It’s 2013, Do You Know Where Your Web ROI Is?




By Marissa Goldsmith, Consultant, and Lynn Labieniec, CEO, Beaconfire Consulting


A high-school English teacher once taught that every word that an author writes is deliberate and purposeful. Every noun, verb, article, and adjective is chosen with precision to create a masterpiece. Though we readers may not realize it, the greatest authors put a value on every word so that the work may achieve its purpose.

Now that data on the web is pervasive, we technology professionals are being asked to put a value on every little thing that we do for our web presence: email campaigns, Facebook posts, logo redesigns, information architecture tweaks. It all can be measured, and if you are reading this, chances are you are one of those people doing the measuring. Budgets rise and fall with the lines on a bar graph showing the click-through-rates of your end-of-year email campaign. Return on Investment (ROI) for web projects has come to the forefront.

Yet most of us, ever-bogged down in details, never take a step back from the spreadsheets in our charge and look to see if our web presence as a whole is working to achieve our organization’s overall mission. The mission is the masterpiece. Every facet of a web presence should directly support the mission. You cannot develop an ROI model for any part of your web presence without going directly back to your mission.

There are plenty of web ROI models out there. But these are for your individual web projects, and not your web presence. Does the ROI of your Facebook Donations Page tell you if your “About Us” page effectively conveys your mission? Does the number of page views on your About Us page tell you you’ve invested wisely in an email marketing tool? And does the open rate on your monthly newsletter tell you that your new logo has improved the visibility of your brand?

The goal of every nonprofit’s Facebook page, website, and email marketing strategy is the same: to support the mission. If you can’t attribute how your website is supporting your mission, then you do not have an effective web presence, no matter what your ROI model says. It is perfectly acceptable to say that the goal of a website is to raise funds, and design an entire site to meet that goal. But your methods must be in congruence with your mission. Most nonprofits would not start selling 50 Shades of Gray on their website, just to raise a buck.

Data is key, and data should be analyzed from every angle, and at multiple distances, but always with the mission in mind. By doing this, you can, as Beth Kanter and Katie Payne put it best in their book, The Networked Nonprofit, thrive in an organization that is data-informed (and not necessarily data-driven).

Let’s say there is a nonprofit whose primary mission is to protect the lakes in Minnesota. If a combination of metrics indicates that Lake Minnetonka is trending better than Jack the Horse Lake, should this nonprofit put less time/money/effort into protect Jack the Horse Lake than Lake Minnetonka? Should they eliminate that Lake’s page from the website? Should they stop encouraging constituents to write to their Members of Congress about it? Absolutely not! Should they consider highlighting Lake Minnetonka in their end-of-year fundraising messaging? Absolutely. Data should not drive the mission – it should help you achieve it.

Also important in the discussion of Web ROI are the metrics outside the traditional web sphere. Many Web ROI and ad-buying models include ROI of online donations. But how many take into account offline donations? The cumulative impact of multiple channels (Facebook ads, banner ads, television commercials, email marketing) can be greater than the sum of its parts: effective brand recognition can result in greater donations, both online and offline. But if the only thing you look at regarding your email campaigns is how much money each individual email garnered, you can miss the big picture.

And what if your organization does not rely primarily on donations, or the size of your email list? Your organization may serve clients and require some level of customer service. If, after your website redesign, customer service calls go down, it may very well be that your information architecture was so successful, your constituents can more easily find information online and no longer need to call you. Yet how many organizations marry this kind of offline information with web analytics?

Beth Kanter and Katie Paine have already written a fantastic book about how nonprofits can measure. At the 2013 Nonprofit Technology Conference, we want to extend their work and have an open discussion about how nonprofits big and small are rising to the measurement challenge. We’d like this to be a starting point in creating a framework for measurement of a true ROI of your web presence that reflects back to your organization’s mission. We don’t have the answers, but maybe, with your help, we can get a few.

At our upcoming NTC session “Is Success Just in the Numbers? How do We Capture the Qualitative Value?” our discussion will include (but is not limited to):

  • What exactly does the “R” and the “I” of ROI consist of?
  • How can you tie web metrics back to your organization’s mission?
  • How can you include the intangibles? Is there even such a thing as “intangible”?
  • How can you learn not to be overwhelmed by data?
  • Should we calculate the ROI of everything? Is there an ROI of calculating the ROI?

It is our hope that, with this discussion, we can start moving nonprofits towards a web presence as deliberate as a Dostoevsky novel – a large body of work, and every bit of it, a masterpiece.