Article Type: Case Studies

Many people may not make the connection between technology and food/agriculture, but when we merge the two together, we can transform the way we connect with, produce, and consume the foods that end up on our plates. And my team at the Bainum Family Foundation’s Food Security Initiative had a small taste of this potential when we created an online platform called the Food Learning Locator, which we just relaunched in March.

The Food Learning Locator originally went live in September 2017, shortly after I joined the team. The intention of the tool was to address a large information gap. No one (our foundation and our partners included) seemed to understand the full scope and types of food-related education and job training opportunities available in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. As we began to collect the data, we quickly realized a greater need. We weren’t the only ones unaware of so many opportunities around us. Our community was missing out on them as well. This spurred the idea to create an easy online tool to help people find and participate in food-education and job-training programs, many of which are offered by nonprofits and other community organizations that have limited resources and time to market their programs.

After the site’s beta launch, we learned from our partners that we could add even greater value by improving the Food Learning Locator’s UX and UI. I then took the lead on getting feedback on the site, and we used it as the backbone of an eight-month web development process to add to and improve the data structure, add an administrative portal for organizations on the map, and find ways to measure the use of the tool.

But what all was involved with each of those steps? Let me share our experience with you.

User research

Since this tool had the potential to benefit many audiences (i.e., community members, advocates, funders, and program providers), we encountered a major challenge — how to create a tool that addresses numerous needs and interests. For such a wide-reaching site, we realized we had to meet people where they were to get the necessary feedback.

We sought feedback from as many people as possible, hosting a focus group with community members and one-on-one feedback sessions with healthcare providers and program providers to accommodate everyone’s schedules. We also attended community events and conferences to market the site and ask for thoughts and suggestions. With this invaluable feedback, we were able to both identify and carry out the next steps for improving the Food Learning Locator. For example, we completely changed the UI from having food-education and job-training programs on the same map to splitting those categories into two maps and we added new data points to further improve user experience.

Updates to data structure

Our challenge was to create a tool that encompassed the key program offerings we knew about in 2017 but to also structure them in a way that allowed new data points and content areas to be added over time. The food-education and job-training space is constantly evolving and adapting, so developing an agile tool was key to its long-term success.

The web developers we worked with were incredibly helpful in structuring the back end of the site to allow us to easily add new data filters or content areas requested by community members (e.g., program cost and registration information). We also made sure to structure the front-end map and back-end Program Manager Portal so that it could be easily used as a template for other cities or regions that may eventually be interested in bringing this tool to their communities.

Development of the Program Manager Portal

With the data structure refined and the UI designed, we developed a Program Manager Portal for program providers to dynamically update, add, or remove organizational and programmatic data. The addition of the portal was a huge improvement over the beta version of the site, where update requests had to be submitted via SurveyMonkey and then manually changed by the Food Learning Locator team on a semiannual basis. This portal simplified the data-maintenance process, which was particularly helpful given how quickly the site has been expanding since its launch. Since February, we’ve added more than 10 new organizations to the Food Learning Locator, bringing the total to more than ten organizations in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Across these organizations, there are nearly 90 food education programs and more than 30 job training programs — all displayed and searchable on our now easy-to-use site.

The portal still has room for improvement but having it has helped both our team and program managers maintain accurate information, consequently creating a more reliable source of information for community members interested in the food space.

Data collection

Like most websites, we’re able to easily track site traffic and other metrics using Google Analytics. However, this tool doesn’t help us measure in-person user outcomes of the Food Learning Locator (i.e., the number of users attending programs they found via the map or the number of new collaborations or partnerships among program providers.)

We’re still in the early stages of determining the best method of tracking these connections, as they play a large role in evaluating the success of the tool. For now, we’re relying on qualitative feedback from site users — whether directly (online or in-person) or through program providers or community advocates — to understand budding connections from the tool. We’re looking into how we can track referrals among program providers, but that’s likely something we’ll have to implement down the road. For now, we’re relying on qualitative feedback and testimonials to assess that success metric.

