Transforming a Nonprofit Website

New Standards in Web Design

We used to think of websites as online brochures: low on imagery, high on text.  The assumption behind this style is that people become engaged with a nonprofit through a rational evaluation of facts and information.

In fact, visitors are much more likely to feel connected with your organization if they feel an emotional connection to it.  The easiest way to create this feeling is to put human beings front and center on your website (examples in slides below).

This year I worked over a period of several months with the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network (EHRN) to overhaul their website in accordance with these principles.  EHRN’s mission is to promote humane, evidence-based harm reduction approaches to drug use, with the aim of improving health and protecting human rights at the individual, community, and societal levels.

Starting Point: The Brochure Site

Before the redesign the website was a brochure classic: almost all text.  Rather than providing information effectively, the abundance of text made the site visually overwhelming and difficult to read.  Ironically, providing more information made the site less informative!

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Transformation: Creating a Personal Connection

The new site (below) still provides a lot of information, but in a much clearer and more effective way.  Rather than being dominated by text, the site is now dominated by an image – a human face – that creates an immediate emotional connection to the visitor.  Text is provided in the form of a large title that captures the main idea of an article, along with a brief excerpt.  Then, through a bright orange “read more” button, visitors are invited to gain more information on a separate page.

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When multiple pieces of text are presented, as in the page below, only short excerpts are shown.  Titles are large and bold to allow for easy skimming, since we tend to have less patience for reading online.  Each piece of text is also accompanied by an image that creates visual interest.

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How I Supported the Process

I supported EHRN in a number of ways during this process.  I helped them recruit and select a firm to design their website.  I participated in teleconference meetings in order to translate between the developers and nonprofit staff, who often misunderstand one another because of differences in training, work processes, and jargon.  I also helped to evaluate design options presented by the firm to help EHRN select a design that would serve their ends effectively.  The result was an emotionally-engaging, well-designed, and informative site that effectively projects EHRN’s mission online.