NAFEX Digital Strategy

NAFEX website
Screengrab of the new North American Fruit Explorers (NAFEX) website.

A nonprofit dedicated to fruit growing branches out while trying not to forget it’s roots.

I was asked to create a new and modern web presence for the North American Fruit Explorers, a group of orchardist, backyard fruit growers, and enthusiasts largely centered in America and Canada. The group itself was founded in the 1960’s and has many members with challenges related to their needs from the organization. At the same time the organization’s leadership wanted to expand and capture new members who are more technically savvy.


Before embarking on the website update I interviewed members of the organizations leadership to find out what they saw as the mission and how they felt they were promoting the mission and serving their members.

I also conducted a survey with these board members and ran an analysis on a member’s survey that they had conducted themselves a year or so prior.

What We Learned

From interviews and the survey it became clear that the leadership of the organization struggled to define the mission, value, and membership benefits. There were few ideas of how to better benefit the membership and confusion on who would be responsible for generating ideas or overseeing them. From my experience with other all-volunteer non-profits, especially those with such a wide geographic range and a board that is drawn from all across the area they serve, this was not surprising and is fairly common.

Our survey follow up provided them with several ideas they could test to with their members as well as identifying areas that they needed to improve due to their fiduciary duties. The biggest take away was they they needed to conduct more regular surveys of their members.

From their most recent member’s survey we were able to identify areas that members were concerned with including their quarterly member’s written publication which had once been delivered in paper but for several years was only available as a digital download.

Going In Depth

The members who were in favor of paper copies of the periodical were not followed up with and their desire for a paper version have yet to be addressed. However it appears the reason for their request was based largely on their lack of access.

The members who were in favor of paper copies of the periodical were not followed up with and their desire for a paper version have yet to be addressed. However it appears the reason for their request was based largely on their lack of access.

Many of these members are in remote rural locations and internet access is sparse. Broadband penetration is limited, and their age and income levels as well as a lack of desire for the connectivity that folks such as the relatively younger leaders of the organization feel are important just are not there for these members. A surprising number of their members still rely on the public library to access the internet. They don’t have time to sit and read a periodical. They currently print it at the library and take it home to read.

The willingness of the members to pay for printing costs indicates a potential willingness to pay for more for in dues so that they can receive a printed copy in the mail.

Sadly this information wasn’t gathered from user research but generated after our web design process wrapped. It was discovered via user complaints. The leadership didn’t opt to do follow up on the initial survey so we missed this critical information.

What Went Wrong

We created a website that embedded new articles for the publication in the website itself rather than the previous method which was a link to a PDF collection of the articles. The membership survey had asked where members gather other information that they find helpful and the top answer was from other websites. This allowed the idea that we were dealing with a more web savvy group with greater access to the internet to interfere with delivering the best design that users would find useful.

We created a website that featured articles that were easy to print but were not packaged like a magazine. They were searchable, easily indexed, and the website was mobile ready. For a significant number of members, long term, core supporters of the organization, this was the second strike. The first was no longer offering mailed copies.

Lesson Learned

Our mistake was easily rectified and we were able to revert back to PDF versions of the quarterly publication. There were many positive improvements that we were able to make. Previously the publication was uploaded to the website and an email telling members to visit the site in order to download it was sent. We streamlined this process and the email to members now includes the PDF. Additionally the membership emails are now sent through an email marketing program so leadership can track their effectiveness.