Key Lesson

So, technology and food/agriculture — not so separate after all now, right? While I myself am new to merging program needs and technological tools (at least on this scale), I see endless possibilities for so many fields to leverage online platforms to create real, lasting offline connections and impact. And my hope is that the Food Learning Locator will cultivate and strengthen our local food-interested community and will eventually expand beyond. With tech, the sky is truly the limit.

A special thank you to the web development team at Alley Interactive and the Food Learning Locator team — Andrew Curtis, Laura Hepp, Katie Jones, Ann Egan, and Morgan Maloney — for helping to develop this tool.

University of Wisconsin Extension (UWEX) is known for extending the boundaries of the university to the boundaries of the state through continuing education, cooperative extension, business and entrepreneurship, and broadcast and media innovations. It makes sense, then, that it is also the base for the state’s evolving digital adoption initiative, which is run through the Broadband & E-Commerce Education Center.

To you and me, UW-Extension’s program looks to be well-established and hugely successful. However, they still talk about their program as a “pre-game warm-up” where they are setting the stage for what needs to happen regarding access and adoption in the state. They continue to work to understand the need so they can address it.

The roots of UW’s program can be traced back to a former UW-Extension member who had been doing research on digital adoption for some time. He had the data and understood the need. His research became the catalyst for the program that exists today. Based on his data, the Center pursued an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus grant, which they used to install more than 600 miles of fiber to connect community anchor institutions in four Wisconsin communities; and to launch pilot adoption programs in five Wisconsin communities. Working with county officials, extension educators, and other community-based representatives who reported back on what their local citizens needed, UWEX built a bottom-up awareness of adoption need. This awareness led to programs geared toward seniors, veterans, students, and low-income residents.

When the grant program ended in 2012/2013, UWEX chose to focus their ongoing efforts around adoption initiatives for these specific audiences as well as new ones. They worked with the Public Service Commission on a statewide mapping effort to identify gaps according to Federal standards, and collaborated with nonprofits and other community-based organizations where they were able to widen their reach. Their engagement and influence was critical to the overall success of the program. The Center worked with external partners and brought in major stakeholders, such as telco providers, state agencies (i.e. Public Service), economic development organizations, city Chambers, foundations, associations, educational institutions, and county boards. They shared information, cleared up misunderstandings on both sides, and addressed the needs of individual counties.

Despite the unique factors facing each county, they had one thing in common: a need for educational training. This lead to UWEX’s broadband bootcamps, designed to answer questions and empower communities. Bootcamps provided answers for questions like:

  • I’m not a techie. What do I actually need to know to get broadband for our community?
  • How do I have this conversation with my telco representatives?
  • How do I identify a broadband champion in my community?
  • How do I move my community forward, in access or adoption or both?
  • How do I identify and work with community partners for access/adoption?
  • How do I identify who needs what?
  • How do I get started?

Measuring Success

Ideally, UWEX would measure adoption efforts by subscription rates,  but this proved challenging. Instead, they measure success by the number of counties involved, broadband bootcamps completed, and the number of partners or businesses that came to the events. “Demand is our greatest measurement criteria,” says Jennifer Smith, head of Communications & E-Commerce Research/Training for UW’s Broadband & E-Commerce Education Center. When a county or community group says, ‘I want a bootcamp, or an e-commerce training, or a presentation here too,’ we know we’re achieving our goals.”

Wish List

UWEX will tell you they will have won the game when they have eradicated the need for the Center. That would mean their job is done. Until then, their immediate future involves focusing on specific niches where there continues to be a divide: elderly, low-income, small business and e-commerce. For these groups, the Center continues to work with communities to look for solutions related to physical access, money for equipment, and pathways to adoption.

Advice to Others

For other communities or individual nonprofits interested in developing a digital adoption program, Jennifer offers this advice:

  1. Access and adoption go hand in hand.
  2. Be collaborative. Work with internal and external stakeholders who can influence or advance mission. No matter what area, sector or demographic, broadband is critical.

Find a local champion. They know and understand the community and its needs.

The Youth Policy Institute (YPI) is a nonprofit organization transforming Los Angeles neighborhoods through a holistic approach to reducing poverty. By ensuring families have access to high quality schools, wrap-around education, and technology services, they enable them to make successful transitions from cradle to college and career.

