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It's just a state of mind

Posted by Alex Wettreich at Dec 05, 2008 03:26 PM CST
Categories: Usability

As you head into what will no doubt be a hugely enjoyable weekend, take a second to look at Is it going to rain?. That site knows why it exists, and I am left in no doubt about what I am supposed to do there.

Your site can not and should not be that simple. But that said, does your site focus me on the primary action you want me to take? 

In the spirit of keeping things uncluttered, I'll leave it there.... 

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Infinite Touch Points

Posted by Lacey Kruger at Oct 16, 2008 11:13 AM CDT
Categories: Social Media, Usability

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the IDEA Conference in Chicago where I got to interact with and hear from some amazing folks in the user experience world. IDEA stands for “Information: Design, Experience, Access” and it is the annual conference put on by the Information Architecture Institute.

This year’s conference was all about how the online landscape has evolved into an “always-on, always connected world” with the widespread adoption of mobile devices and social networks. We recognized that the Internet is much more a part of our everyday lives than just the time we spend sitting in front of a computer. Taking that into account, the speakers and conversations were all about how we can adapt user experiences to meet the needs of this evolving online world.

So, how can we, as tech-savvy non-profits, adapt our user experiences you ask? Well, it’s all about the big picture, my friends. Now that users are “always connected”, you have that many more opportunities to connect with them, you see? The first speaker at the conference, David Armano, talked about this concept of “infinite touch points”. When a user gets an email from you, that’s one; when they see a blog post that mentions you, there’s another; when they see a friend “tweet” or “twitter” about you, there’s a third and the list goes on and on. Today’s online landscape allows for an infinite number of opportunities for you to reach constituents. Combine these with your offline efforts – television and radio ads, brochures, signs or billboards – and the infinity continues.

Now, you might say, how do these small encounters mean anything? This takes me back to my previous statement about the big picture. It’s not each individual touch point; it’s the aggregate that counts. Armano talked about the fact that all of these positive interactions add up to build trust and loyalty over time, which is exactly what you want from your constituents, right?

You may have noticed that some of the “infinite touch points” I listed are organic, or things that your organization may not necessarily plan. Getting recognition in blogs, twitter and other social networks will dramatically increase the number of touch points for your organization. This is important to recognize too because the new online landscape allows for more of your constituents to be “influencers” or to encourage others to join in your cause. This is excellent news for non-profits, right? One other thing that Armano mentioned that you’ll want to keep in mind is to treat everyone as if they were an influencer – answer all of your emails and phone calls as such and just keep a heightened awareness that people are talking and listening.

Hopefully these thoughts about the new “always connected” online landscape has you thinking about your own web presence and how you can apply some more touch points into your planning. Please share any thoughts in the comments.

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Presidential Online Scorecard: Navigation

Posted by Lacey Kruger at Sep 23, 2008 10:22 AM CDT
Categories: Usability

The current tally of our Presidential Hopefuls Online Scorecard is neck and neck – Obama 1 / McCain 1.

Thanks to Brandy Reppy’s analysis of the accessibility of both sites where Obama scored his win along with Misty McLaughlin’s thorough look at the use of engagement pathways on their sites, where McCain scored to tie the game.

Today’s post looks at an area very near and dear to my heart – Navigation. Ah, of course, that clunky bar full of links that you are forced to fit into your site design but it’s oh so important! Not only should it give your users a sense of where they are when they’ve been browsing on your site for countless minutes, but it should also tell them where they should go when they first arrive. There are plenty of rules when it comes to navigation but really, it’s all about balance – balance in the number of options you offer and in how far down into your site you provide navigation (do you really need navigation for your fifth level pages?).

So, let’s start by taking a look at our two favorite candidate’s main navigation. Both sites have used a lot of the same principles with their navigation – not all of them great ones – but we’ll start there. First, they have around the same number of navigation options - 6 main options (excluding Home) and 2-3 options that are separated from the rest. Those numbers are reasonable enough for a user to absorb their choices, though we’ll look a little closer at which options they’ve separated a bit later. Additionally, both sites use drop-down navigation, which is not a favorite among information architecture professionals. Now, granted, these are campaign sites and they have a TON of information to convey but the drawback to drop-down menus is that they provide a kind of information overload from the get-go so that it’s really difficult for users to make a decision about where to go. So, that’s a strike for both sites and it really counteracts the fact that they did alright with their number of navigation options. Let’s take a look at how they differ…

 Mccain navigation

With regards to the separated items on the navigation, the John McCain site highlights action-oriented items, which is a great strategy so you can make them more prominent, but doesn’t it seem like “Events” would belong here too? The events section includes an events calendar and a cool grassroots tool for setting up watch parties and other events that would definitely be considered action-oriented. I’m not sure how they missed that opportunity?

One thumbs-down on the McCain site is that their drop-down menu lists extend below the screen. This may not be that big of a problem if the drop-down navigation were not the only way for me to navigate the site, but it is! So, to find the “Women for McCain” coalition (ahem) I have to do a lot of maneuvering.

The “Contribute” button on the McCain site is probably not as prominent as it could be either. Also, and this goes a bit out of the realm of a navigation discussion, the donation form opens in a new window and looks different from the rest of the site. This interaction is a bit disturbing and could dissuade some users from contributing.

 Obama navigation

So, looking at the Barack Obama site, his separated navigation items seem to belong together but are given less priority than the action-oriented items on the McCain site. The blog and the store are more like additional features on the site that users can access quickly from the navigation.

Now, you can’t see it here, but the Donate Now button is off to the right of the navigation bar and is large and red – this a major plus. Users can quickly identify the action and the donation form opens within the same window and looks just like the rest of the site.

