, education and information about upcoming events.
If your organization is anything like many nonprofits who use an online presence to communicate with their constituents, you probably have a few key goals in mind: fundraising, education, and event promotions and management. Depending on the complexity of your event management system, all of these features can handled easily and effectively with an open source CMS like Joomla or Wordpress. Both of these platforms offer modules and plugins that assist with event management, and the base installation can easily point donors to your fundraising pages, while also providing a simple solution for creating and managing content.

2. We are concerned about cost.
At ServanTek, we fully understand the budgeting constraints of nonprofit organizations. But we don't believe you should have to sacrifice quality because of costs. In fact, open source systems like Wordpress and Joomla are free to download and install on your web host, and you will have your pick of developers and pricing since these platforms are so widely used. At ServanTek, we offer training packages to help you get your open source CMS up and running, while letting you have creative control of the process. We will provide as much or as little assistance as you need to get your site up and running according to your specifications.

3. We want several of our employees to be involved with the website.
Another key benefit to an open source content management system is the availability of information and training. If you have several people at your organization who will be responsible for creating content on your site, it may be difficult for one person to answer everyone's questions about every aspect of content creation in a timely fashion. With open source systems, this information is not limited to a sole individual at your nonprofit. Instead, your employees can find the answers to frequently asked questions by performing a simple Google or YouTube search. Since it's not a proprietary system, there are countless individuals creating readily available training content on the web, which can easily be found in a quick search.

4. We don't want to be tied down to any one outside firm to help with the development and management of our site.
If you're looking for a long-term solution for your organization's website, without a long-term commitment to any one developer or firm, open source platforms can provide the best solution. Since there are countless Joomla and Wordpress developers available, you don't have to lock yourself into a long-term agreement with an individual web developer or marketing firm. With an open source system, you will have more options regarding who can work on your site, as well as the price you'll pay for these services. Whereas with a proprietary CMS, you'd be tied to the developer of that particular system, an open source solution will allow you to work with a wide range of developers as you build out your content and add new features to your site.

How about you? Are you using an open source CMS for your nonprofit? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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How to Create an Effective Nonprofit Blog (Part 2)

How to Create an Effective Blog

In our last post on creating an effective nonprofit blog, we talked about focusing on the quality of your content. Once you've crafted some engaging content and you've carved out your unique voice on the web, there are a few other considerations that will improve the overall experience for your readers.

One area deserving of attention is the layout and design of your blog. When considering your blog design, it's important to keep your ultimate goal in mind. For example, what do you want users to do after reading your posts? Do you want them to share them in their social networks to spread the word about your organization? Do you want readers to subscribe to your blog to create a solid base of loyal followers? Perhaps your goal is to drive them to other parts of your site to encourage volunteerism or online donations. Whatever the goal, it's important to keep this in the forefront of your mind when deciding on your layout. This may require using arrows or graphics to draw attention to your calls to action. It may also require rethinking the placement of your widgets or modules to ensure your calls to action are strategically placed on the page.

In addition to considering the placement of elements on the page, it's also important to think about some basic design principles to ensure your blog is visually appealing. If your blog is used as a communication tool for your organization, it's important to ensure the overall look of the blog matches that of your organization's website. When it comes to colors, consider your organization's branding, as well as how you use color throughout your website. Stick to a color pallet that matches your branding and enhances your content, rather than one that would be overpowering or distracting to your audience. When thinking about colors, keep it simple and consistent.

In addition to layout and design, you'll also want to consider a few key elements for each blog post. For example, each post should include an accurate and intriguing headline, social sharing icons, as well as an image or graphic illustrating your topic. Your headline is oftentimes what will convince your readers to continue reading your post, or cause them to head back to Google to look for something else. While it's important to grab their attention, it's also important to accurately represent your content. You're not trying to bait your readers, but rather, let them know in a few words why your post is worth reading. Social sharing icons are also important to encourage readers to spread the word about your content, and a good graphic can help grab your reader's attention even before reading your headline.