With technology services solidly a part of their mission, it is no surprise they are a role model relative to digital adoption programs.

Diana Rodriguez, YPI’s director of digital learning and technology, explained how their digital adoption program started, evolved, grew, and evolved some more since 2010, when they became a Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant recipient.

For those who don’t know, BTOP was a grant program associated with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) a few years ago. The grant program was created to promote the development and adoption of broadband throughout the United States, particularly in unserved and underserved areas.

With BTOP funding, YPI was able to equip 83 public computer centers in areas where people were already congregated: schools, community centers, and libraries. Together, these centers served more than 100,000 Los Angeles residents annually. When the funding ended in 2013, YPI worked with many of these centers to develop sustainability programs. Twenty-five of those centers are still operated by YPI today. They provide access to equipment, the Internet, and support, much like a library would, just without the wait or the time limits. YPI has since received additional funding from the California Public Utilities Commission to continue their broadband access, adoption, and deployment efforts.

To better understand what was keeping people from adopting broadband, they conducted grassroots research, putting people in the field to survey residents. They learned that the primary obstacles to increasing digital adoption included:

  1. Infrastructure
  2. Relevance
  3. Pricing

YPI knew there wasn’t much they could do about infrastructure concerns aside from bringing the issue to light, so they sought out to address the others.

Relevance

Many of those surveyed didn’t have broadband access at home because they didn’t understand why they needed it. YPI’s programs help educate community members about the benefits of Internet access. In YPI computer centers, residents learn about why and how to use computers and the Internet at home.

Pricing

The research uncovered a lack of affordable options for Internet access at home. Some of the larger providers offer reduced rates, but not at the speeds needed to support use for education or entertainment purposes, which are often the main hooks for new adopters and the functions that people have come to expect from Internet service. They also found that, with taxes and hidden fees, the reduced rates ended up being not so low-cost at all.

The good news is that more recent research shows that adoption rates are improving and the demand for digital literacy training remains constant. To meet the demand, YPI, in collaboration with the Mayor’s office, continues to lead training efforts in the Los Angeles area. Through a refurbished computer program called OurCycle LA, YPI brings people in for digital literacy training, and then sends them home with low-cost Internet service and a computer. Program participants include families with school-aged youth, older adults, and other adults who are first-time computer owners. YPI noted two memorable program clients who benefited from their program.

A young man, formerly a food service worker, came into a center to improve the digital skills he needed in order to advance in today’s workforce. The certification process in his desired field was entirely online. Basic Word skills were a condition for employment. A center helped him with both. Today, this young man has been successful in moving out of the food service industry and is in a job where he is earning more than minimum wage.

In 2011-12, a man who had lost his home as a result of the economic downtown came into a center. He had operated a home-based business that he needed to continue in order to dig out of his situation. He was able to take advantage of the resources provided by the computer center, and has now successfully transitioned to a life of increased independence.

YPI is proud of what they have accomplished in closing the digital divide in Los Angeles, and they have learned a lot along the way. Diana offered this advice for organizations wishing to implement their own digital adoption program.

Make technology services a part of your mission. If it is a priority, you need to write it in or it won’t be perceived as important enough.

You can’t do it all in a one-time grant. You need to make sustainability a part of your plan. Even YPI, with a BTOP grant, wouldn’t have been successful if they hadn’t planned for what would happen after the grant ended. They were successful because they established a department, a team, someone to take charge, and a strategic plan.

YPI’s Wish List

YPI’s program continues to evolve. As they look to the future, they plan to continue to develop the logic model behind their program. They wish to gather more rich data to tell their full story and to inform an education technology plan. By continuing to understand their clients’ needs, they will have more success in meeting them.

Additionally, YPI wishes for more affordable offers. Internet access is an issue of social justice. Industry cannot overlook the needs of low-income families. Policies must

Having Internet access is like having food. Everyone needs and deserves it, even if they cannot afford it. Thanks to nonprofit organizations like Minnesota’s Neighbors Inc. (aka “Neighbors”), people living below the poverty line are getting both.

