A nonprofit dedicated to fruit growing branches out while trying not to forget it’s roots.
Let’s talk about building a better digital strategy and why doing so is critical to all organizations. I was asked to create a new website and help modernize a unique and wonderful nonprofit. Before rolling out a new site for the North American Fruit Explorers, (NAFEX) I helped them make sure it would meet their member’s needs. NAFEX is a group for orchardist, backyard fruit growers, and enthusiasts largely centered in the US and Canada. The group itself was founded in the 1960’s.
Identifying User Needs
We started with identifying user needs. There were some significant challenges for a small set of members with web access issues. These members visit their local library in order to access the internet due to their remote locations. Making sure this small number of users needs were met was important. These were mostly longtime members who contributed a lot to the organization. They couldn’t and wouldn’t just be shut out. We needed to consider them in the digital strategy we were building.
At the same time their board had a goal of capturing new members who are more technically savvy. Young farmers, orchard owners, and fruit enthusiasts were already joining their social accounts. Turning those relationships into paying members required a website they would use. Many of these folks might access the site with their phones which meant mobile needed to be front and center.
Meeting all these needs meant developing a solid digital strategy. Though these groups seemed miles apart in reality they both wanted the same thing – an organized and responsive website. They were looking to find the information they came for fast and to move on with their day.
Before embarking on any website update it’s important to develop a digital strategy to make sure you’re not wasting your time. To do this 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 at all surprising and is in fact fairly common.
Despite being common, these are crucial issues all nonprofits when it comes to building a better digital strategy. If any organization is going to meet it’s mission it needs to understand clients and deliver what they expect.
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 to better understand their expectations.
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.
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.
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.
Applied User Experience Design
This type of work, applied user experience design or UX design can help your business or nonprofit deliver a better experience for your clients. It’s clear that surveys deliver valuable information that are not always clear to the decision makers. If you’re interested in seeing how a applying user experience design can help with building your digital strategy contact me today.
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