Whether facing natural disasters, pandemics, acts of violence, or other crises, it is not uncommon for people who aren’t directly affected by the issue to look for ways to help. People often feel pain, shock, or outrage in these scenarios, and want to take action to channel their angst into something productive. Being able to contribute and have an impact can help offset feelings of futility and hopelessness.

This is the time when people look online for options to make a difference, ready to open their wallets, volunteer, make calls to leaders, donate blood, or contribute whatever is needed most in that situation. Technology can be a game changer here, with digital solutions and channels providing essential platforms to raise awareness, communicate with affected parties quickly, collect donations, engage donors and volunteers, and effectively convey results and the impact of donations.

"Many people have good intentions, but when channeling intentions into action, it is important to make it as simple as possible to do so."

Make it Easy to Contribute Through an Effective Digital Presence

At a time when nonprofits are competing for attention (and expectations have been set by world-class, consumer-oriented solutions like Amazon), people expect easy-to-use, modern, and personalized digital experiences that anticipate their needs and respond with relevant information. Lack of preparedness means you stand to lose out when people are otherwise likely to take action by donating money, their time, voice, etc. So, here are several key things to take into consideration when designing your digital presence to make it easy for your audiences to contribute to your cause.

1. Create well-planned user journeys and implement them through good UI / UX

Identify the primary actions you want users to take related to the involved campaign or cause. Do you want them to donate money, sign a petition, call a representative, or sign up to volunteer? If so, it is important to focus on removing the barriers (time, energy, confusion) to taking action. When people are agitated, their level of patience is understandably low, necessitating simple, easy-to-use digital solutions that allow them to act quickly. It’s important to make the entire transaction seamless (from accepting donations through credit card transactions to forms that aren’t too lengthy).

Do you want users to take several different actions? If so, it’s important to guide users in order of priority, so they don’t leave your site without taking any action because they are too overwhelmed by the number of choices. (Here are some ideas on how to guide the user journey through your UI / design.) It’s also important to have a design system that’s flexible enough to adapt when your priorities change.

2. Build a robust content strategy

In order to create a good content strategy “it’s important to understand the problem, the current state, and the vision for the future state in order to craft an effective plan,” according to Margot Bloomstein, creator of BrandSort. Meeting your users in the right context and channel with the right content is critical. For example, making it easy to find relevant, timely information quickly from the home page can ensure that your users find their desired content easily. Being a hub of well-organized information and news during critical times will set your site apart as a go-to resource.

3. Ensure that your solutions are optimized for mobile

This might feel like a no-brainer in today’s world, but there are a number of mission-driven websites and applications that still aren’t optimized for mobile. In the meantime, the percentage of donations made through this channel has continued to increase, and as of 2017, mobile accounted for nearly a quarter of all online donations. The Charitable Giving Report by the Blackbaud Institute for Philanthropic Impact states that, “online donations [in 2017] accounted for 7.6 percent of total fundraising revenue, up from 7.2 percent in 2016, and that 21 percent of online donations were made on a mobile device, up from 17 percent.”

4. Take emails, social channels, & engagement into account

According to the Georgetown Digital Persuasion Study,

"68% of people were prompted to donate after engaging with a cause on social media."

So, make it easy for your donors to share your message via social media or email. Identify and provide ways to simplify how your advocates rally their friends to help (such as including social or email share buttons on your blog posts).

5. Provide a multilingual presence if you’re targeting global reach

Identify what unique linguistic challenges donors might face that prevent them from making a contribution (language barriers, lack of availability of payment platforms that support international currency transactions, etc.). Certain web platforms such as Sitecore have great options to create and maintain multilingual sites.

6. Align short-term initiatives with your larger digital strategy

Determine how you can align the goals of a particular campaign or landing page with the longer-term goals of your organization and overarching digital strategy. For example, after the primary action has been taken (such as a donor making a contribution), redirect them to a page where they can subscribe to your organization’s newsletter (don’t forget to comply with GDPR) or learn more about the other work that you do.

7. Deliver clear, consistent branding across all channels

According to Peter Walker, director of the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University, “A strong brand allows you to acquire more resources [financial, human, and social] and gives you the authority to have more freedom over how you use them.” Brand consistency also plays a role in helping to establish and maintain your organization’s credibility in the minds of donors.

8. Use data storytelling to make the complex simple and engaging

When you are looking to change and inspire hearts and minds, you need to focus on the most effective and efficient communication vehicles to capture your audience’s scarce time. There are numerous examples to the axiom “a picture says a thousand words” and it’s often the work of photojournalists that spark the emotional response necessary to invoke change and action.

Whether the photo is from a war-torn region or an image of the aftermath of a major earthquake, pictures often move us enough to take action. But without context and a story, a picture can’t do much. Typically, we’re given a write-up from a journalist, but now, in the era of data, it’s possible to provide more perspective on a given situation using data storytelling (an increasingly important component of campaigns seeking to drive change).

Advocacy requires being able to educate people about a cause and disseminate facts in an easy-to-digest, shareable manner. Data storytelling can take otherwise dry, difficult-to-understand statistics and turn them into powerful interactives that leap off the screen and evoke an emotional response, spurring users to take action.

The use of data storytelling can be two-fold, first to better explain the situation at hand, and second, to show how donors’ contributions can and are making a difference. Donors are motivated by seeing how their contributions are being used, and data storytelling can provide a clear, easy-to-understand picture of results.

9. Optimize your solution’s performance and uptime

Pages that load quickly, are designed for users who may have limited data on their mobile devices, and built with distressed users in mind, can make the difference between an effective digital solution and one that is under-utilized. It’s important to consider the infrastructure you’ll need to ensure the required uptime to support all of the additional traffic that you might receive because of your campaign. In the post, Going Viral Without Crashing, we outline ways that you can prepare your website for heavy traffic.

It’s important to note that these tools are applicable outside of a crisis situation as well, in the day-to-day movement-building process. You’re fighting for users’ time and attention and these tools can help you get the engagement you need to further your cause.

Next Steps: Employ Strategic Planning to Ensure that You Can Have the Desired Impact

Having a digital presence that is primed for action at all times ensures that your mission is effectively communicated, and your audiences are well-guided to the best course of action.

While taking the time to rethink your digital strategy, invest in proper planning, or conduct a larger redesign might be daunting, it might be critical given how much of your impact during times of need is being influenced by digital channels and technologies.

By keeping these tips in mind, and focusing on enhancing your digital solutions, you will be setting your nonprofit up for success when it matters most. In Part 2 of this post, we’ll explore how you can create effective online platforms to respond to different types of crises as well as harness the power of digital to empower advocates.