Neighbors is a nonprofit providing emergency and supportive assistance services to low-income community members in northern Dakota County. They understand that hunger is often the presenting issue, but have learned that there is always something behind hunger and that technology can help. Organizations like Neighbors can distribute bread all day; but if the underlying issues are not addressed, the challenges that bring people to social service agencies will continue.

According to Rick Birmingham, Neighbors’ Director of Development, “If we can have a positive impact on digital literacy, we can have a positive impact on poverty.”

Today, this solution is an obvious one, but that was not always the case. When Rick left MAP for Nonprofits, a tech consulting nonprofit, to join Neighbors in 2012, he made some basic online changes. He updated the organization’s website and added videos of clients telling their stories to try to make the food bank more inviting. He was surprised to learn, however, that few people were using either tool, so these technology advancements weren’t the answer. After all, if you don’t have access to the Internet, or understand how to use it, the best website or most insightful video will have little impact.

What will have an impact is the work Neighbors is doing today to help their constituents get access to healthcare, housing, education, and jobs.

For example, the digital divide was keeping Minnesota’s poor from having equal access to healthcare. Many of Neighbor’s clients were compelled to apply for MNSure, Minnesota’s version of Obamacare, which was online. The people Neighbors serves were not online, so in some cases, they had become eligible for additional assistance but weren’t able to take advantage of it because they weren’t registered online. Neighbors worked with Dakota County and three local nonprofits to provide a computer and Internet access to offer one-on-one access to medical information for people living below the poverty line. Additionally, the program put a trained Dakota County social worker available to clients on site at the food shelves with a computer and Internet access to help clients sign up.

During the first year of the program in 2014, Neighbors screened 14,808 clients. Providing access to the Internet, and Dakota County workers in a location where the clients were comfortable, made a significant difference. During the first 6 months, 17.3% of the clients were uninsured; during the last 6 months, only 5.6% were uninsured, eventually reaching 4.4% in the final month.

In addition to assisting Dakota County families with healthcare access, Neighbors, Inc. serves an area covering three school districts. Unfortunately, many of the children in the area do not have reliable access to the Internet or computers at home. These families may have a cell phone with Internet access, but they do not have the kind of access to technology students need to be successful in school and our modern economy.

That is why Rick will be the first to tell you that work still needs to be done, and that includes bundling computers, affordable Internet and training. It also requires bandwidth. As Neighbors’ digital literacy program continues to evolve, it will become the 16th mission-critical program they offer. “I know there are programs that give the poorest residents in our communities some access, but that is simply not enough. I have a problem with an industry that thinks that those living below the poverty line deserve less bandwidth than their peers simply because they cannot afford to pay for it. It is unacceptable to think poor people would or should use it any differently than those who can afford to pay for the services needed to advance in life and work.”

Wish List: Survey Resource

As a part of the 2015 Digital Adoption Survey conducted by NTEN and Mobile Citizen, nonprofits were asked to suggest ways industry partners could support them in closing the digital divide. In addition to bundling computers, affordable Internet, and training as noted here, Rick Birmingham added “survey resource” to his wish list. Neighbors continuously strives to understand their constituents in order to determine how their programs can be most effective. Ideally, surveying would be done online, but as long as a digital divide exists, Neighbors will not do anything online that they don’t also do on paper.

North Carolina (NC) Fair Share CDC is a statewide, multi-issue membership, advocacy, and leadership development organization. They combine leadership identification and cultivation, community organizing, and interdependent community development to address current issues and systemic problems in North Carolina. They provide a vehicle for change.

Before change can happen, communication must. And much of NC Fair Share CDC’s communication happens because of technology, specifically the Internet. The organization relies heavily on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, which runs the large mobile phone banks that connect them with the community and require a significant amount of digital bandwidth.

The real work, however, happens when staff leave the office and connect with constituents—disenfranchised African Americans whose voices are not being heard because of the digital divide.

“Our goal is to get more candidates in the pipeline and more people into the online voter database,” said Akiba Byrd, NC Fair Share CDC’s Executive Director. “We win when we get the disengaged to participate. Getting them access to all of the resources the Internet provides, both for information and for leadership development, is part of the solution.”