Obama Make a DifferenceOne final thing the Obama site does well is that they have an action-oriented box on the right column of the site. This component could possibly be placed a bit higher up on the page, but nonetheless, it is an area users can identify with when they visit and be encouraged to get involved on the site.

So, I think you probably know the end-result of my analysis by now (if you’ve made it this far). That’s right – new score – Obama 2 / McCain 1.

Thanks for tuning in – let me know in the comments if these insights have made you wonder about your own navigation or if you want to see any other topics analyzed in light of the presidential hopefuls.

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It's not what you know...or is it?

Posted by Brandy Reppy at Sep 09, 2008 03:52 PM CDT
Categories: Constituent Empowerment, Usability

In doing research for an upcoming webinar I'll be hosting with fellow blogger Misty McLaughlin, I've been thinking a lot about general interactions where I have to give solicitors information about myself. I realized that I've changed in the way that I perceive these interactions and in the way that I feel about giving up personal information.

One recent interaction I had comes into mind as a great example of what I mean. I went to a department store to make a return, and before they could complete the transaction, they needed to know my phone number. When I asked why, they said that they might need to get a hold of me (duh). No one could say why they would need to call me, or who it would be, or even if it would be in regards to the return. I was simply to give them my number because they asked, because one day they might want to get a hold of me. And, when I politely declined, they said they couldn't complete the transaction without it.

This got me thinking. It seems we are at a weird cross-roads of information sharing and gathering. On one hand, every social network wants you to tell the world what you are doing and where you are. Geolocation is built into our phone systems, offering restaurant recommendations at the shake of a phone.

But, on the other hand, I expect a high level of transparency about the information I'm sharing with an organization or business. If you want me to sign up for your email, why do you need my zip code? If you want me to register for your site, why do you need to know my gender? If I don't know, I'm more likely now than ever before to skip the sign up altogether.

Maybe I'm just paranoid, an anomaly. But, I've had enough spam-filled inboxes and unsolicited junk mail to know that my information is valuable to someone. Just because one organization is honest doesn't mean that they all are, right?

Remember to be cognizant on your own site to and be explicit about why you are collecting whatever information you need. People like me are out there, and we aren't just giving up information because you're asking any more. So be aware and be prepared - and if you're going to make a return, don't forget your brand new cell phone number - you'll probably need it.

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Engaging volunteers on your site

Posted by Lacey Kruger at Aug 26, 2008 09:27 AM CDT
Categories: Usability, Volunteerism

A few weeks ago, I posted about my lackluster search for volunteer opportunities on the web and promised to follow up with a guide to great volunteer sections. So, without further ado – please enjoy…

The problem that I've seen with so many non-profit volunteer sections is that they try to pack too much information onto one page. Maybe it’s that engaging volunteers is really a secondary goal to engaging donors, so you don’t want to spend too much time planning content for this area. Or, maybe you think that volunteers want the information all in one place. Well, I’m proposing more of a step-by-step approach since that’s typically how a volunteer program works.

Step One. Find out what volunteering for your organization is all about and make sure I've come to the right place. (I, being the volunteer)
Step Two. Browse your volunteer opportunities. This step can be as simple as looking at a list of a few different types of volunteer opportunities or as complex as selecting from a set of menus to narrow down numerous options until I find the right one.
Step Three. Complete an application. Again, depending on your organization, this step varies. You may require that I sign up for an orientation online, complete an online application, or schedule a phone screen. This is the step where I've determined I'm interested and am committed to moving forward. Your main goal here should be to capture my contact information so you can keep in touch with me since I'm a potential volunteer.

Connecticut Humane Society does a great job of following the step-by-step approach in their volunteer section.
Volunteer Dashboard Humane Society
Users can link to each step directly from this box to get started in becoming a volunteer. Also, there are additional pathways for users to access the steps – via the left navigation and promotional call-outs in the right column – which is great for repeat visitors that may not want to go through all three steps.

DePelchin Children’s Center isn’t as explicit with the step-by-step approach, but all three steps are clearly defined. Also, the site makes step two – finding a volunteer opportunity – very easy, especially considering the wide variety of options they offer. They start off by asking the user to select which group they fall into, Individual, Group or Youth, then they list out all of the options available for each segment. The user can then click to register for Volunteer Orientation, which is step three for DePelchin. Another thing this site does well is that it includes a Donate button throughout the Volunteer section (and throughout the site as well). Often times, your volunteers are your most loyal visitors, so giving them a quick opportunity to donate is definitely a good strategy.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation also takes a less explicit approach to the three steps of becoming a volunteer. They have the challenge of covering a wider geographical area so they’ve taken the approach of using an events calendar to display their specific opportunities. Before listing the specifics, they group their different types of opportunities by Hands-on, Outreach and Education, and Advocacy so that users can easily identify with one group. Once the user has identified which opportunities they may be interested in, Chesapeake Bay has a step three of completing an online sign-up, which is a necessary component of any great volunteer section. While your users are engaged and reading about your volunteer options, why not collect their contact information so you can begin an online relationship with them?

So, in summary, some quick rules of thumb…

  1. Your volunteer section should guide users through the three steps of becoming a volunteer and should keep the process very simple.
  2. Since there are essentially three steps to becoming a volunteer, your volunteer section should not include more than three pages: a landing page describing the process and what it’s like to be a volunteer, a page listing specific volunteer opportunities, and an application page or page for users to register as volunteers. There are exceptions to this rule depending on your organization, but this is a good starting point.
  3. Consider providing a quick way for users to donate within your volunteer section.
  4. Be sure you’re collecting your users’ contact information in your volunteer section so you can get in touch with them and stay in touch.

Have I missed anything? Are there features or content that you’ve seen on other volunteer sections or on your own that you’d like to share? If so, please do so in the comments. 

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