Building a quality website may seem like a mundane and straightforward task in 2021. From e-commerce sites like Amazon to job boards like LinkedIn and travel sites like Booking.com, we know a good website when we see it and use it. For Jewish nonprofits, however, this is not the norm. The investment in the mission and product does not equate to the investment in marketing technology, which is critical to generate the audience and customers.
Two years ago, Masa Israel Journey embarked on a comprehensive website rebuild that has succeeded in enhancing visitor engagement and, therefore, our mission. Founded by the Jewish Agency and Government of Israel, Masa is the leader of long-term Israel experiences for young adults. To be an industry leader, we need to be strong in every aspect of our organization, from staff to products to marketing.
While we had a functioning website, we needed to create a more dynamic digital experience that elevated our brand and connected with all customers. We resolved not to do what is expected of nonprofits; instead, we aimed to be just as relevant and cutting-edge in our approach as the top online companies.
Several principles informed our website development process. Each of these elements can be scaled up or down according to your organization’s constraints.
Own your brand. Take your core values into each phase of your website design and development. Apply your brand identity in every part of the website, irrespective of the personalized user-experiences.
Prioritize user experience (UX). To optimize UX in an informed manner, hold focus groups with key stakeholders—past and current consumers as well as partner organizations—to solicit their feedback on where your current website excels and lacks. In the case of Masa, this process led us to flip the dynamic of the website. Now we suggest programming that fits the user instead of assuming they already know what they want. An additional component we added to enhance UX is user-generated alumni reviews, a device commonly featured in leading websites but novel for the nonprofit world.
Build a dynamic development team. Each internal department may have a different vision for what the website needs and should offer. Evaluate all these viewpoints collaboratively. Our task force comprises staff members with different areas of expertise, including business operations and management, technology, and branding. The best concepts will come from a synergy of different perspectives.
Maximize your CRM system. Know your audience and collect and utilize data. Integrate a customer relationship management (CRM) system throughout your website to create a more effective marketing funnel that will convert leads to customers. As you learn website visitors’ behaviors and preferences, you can direct information that more effectively captures their interest. You want to guide leads and customers to relevant content instead of overloading them with extraneous material.
Be Transparent. Provide customers with a full picture of who you are. Do not leave them guessing. Previously, when visiting our website, customers usually needed some familiarity with what we offered to find the information they sought. Now we are much clearer in presenting who we are so that any visitor can readily connect with us.
Create marketplaces. Your website should be dynamic and personalize information to users’ needs and interests. For example, at Masa, we optimized our program search tools to create a centralized internship marketplace. This makes users active and empowered participants in selecting programs, which they can filter by language, career interest, location of choice, and preferred program length. As a result, the diverse pool of Masa applicants can best discover the long-term experiences in Israel that meet their unique needs and interests.
The success of our website redesign is clearly reflected in the data, which shows a major boost in user engagement. Since launching our new masaisrael.org website, average user time on our site has increased by 40%, and Google searches for Masa over the past year have increased 63%. Parents of prospective applicants now make up 35% of traffic to our website compared to 17% on the old one, indicating our UX has made the site more accessible to all ages.
Weak technology and sub-par websites can compromise a brand’s effectiveness. We must back our purpose with strong tools that effectively reach and grow our audiences and take our brands to the next level. As nonprofits, we need to adjust our perspective on marketing to emulate and adopt the latest innovations. In turn, we can strengthen our impact and influence on our community.