Like many organizations trying to cross a digital divide that keeps them from achieving their mission, NC Fair Share CDC needs to reach audiences on both ends of the age spectrum, each with their own unique challenges.

Younger audiences are the most disenfranchised. For the young poor, NC Fair Share CDC leverages technology to provide training to help them develop leadership skills and create independence, planting the seeds for future success. Younger audiences are often more familiar with technology. The Internet access youth have is through school or friends, and is unfortunately not always consistent. The gap seems to be bigger in rural areas and ethnic communities.

The disenfranchised 55+ crowd, however, is most vulnerable. For this audience, the ability to get them immediately registered in the Voter Access Network (VAN), which serves as the organization’s CRM, is key. The form is online, paperless, and effortless. Without access to the Internet, however, and the training NC Fair Share CDC provides, this would not be possible, nor would all of the other benefits Internet access enables. “If we can help this important audience set up and understand how to use the Internet, we can have a positive impact on their retirement security, healthcare decisions, online banking access as well as other accounts online, social media training for information and to connect with family, and engagement with elected officials and government agencies,” Akiba said. “They no longer have to sit and wait for the mail. When they are up to speed with technology, anything is possible.”

With a presidential election looming, and local elections happening in the interim, the need to give NC Fair Share CDC’s constituents a voice continues. They are part of a coalition of 40 nonprofits with the potential to reach more than 750,000 members in the North Carolina network in 100 counties. Additionally, the organization engages in special campaigns, such as retirement security, along with more than 30 organizations in 17 states.

Wish List: Affordable Internet

As a part of the 2015 Digital Adoption Survey conducted by NTEN and Mobile Citizen, nonprofits were asked to suggest ways industry partners could support them in closing the digital divide. NC Fair Share CDC’s wish was for affordable Internet without barriers. “The financial burden is huge for a nonprofit organization, so the more we spend, the less impact they have. When we save money on Internet, we can do more, hire more, serve more,” added Akiba.

April Fools' Day Website PrankApril Fools’ Day Website Prank

April 2 Update: This was all an April Fools’ Day prank! Read about our actual latest progress in our April Fools’ Day! + A Real Update about Our Website Redesign post.

April 1 Post:

We’re happy to announce the beta launch of our website redesign! This launch has been a long-time coming — read through the process in previous case study posts:

Just as we say in our organizational values, we embrace change. We love it when we have just the right amount of quarters for the Pac-Man machine. Change is inevitable (after all, there are only so many paper bills in the world), and we strive to be heads (and tails) above the rest when it comes to embracing new technologies — sometimes with a hug; sometimes with a firm handshake. We think our new website reflects our new direction(s) and reflects our responsiveness to the dynamic, often uneven, pace of technology innovation.

In the interest of transparency, we wanted to point out a few design elements and considerations that went into our new website:

Stick with classic design. As any bow-tie-wearing Portland hipster on a fixed-gear bike would agree, retro is the new modern. We chose to stay with our existing information architecture to truly reflect NTEN’s history and founding in 2000, recalling the early days of web design. We learned from Community feedback that keeping a simple appearance should be a key consideration in our redesign. We’re listening — and kept the new site simple, with identical content and organizational structure.

Data-driven decision making. We love data and, according to our Google Analytics data, a growing number of our website visitors access the NTEN website from a mobile device or tablet. Increasingly, NTEN Community members are interacting with our website while taking a bumpy bus ride or balancing a cup of coffee with one hand and typing in a password with the other. Since we know it’s important to adapt marketing efforts for an increasingly mobile world and meet your users where they are, we wanted a look and feel that would truly reflect the shaky hands accessing our website.

Use graphics to get attention. Marketing experts often point to the importance of graphics to get attention. With so much information at our fingertips in today’s world, your nonprofit website needs to stand out. Therefore, we picked a bright color palette to catch the eye and create an impact (and a migraine or two). We hope it captures the playful spirit of NTEN, and perhaps inspires you to visit a carnival.

Pick a bold font. When you have to deliver controversial information, Comic Sans is your font of choice. No matter how difficult or devastating the message, the news is much easier to swallow when it’s written in Comic Sans font. (Side note: We highly encourage the use of Comic Sans the next time you have to make an office sign reminding your co-workers to please clean up their dishes.)

