Can We Talk About Your Website?

At this time last year, I wrote a blog post alerting CDP stations to inspect their websites to determine whether the station is presenting itself in the most transparent manner for your audience, donors, and potential donors. I was originally going to title the blog post Your Website Sucks, but instead I opted for Engagement Starts at Home.

After another year of visiting hundreds of station sites researching info about staff (some of which is required in order to receive CPB Community Service Grants), I found that no matter the station or staff size, many public media stations fall short. Station Manager or GM contact information is essential for a CSG, for example, but is still missing on some station sites.

Perhaps your site lists the basics such as your station’s address, phone number, and a contact form that relies on somebody from the station to retrieve and route it to the correct person. I’ve filled out those forms. Nobody from the station has ever contacted me about my inquiry.

What if I wanted to have a conversation that would have led to a $100,000 gift? PBS learned that lesson the hard way when contacted by representatives of philanthropist Joan Kroc. The reps also reached out to NPR. PBS did not return the call and NPR did, resulting in a $255 million bequest to NPR.

Public media stations by their nature should be open and transparent about who is running them; we should welcome engagement and communication with our audiences and donors, and facilitate that to the best of our abilities.

If maintaining and making your station’s website easily navigable falls down on the priority list, remember that the primary resource major donors use to research non-profits is the organization’s website.

According to a Nielsen Norman Group survey:
• Half of non-profit websites are cluttered and difficult to navigate
• More than 40% of non-profit websites do not have vital information
• 60+% want a clear articulation of the organization’s goals and mission on sites

Here are problems I’ve encountered:

• No obvious link to a staff listing: I had to trick stations’ sites into showing me a hidden or buried link to staff by Googling the right combination of words. Then, to contact personnel whose info was not listed, I had to guess the email naming convention based on one or two other addresses on the site

• Incomplete staff listing: Even when the link to staff is obvious, not everyone is listed, including most managers, e.g., to reach Membership or Development, one must go to a different page and send a note to a general box such as, which was rarely if ever answered.

• Everybody in creation is listed (including weekend hosts and interns): Which means clicking through 15 pages of names and bios before stumbling upon someone who might be able to help me

• Unclear job titles: This may be out of your control, especially if you work for a university licensee or have ‘creative’ titles at your station. For the above-average donor, a title that may be clear to station employees may leave a donor or volunteer scratching her head

• Elvis has left the building: In many cases a staff member was listed, but their emails bounced back with auto-replies and no indication of who replaced them

While you and your staff have time this summer, consider navigating your website the way an outsider would. Beyond creating a welcoming atmosphere and demonstrating transparency, your station may gain support in ways you never expected.

Barry NelsonComment