Finally, be sure to check the mobile view of your blog to ensure your content is easy to read, and your calls to action are prominent. So how are you doing with your nonprofit blog? Let us know in the comments below!

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How to Create an Effective Nonprofit Blog (Part I)

How to Create an Effective Blog

The key ingredient to any blog is quality content. So before considering design features, commenting, or social sharing, it's important to begin with an audit of your content. If you're new to blogging, take a look at our posts on content marketing and website personas to get an idea of what you want to communicate and who your audience will be. If you've already begun blogging, or if you've been at it for a while, take a look at your most recent posts and ask yourself the following questions.

First, is your message directed toward the appropriate audience? In a previous post on the ServanTek blog, we shared some ideas on how to think about your website personas and how to direct your message toward the appropriate readers. The fact of the matter is that your message is not going to resonate with all people, in all places, at all times. That would be impossible. But your content should be written in such a way that it resonates with the specific users who would be most likely to take an interest in your cause.

Next, put yourself in your readers' shoes. Do you find the information in your blog helpful? Are you providing your readers with something of value? If you're new to blogging, take some time to consider what type of content your users would find most helpful. What type of information are they looking for? What do they need to know? If readers find value in the information you're providing, they'll come back for more. Or better yet, they'll subscribe to receive your updates in their inbox. If your information is not valuable to them, they'll keep surfing the web until they find information that will both capture their attention and provide value to them.

Once you've determined that your content has significant value to your readers, it's important to consider whether or not your information is actionable. Perhaps your primary objective is to raise awareness about your cause or a social issue surrounding your cause. Are you providing your readers with content that will not only raise awareness, but spur them on toward action? This is not to say that every post needs to conclude with a specific call to action, but the information you provide your readers should encourage them to put that information to good use. Whether you're educating your readers on the dangers of texting while driving, or you're sharing an inspirational story of volunteerism, be sure to consider what type of response you hope to generate from your readers, and ask yourself whether or not your content would draw such a response.

Finally, review the writing style of your posts. Is it conversational? Does it flow? Sometimes it helps to read a post aloud to yourself to better understand how it will come across to your readers. What about punctuation? Has someone edited your post to be sure it's free of typos or grammatical errors? As the writer, you may not be able to catch all of your own mistakes. When possible, have a coworker look it over and fine tune it before publishing. 

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Facebook launches new website for nonprofits

Facebook for Nonprofits

If your nonprofit has yet to delve into the world of Facebook, what better time than now? Just yesterday, Facebook released a new website to give nonprofits all of the help they need to get started.

With information on everything from setting up a Facebook page to creating ad campaigns, the Facebook for Nonprofits website will give you step by step instructions on how to raise both awareness and funds for your organization. In addition to practical tips and instructions regarding the use of their platform, this new website also provides several success stories to give you real life examples of how the social network has benefited various nonprofits. To learn more, visit https://nonprofits.fb.com.

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7 Critical Questions to ask a Potential Website Designer Before Hiring

7 Questions

Is your nonprofit organization looking for a new website? Before you enter into an agreement with a web designer, you'll obviously want to take a look at his or her online portfolio to be sure the site that you envision will be feasible based on the designer's sample work. Once you've decided the designer or firm could be a good fit, be sure to ask these seven critical questions up front to ensure a smooth development experience. 

 
1. What is your process?
Before investing a great deal of time, money and energy in revamping your website, it's important to understand the overall process involved. For example, what are the first steps, and what content do you need to supply? What are the turnaround times for this designer to create a design and build it out? What does the approval process look like? How many rounds of revisions will be included before additional charges will be incurred?
 
2. How long will it take?
Be sure to get a time commitment at the outset of the project so your can ensure you have the correct expectations as far as the overall timeline is concerned. If there is a specific date on which you need the site to be live in order to unveil the launch at an upcoming event, it's a good idea to discuss this with a potential designer before you begin the project in order to ensure the deadline is feasible, and you're both on the same page.  
 