We’d like to give a huge thanks to our Community for all the helpful feedback and support you’ve given to make this beta launch possible. Please let us know what you think in the comments.

Last year, NTEN launched the first cohort for the Oregon Nonprofit Technology Readiness (ONTR) program. This six-month program builds on the eight weeks of curriculum for the Nonprofit Technology Academy (NTA) and extends with an additional four months of support for each organization’s chosen technology project.

You may find yourself asking questions like, “Who participates in this program with a mix of online and offline learning, and what did it mean for them?” We want to introduce you to Luann Algoso, Communications and Special Projects Coordinator for the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, to share her answers to these questions and a few more.

What was your biggest pet peeve going into the ONTR?

Trying to get buy-in from the rest of staff to implement communications into their work plans.

How is participating in the ONTR valuable to you?

I appreciated the strategies and advice that each webinar brought to the cohort. Because my organization is in growth phase and because having a formal communications position on staff is new territory as well, being able to provide the tools and strategies back to my work will be beneficial in convincing the rest of staff to recognize the importance of communications in their work.

How have you connected with others through this process?

I’ve met with one cohort member in person due to the fact that we hold the same positions and we’re experiencing similar challenges of communications being new territories. It was great to exchange ideas and offer each other support.

Tell us about your project.

I’m building a volunteer-led communications committee that will support the organizations communications infrastructure, support organizational campaigns, as well as produce a multimedia project of some sort, like a blog or podcast series.

What cool stuff are you up to that you’re excited about?

The communications committee! It’s a big project, because to align with APANO’s mission, we’re building a team that fosters leadership development and utilizes communications as an organizing strategy to win campaigns.

Have you had any “a-ha” moments with your project?

Not yet! The committee is barely starting but I anticipate that there will be plenty of a-ha moments and challenges as well.

New Year’s tech resolutions for 2015?

Get better at collecting data and measuring metrics. Since my position is new, I have to keep proving to management that communications is crucial to the success of the organization, and by doing that, I have to show quantitatively that I’m on a successful trend.

Last year, NTEN launched the first cohort for the new Oregon Nonprofit Tech Readiness (ONTR) program. This six-month program builds on the eight weeks of curriculum for the Nonprofit Technology Academy and extends with an additional four months of support for each organization’s chosen technology project.

You may find yourself asking questions like, “Who participates in this program with a mix of online and offline learning, and what did it mean for them?” We want to introduce you to Taylor Smith, Technical Services Manager for the Oregon Food Bank, to share his answers to these questions and a few more.

What was your biggest tech pet peeve going into the ONTR?

I always thought it was a lack of strategy surrounding technology projects, but I’ve since been able to clarify that it is actually the lack of objectives that cause me to pull my hair out. The strategy becomes much more tangible once everyone has agreed upon a clear set of objectives.

How is participating in the ONTR valuable to you?

Connecting outside of my workplace with peers who are facing similar challenges and engaging with thought leaders in the industry are most valuable to me. It goes way beyond reading an article or participating as an anonymous viewer of a webinar.

Tell us about your project.

My project is supporting the implementation of a new volunteer database (CiviCore), to be used by thousands of volunteers monthly, in addition to establishing an integration plan for “connecting” that new system with our existing fundraising database (The Raiser’s Edge).

What cool stuff are you up to that you’re excited about?

Besides the integration project mentioned above, we are also re-shaping the philosophy behind how our fundraising database is used by Oregon Food Bank. Rather than seeing it as a donation/transactional database which ultimately only supports the gift processing team, we are transforming it into a true fundraising database built around relationships. This means changes to how and where we enter gifts, redefining the acknowledgment and recognition process, as well as developing a complex, but not complicated, process for relationship management.

Have you had any “a-ha” moments with your project?

When developing a system for integrating or connecting two separate database systems, I’ve keyed into the concept that we will focus on fewer points of data that have to travel between systems and ensure we handle them very well (i.e., accurately, efficiently, timely, etc.) rather than being ambitious with the amount of data and only doing it poorly.

