Websites have changed the way we live and work. They’ve changed the way we shop for clothing, watch movies and plan vacations. When we interact with the internet, a lot of the things we do are commercial — we buy things and we’re advertised to. But the internet has also opened new avenues for nonprofit and social enterprises that motivate us to take action for good.
How do social impact organizations cut through the noise online and connect with audiences in a way that gets people to think beyond themselves, donate to a cause or volunteer their time? The most effective way is to consider the user journey of target audiences and create an experience that is easy and even rewarding.
The mechanics of creating a website for social impact are slightly different from what we might think about when designing commercial experiences like an eCommerce site. However, we still borrow aspects of commercial, for-profit digital experiences because users have come to expect and rely on those patterns and behavior triggers.
While each nonprofit or purpose-driven organization has its own specific set of audiences or issues their work aims to address , there is a fairly common journey for users who are going to engage with a product or a system that makes a positive impact in society.
The first step in the journey is “attracting” the audience to the mission. While this step is very common in commercial sites, it’s often something that nonprofits struggle with. Traditional awareness campaigns can be expensive and nonprofits often allocate their marketing budgets to deepening a relationship with existing audiences instead of investing in wider outreach to new audiences. Search engine optimization (SEO) or social advertising have helped nonprofits reach new and niche audiences without over-extending their marketing spend.
Once a user is “attracted” to a mission, they must be “informed and provoked” with content that is new, surprising, frustrating or unsettling to them. These stages are intended to tap into a visitor’s emotions and “activate” them — spurring them to get involved, to donate money or time.
This cycle is often repeated, whether through providing users with new information or creating limited-time situations, special occasions for donating or volunteering or motivating action by highlighting time-sensitive existential threats related to the organization’s mission, like climate change, fear of natural disasters or government inaction.
The more times a user moves through the loop, the deeper they can become embedded in the organization or the cause, often evolving into advocates who bring other users into the loop, expanding the audience.
One of the most important decisions a nonprofit or mission-driven organization needs to make to effectively develop this loop is determining the single action they want audiences to take. Giving a site visitor too many options for action can overwhelm them, while presenting options for action without context can cause them to disengage. Striking the right balance of information that informs, provokes and activates audiences is the key to audience engagement for social impact.
We recently worked with the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement (AIM), an advocacy organization that works in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association to improve investments in research, enhanced care and support. As a membership organization, AIM relies on its audiences on and offline to donate both time and money to advance their cause. Their website is a major outlet for connecting with new audiences, providing them with information and motivating them to action.
At the beginning of our engagement with AIM we identified that website visitors needed more context than their experience offered at the time — not just about what the potential advocacy activities were but what the anticipated time commitment was for each of them. By setting expectations up front and adding more context, AIM was much more likely to have a higher conversion rate into those advocacy opportunities.
The simplicity of interaction from informing and provoking a site visitor to getting them to complete a desired action is pivotal. Many digital experiences (nonprofit and for-profit) make desired actions cumbersome to complete with winding paths through content, multi-step forms and missing confirmation moments.
Some recent work from our partner agency, Rhythm, demonstrates how clear and simple actions (even when related to sometimes complicated topics) make winning digital experiences.
The new site for When We All Vote (a non-partisan voter registration initiative started by Michelle Obama) demystifies the process of voter registration, provides guidance on how to request ballots, information on what voter ID laws are and helps site visitors find opportunities to become voter registration advocates.
It’s easy to see the Social Impact User Journey brought to life through the site. Visitors are attracted through the use of bright color blocks, bold calls to action and direct, accessible content written in a style that appeals to When We All Vote’s target audience (typically, younger and first-time voters). They’re then informed and provoked through a mix of content about voter registration and voter suppression and moved to action — to check their own registration, volunteer for registration drives and donate to the cause.
One organization that utilizes the Social Impact user journey in a unique way is Kiva, a non-profit that facilitates micro-loans to individuals in underserved communities across the globe. Rather than collecting donations to the organization and then distributing those funds through programs, Kiva allows visitors the opportunity to fund real people directly. Site visitors can look through profiles of people around the world who are looking for funding for everything from growing bananas in Uganda to building bathrooms in Vietnam.
Visitors are attracted to the site by the idea that they can have a direct and measurable impact on real people. For as little as $5 (which they will likely receive back through Kiva’s amazing 96% repayment average), they can contribute to someone else’s entrepreneurial dreams or essential wellbeing. Kiva informs and provokes visitors by highlighting the stories of those seeking loans. In a break from the traditional non-profit model, Kiva stresses that visitors are not making donations to charitable causes, they are providing loans that will change someone’s life.
Once a loan is repaid, the site visitor who provided the loan can choose to reinvest that money in another loan and the engagement loop begins again. The smart system paired with a simple, but thoughtful user interface makes the site experience one that visitors want to return to, deepening their relationship with Kiva and the individuals who benefit from the loans.
Centering your digital experience around the Social Impact User Journey gives you a framework to make feature and functionality decisions that aren’t driven by maximizing profit or meaningless engagement. Considering the journey as an infinite loop incentivizes you to think about ways to deepen your relationship with site visitors and turn them into advocates.
Ultimately, utilizing this model helps you maximize your impact while being mindful of budget limitations — allowing you to create mission-based digital experiences.
To learn more about our work with the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement, check out the case study on our website.
Mediacurrent is an Open Source Product agency, defining, designing and delivering websites, platforms and digital experiences — often for mission driven and purpose-backed organizations.