3. What types of additional fees would I incur?
When it comes to websites, there are a couple fees that go along with the design of any site, namely website hosting and a domain registration. Website hosting is typically a monthly or annual fee which provides you with server space to store your site. A domain registration is typically an annual fee of $10-$15, which allows you to register and own the domain name of your choice. While some designers include these costs in a website package, others require you to purchase your own hosting and domain name. Either way, you'll want to be sure your designer can help walk you through this process. 

4. Will the domain be in my name? Who owns the site when complete?
You should always have ownership of your domain as well as your completed website. Be sure this is stated clearly in the contract before agreeing to purchase services from a designer or firm. If you ever decide to move to a new website in the future, the process will be much smoother if you have direct access to the DNS controls for your domain. DNS controls allow you to determine where the domain points. 
 
5. Does the cost include training so I can manage the site in the future?
Thinking about website maintenance and upkeep in the future is a critical consideration, especially for nonprofits. If your budget is limited, you'll want to be sure you will not need outside assistance to make everyday changes to keep your content current.   
 
6. Do you offer support in the future if something goes wrong, gets hacked or needs to be updated?
It's important to understand what the anticipated costs will be should something go wrong in the future. While the appropriate security measures should always be taken at the outset, content management systems often require updates to provide ongoing security. No website project is a one-time expense, so it's important to budget for these types of scenarios in the future. That said, it's important to get a good idea upfront concerning what the anticipated costs could be in the future.  
 
7. Do you offer SEO services?
Some web design companies will offer SEO within their website packages, while others will do basic SEO preparation, but do not offer it as a service. Still others do nothing to help with SEO at all. It's important to find out what services are available from your designer, and what services you would need to purchase elsewhere. Since SEO is an ongoing process, it's also a good idea to understand if you will receive any SEO services beyond the initial setup of the site. If not, can ongoing SEO support be purchased after the initial setup is complete? Finally, if your current site is doing really well in the SERPs, you'll also want to discuss with your designer what measures will be take to ensure your reputation in the SERPs will be maintained when the new site is built.
 
Was this information helpful to you? Let us know in the comments below.
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Website Checklist to Start the New Year

2016 Checklist

What better time to review your website and do a little cleaning than the start of a new year? Now that we're just a couple weeks into 2016, it's a great time to go through your site, do some testing, and remove the clutter. Here's a quick checklist of things you can do today to be sure your site is ready for 2016:

- Test All External Links. 
Links can change, and often do. Are you still pointing to content on the web that has since moved? Check the links throughout your site to ensure users will not encounter the frustration of a 404 error.

- Remove Outdated Content.
Are you still advertising an event that has since passed? Be sure to remove any old or outdated content to ensure your website appears fresh and current to site visitors. Do you have articles published that are no longer pertinent? Perhaps you have content about an old fundraiser that has since ended, or a program that you no longer support. Archive old content in case you need it for internal purposes in the future, but be sure all of your publicly available content is current and applicable to your visitors.

- Test Functionality.
Have you tested your registration process recently? Do you know that it works? Is it as intuitive as it can possibly be? Take a quick walk through your functionality from the perspective of a first-time guest. Be sure the signup process goes smoothly and you don't encounter any errors. Have you checked your email signup form recently? Run a quick test to be sure you're correctly added to the appropriate mailing list.

- Update Footer Content. 
Does your website footer still have a 2015 copyright? Be sure to update this to include the current year. 

- Review Donation Categories.
Do you allow your donors to give to a variety of funds or categories? Are these all still current? Go through your donation process to be sure to hide any seasonal funds that are no longer applicable, and remove any funds that you are no longer using.