New Year’s tech resolutions for 2015?

Use the knowledge I’ve gained from the ONTR program and NTC to support our Marketing and Communication team with improved online engagement strategies. Specifically, I hope to go from a passive participant in these conversations to an active leader in relation to nonprofit technological tools.

Last year, NTEN launched the first cohort for the Oregon Nonprofit Technology Readiness (ONTR) program. This six-month program builds on the eight weeks of curriculum for the Nonprofit Technology Academy (NTA) and extends with an additional four months of support for each organization’s chosen technology project.

You may find yourself asking questions like, “Who participates in this program with a mix of online and offline learning, and what did it mean for them?” We want to introduce you to Emily Squires, Community Engagement Director for Playwrite, Inc., to share her answers to these questions and a few more.

What was your biggest tech pet peeve going into the ONTR?

Using DropBox as our organizational server.

How is participating in the ONTR valuable to you?

We participated as a team, and my colleague Julian and I have found ONTR so helpful. We have gained knowledge and access to resources, as well as meeting other folks in Portland with whom we are building organizational relationships. I love having a group that I can email and say, “Does anyone have experience with ______?” -and get a response!

Have you connected with others through this process?

I have followed up with a handful of people from my ONTR cohort off of the group email and also in real life. The local networking has been really valuable for us.

Tell us about your project.

My project involves creating an internal guidebook for all things website and social media related. It’s slow to start (e.g., actually start writing things down, transferring them from my brain to the paper) beyond re-doing the website itself, but it is an organizational priority, and it will happen!

What cool stuff are you up to that you’re excited about?

I’m excited that we have a new website (launched Nov. 2014). I’m even more excited to stay engaged with it and make the 2.0 version even better through making changes based on feedback and data.

Have you had any “a-ha” moments with your project?

I’m ready for them when they happen.

New Year’s tech resolutions for 2015?

To keep tech integrated into our strategic and financial planning.

We at NTEN are finally working on a website overhaul and re-launch in earnest. After all, the nonprofit association for people working at the intersection of technology and social change should have a website to match that mission and vision. Follow along as we chronicle the joys and occasional headaches.

In our last post, Karl Hedstrom and Jessica Holliday discussed the overall website redesign process. In this installment, we take a look at the home page design.

The home page of any organization’s website is something between a welcome mat and an elevator pitch: you want it to be a clear and thoughtful statement of the organization’s identity and purpose, and you want to entice visitors to linger and explore the website. We recognize that NTEN’s current home page could use some improvement…and we have heard as much from the NTEN Community.

Our web design experts from Cornershop Creative, coordinated by our Creative Director Contractor, Philip Krayna, put together a strawman page, which we turned over to our trusted NTEN Community for a first impression test. Huge thanks to all who took the time and effort to test the home page and help us understand what should stay, what needs to go, and how to change.

We had a list of seven tasks that we asked folks to complete so that we could see how usable the page was. People were asked, “Where would you click to …”:

  1. Register for the big NTEN conference?
  2. Learn about becoming an NTEN Member?
  3. Research ideas for your End of Year email fundraising campaign?
  4. Find NTEN events that you can attend near you?
  5. Engage with NTEN’s online communities?
  6. Find the latest report on nonprofit benchmarking?
  7. Explore career opportunities in the nonprofit technology sector?

The results were aggregated in heatmaps that showed where people’s mouses lingered.

NTEN home page on Chalkmark

This exercise was a great way to challenge our assumptions. From the great comments received from the NTEN Community, we learned that the top navigation bar was too subtle, bordering on obscure. We also learned that we need to better communicate NTEN’s membership opportunities. Additionally, the paths that we thought were the most direct to complete tasks turned out to be quite indirect in practice — so we’re glad we found that out beforehand!

Going above and beyond our request for feedback, one awesome participant described concerns about the accessibility of the color scheme. We shared this with the team and are looking forward to a better, more accessible new website, thanks to the wisdom of the NTEN Community.

We at NTEN would all love to hear from community members who have recently undergone site design projects. What best practices have you found for home pages? Do you have a design triumph or lesson-filled fail? Share in the comments section below!