There is plenty of evidence that no matter what size or at what stage your project is, a web presence can be at the least useful through to actually being a key driver for support (volunteering – donations) and community engagement.
We live in a world which is ever changing (even in the smallest community!) and one where the way we communicate now comes in many more forms – or through new ‘channels’ if you want to use the more technical language that is used about social media and the like.
The advice you’ll often hear is that you need to be everywhere – ‘omni-channel’ – and that you need to have a strategy to manage all that you do. This is all fine for a larger group with lots of staff/volunteers but what about for a small group, maybe just even one person who drives the work of a local group with odd bits of help here and there?
Another recommendation will be that this is the ’Age of the Customer’ and that you should always think of them first. But as local charity, group or club, who is/are your customers?
If you take a look at what you always used to do, then think about new possibilities, you can both define the strategy you need and decide on which customers you want to reach and when.
You’ve always had meetings, produced and distributed flyers and posters, used local news formats (everything from paid for newspapers through to parish magazines and the like), known that word-of-mouth works – and from the mid 90s, you’ve sent (and received) many an e-mail.
Your Parish will almost certainly have had its own web site and it will have featured your activities and many of you will have had your own web page (or pages) that could be just basic info or have become a regular reporting/promotion mechanism.
What is different now is that with so much for people to look at, listen to or think about being involved with – getting peoples’ attention and then keeping it is ever harder to do. Actually getting them to do something, to commit, is the most difficult thing of all.
What is easiest for your ‘customers’ (those who are ‘connected’ to the internet) is to actually go to your web site (or your social media channel(s)) and find what they want, when they want it.
It’s much easier than find a piece of paper (a flyer etc) or remembering where that story was in your local newspaper (if they’ve kept it).
Having something web based is also far easier to share. If there is a picture or a web page that someone wants to send to friends, people that you have no contact details for, with one click they can send it to whoever they want.
One key ‘Customer’ is though people you approach for funding – whether you need a grant, a loan or a donation.
Grant funders need to make sure that anyone who applies to them gives them all the information they need to make a decision – and that all applicants do so in the same format so that no-one (no applicant) has an advantage because they are more skilled (or can afford to pay for support) to make their application stand out.
So sometimes you don’t have the opportunity to say everything you’d like to or be able to really show the ‘spirit’ and togetherness that your group has. You can do so on a web page.
When you are asking for a donation you may have to ‘ask’ several times before you get a commitment and if instead of repeating yourself you can actually build a relationship with someone first, then getting that gift does become easier and your campaigns more successful.
But there are things to avoid.
Putting your web address (or your social media links) on say a business card or e-mail is easy. Or just having something snappy as a domain – say like www.stratfordhedgehogs.co.uk that you can just say – these are simple effective ways to spread your message.
However, if the address you give leads to something more generic, say a page or pages that are all about everything you do rather than a page specific to a project, then you’re asking (and hoping) that your site visitor will navigate to what you want them to find.
Or you might be making a statement that needs justifying – if say your e-mail says ‘the whole village is behind our plans for a new village hall’ and you have a link which takes someone to a page where there is just some text saying this, or a photo of a handful of people looking at plans, what would be the reaction compared with say a picture of 30-40 … even 100 people all gathered together?
Put yourself in the position of a grant funder who reads about the surveys you’ve done which say everyone is behind the project, and then can click on a link where they immediately see a big group of people? Or what about how a donor would feel if you asked them to buy a brick (or six)?
How easy is it for someone to see that your web page (or your social media accounts) are regularly updated? If you can’t update them (not enough help) can you find support for this or is it worth having them ‘live’ if they are out-of-date?
It will need a plan to get lots of people together say just for that one photo. Putting faces to names though for smaller management groups is easier and very effective as put yourself in the place of that funder/donor who sees a list of people involved and then easily finds a picture of smiling faces.
Make that management picture part of your launch of a project and a giver can see a team is in place. Put a calendar on a page which shows a commitment to progression and you have added to the PR that you can and will be active and committed.
To get ‘big numbers’ on a group picture needs work. You could just push for a one-off gathering. Or you could, by having lots of content about lots of people (pictures and the like) build the relationship that means that when you make an ‘ask’ people come along, they do so readily and in greater numbers. You’ll need to plan to get that sort of content together.
Every community does have people who don’t use the internet. You do have to make sure that they are included in everything you do. To reach (when they want to be involved with you) all those ‘connected’ people you actually do need to work hard, maybe just as hard as you do for people without the web. But reach them at the right time and in the right way and you can make the most of all your efforts.
If you would like any more advice or help on anything connected with this article, please call VASA Funding & Development on 01789 298102