- Perform a Technical Audit. 
Have you recently checked your site to be sure you're free of any malware or harmful files? Now is a great time to bring in an IT person to take a look at your overall hosting account to be sure you're site is secure and healthy. Have them check to be sure your CMS, components and plugins are up-to-date, and your not approaching any hosting quotas that would cause space issues on your server.

- View your Site from Multiple Devices.
Have you recently gone through your site on a variety of browsers and devices? Browsers are updated constantly, so it's a good idea to check out how your site looks on a few different browsers and a few different devices to make sure everything looks as expected.  

- Review Images and Video.
Scan through the images and videos on your site. Are they current, or do they look like they were shot in a different time period? Older videos and images can definitely be helpful to show what you've done over the years, but if your site is lacking in fresh images and videos, now is the time to start adding some current visual content. 

Do you have any key areas you frequently audit on your site? Let us know in the comments below. 

 

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ServanTek's 2015 in Review

The ServanTek team understands the needs of nonprofit organizations whose specific requirements extend beyond the confines of an open source system. So in order to better serve these organizations in 2015, ServanTek began utilizing a PHP framework to develop complex systems with custom functionality for our clients. Over the past few months, rather than building upon and altering the core code of an existing content management system to build more complex systems, ServanTek developers have been working on a variety of projects using this new framework. 

With this clean slate to customize code, ServanTek has worked on projects for clients like the National Center for Innovation and System Improvement (NCISI), which uses a fully customized interface to provide users with access to webinars, training registrations, news and information. Additionally, ServanTek developers have recently implemented this framework when developing a system for an Association in Kiev, Ukraine, which offers standardized tests to job seekers. Following this project, ServanTek has been able to leverage this expertise to aid other nonprofits who are in need of tools for online education.

In addition to pursuing more customized development opportunities in 2015, ServanTek has also had the opportunity to continue to support a variety of nonprofit organizations like Fellowship Deaconry Ministries, Fedcap, DELTA Ministries International, and Inheritance of Hope, by regularly assisting with their websites and offering online donation processing to a variety of nonprofits.

Finally, another key project ServanTek has been able to undertake in 2015 involves a wide range of user interface improvements to the ServanTek payment processor. The recent changes made to the system provide donors with a more intuitive giving experience, while also adding enhanced functionality to ensure recurring gifts continue to be processed successfully.  

Additionally, the new fully-responsive page designs and admin tools allow nonprofit organizations to more easily customize the look of their giving pages. This feature gives nonprofit organizations more control, allowing them to design their giving pages in a way that better matches their organization’s brand. To learn more about this system and how it could benefit your organization read the full article here.

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5 Ways to Give Your Year-End Giving Campaign a Boost

Boost Year-End Giving

Is your year-end giving campaign ready to send? Be sure to check out these five tips to get the most out of this year's campaign!

1. Be present. This first tip actually starts in January. In order to encourage year-end gifts, it's important to remind donors of your presence all year long. Be sure to regularly communicate with donors regarding your mission, your events, your work, and your opportunities for volunteers and donors. If you haven't been in touch as much as you would have liked over the past year, don't be discouraged. You can still implement the following four tips to ensure a healthy campaign. Come January, remember to continue communicating with your supporters all year long.

2. Be on Mission. Keep your messages centered on your mission. Be sure your plea for donations effectively reiterates your purpose as an organization. Don't get side-tracked by focusing on desperation or time-is-running-out tactics, but rather, emphasize your mission and how year-end gifts will help you accomplish your goals. Donors who are giving a gift of any size generally want to ensure their money is put to good use. Be sure to communicate both the purpose of your fundraising and how the funds will be used. 

3. Ask through a variety of channels. You probably have a preferred method of communication. Maybe you enjoy talking on the phone. Perhaps you'd rather carry on a conversation via text message. Maybe, you don't regularly check your personal email, but you do regularly peruse social media. Just like you, your donors have preferred methods of communication. So when it's time to solicit year-end gifts, be sure you're approaching donors through a variety of channels. 

Some donors won't open an email, but those same donors might be drawn in by an intriguing picture and genuine plea on Facebook. For others, the opposite may be true. In order to reach the largest audience, be sure to communicate using a variety of channels. Furthermore, if you have specific donors who regularly give larger gifts, be sure to give them special attention. Let them know how much you appreciate their gifts by taking the time to make a personal phone call.  

4. Test it out. Be sure your website asks are current and your donation page is fully operational and easy to use. It's a good idea to walk through your donation process to be sure it's simple and intuitive before sending thousands of donors to your giving page. 

5. Be creative. One charity that I personally support sends out year-end giving statements at the beginning of December. The first time I received one, I thought, "This must be a mistake. Why would they send this a month before the year is over?" And then I read the accompanying letter. For tax purposes, this organization wanted to remind me of how much I had given to date this year, so as to encourage me to consider increasing my tax-deductible gifts before the year was up. While this route may not be cost effective for all nonprofit organizations, I, as a recipient, found it to be a unique, helpful, and personalized way to solicit an end-of-year gift. What unique methods are you employing to encourage year-end gifts? Let us know in the comments below.

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Church Website Tips 

Church Website Tips

Do you currently manage a church website? Have you ever taken a step back to evaluate how well it's working? No matter how many people attend your church each week, many of the key elements of a successful church website are similar for churches of any size. We've created a list of some of the key questions you need to consider when creating or improving upon your current site.  
 
1. Are you effectively connecting with both church members and visitors?
While nothing can replace genuine, face-to-face interactions, your website can provide an opportunity for you to connect with members and visitors alike. In order to do this, you'll need to provide options regarding how users can connect with you. For example, if you send out a regular newsletter regarding upcoming events and service opportunities, let people know. Whether you use mass text message alerts or email lists, you can provide a simple opt-in, preferably on the homepage, so users can easily subscribe. Do you use Facebook or Twitter? Place these icons directly on the homepage to show visitors they can connect with you through social media channels. Similarly, some users may want to follow your sermon series, but may not think to regularly visit your site. By creating a podcast, you can make your sermons accessible to a much wider audience, while also ensuring subscribers have immediate access to your sermons through iTunes. 
 
2. Is your content current?
Do you regularly add new sermons and sermon series to your site? Do you keep your site fresh with announcements about upcoming events? When a current member or a potential visitor arrives at your site, it's critical that they see what's going on now. If it's been several months since you've made any updates and the events posted have long since passed, members will not have a reason to come back, and potential visitors may choose to seek out a church with ministries that appear to be more active.  
 
3. Are you communicating clearly with all audiences?
Some of the key elements visitors will seek out on your site are your service times and location. Are these elements prominent on your homepage? For many church visitors, your website will be the first impression they get of your church. Therefore, it's important to answer their most common questions without making them search for the answers themselves. Furthermore, visitors will also visit your site from a variety of devices. If your visitors viewed your site from a desktop computer, phone or tablet, would they have an equally positive experience across all devices? This is a critical way to communicate effectively with all who visit your site. In order to provide your users the best experience possible, be sure your template or theme is responsive. 
 
4. Do users find it easy to give online?
Online giving has grown significantly in the past few years. One way to ensure your members will still have an opportunity to give when they're out of town or on vacation is to provide them with the option of setting up a recurring electronic gift. If you offer this type of service to your members, is it easily accessible from your homepage? Can they quickly login to your giving platform and easily update a credit/debit card or checking account number? In order to have an effective online donation process, the platform you choose needs to be both simple and intuitive.  
 
5. Is your overall design engaging and intuitive?
Before choosing a new theme or template for your church website, be sure to check out a variety of church websites for inspiration. Evaluate what design elements work well and communicate effectively. Remember, your website will be the first impression many people have of your church, so it's critical that your overall design is both engaging and intuitive.
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