Winston Churchill famously stated that, “Perfection is the enemy of progress.” In our work with social impact organizations, we have seen how the drive for a perfect digital platform — a website or action center — can lead to frustration, costly launch delays, and an inability to get the most out of today’s powerful digital tools.
Let’s explore the perfection mindset and how social impact leaders and organizations can benefit from avoiding this frustrating and time-consuming trap.
An Outdated World View
Your organization is constantly evolving. You adjust programs and processes as you go. If you’re a bold future-focused organization, you try new approaches and tweak along the way. You adapt to changing conditions and the ever-evolving social impact environment.
Yet many organizations fail to keep their digital presence up to date with real-world progress. We know this firsthand. Many of our engagements begin with potential clients who tell us some version of, “Our website no longer reflects who we are as an organization.” When we talk this through, the reasons typically boil down to three things:
A pre-information era mindset, usually coupled with a lack of capacity and ownership for digital engagement
A technology stack that makes updates difficult
A lack of content and engagement strategies
When these elements of an organization’s digital presence are addressed, the result is a dynamic digital hub that’s the centerpiece of supporter engagement, community building, activism, awareness expansion, and customer attraction and retention. Let’s examine how to view each of the elements above and the benefits that a digital-first mindset provides.
1. A Pre-information Era Mindset
Unchanging, legacy brochure-style websites are common in the social impact sector. They follow from the days of print. Prior to the information era, your messaging was placed in static forms — brochures, annual reports, postcards, booklets, etc. If your messaging changed or you added or removed a program, you couldn’t update your marketing without reprinting everything. This was costly and time-consuming.
The tendency with static analog print materials was to make them general and hope that you can go through them all before you have to print them again. The digital age changed all that. But the mindset lagged behind. Many organizations think of their website as a “set it and forget it” digital brochure that they never think to change.
Today, tools and platforms are available to create a living digital presence. And you should take advantage of them. Search engines reward active websites by surfacing them. Supporters expect new updates, ideas, and stories from the brands they champion. An inert website isn’t going to attract attention and therefore doesn’t expand awareness — an integral step in nurturing deeper engagement from your community of supporters.
This isn’t just a matter of SEO (Search Engine Optimization). It comes down to people wanting to engage with an organization that feels alive, invigorating, and engaging. That’s what your digital presence needs to be in today’s attention economy if you want people to find and support you and champion your cause.
A Living Digital Hub
Every social impact organization needs three elements:
Evergreen Content - You need an education section of your site that clearly describes the cause you address, your theory of change, and your mission and vision, as well as critical information such as your team, employment opportunities, and your brand story.We use the term evergreen content because this information is the most likely to experience minimal change over time. But that’s not always the case. If you are posting new content and it appears on the pages containing this information, suddenly those pages become more active. If your About page includes new programs or a timeline that includes the latest success stories, it will transform that page into one worth coming back to. It’s now about what’s happening today, rather than being a time capsule for what you accomplished in the past.
A Digital Media Hub - In order to keep funders and supporters engaged, you need to be producing content that is the result of a well-considered content strategy. Because digital content comes in many forms (articles, newsletters, podcasts, videos, live event streaming, social media, digital annual reports, etc.), you need a central repository to keep this information organized and readily accessible.Think of your digital media hub as a component with its own strategic goals. Post your thoughts, lead the conversation in your cause area, and communicate your successes. Content creation is one of the primary tools available to help you build a sustainable organization. Because you’re constantly creating new content, this section of your site may feel the most enlivened. And it should.
Content in your digital media hub will likely be the first touchpoint (the “front door”) that a new visitor will have with your website. From there, they will hopefully become curious about your organization and navigate to other sections of the site. Keep this in mind when developing content for your digital hub.
An Action Center - Encourage maximum engagement and move supports up your engagement pyramid. Build a community that helps you apply pressure to lawmakers and policy makers. Give people ongoing reasons to invest in your work. Build a brand that people are proud to stand behind and share with friends and family.An action center is, well, where the action is for your brand. It’s how people get involved and elevate your cause. It’s where they feel that they are making a difference beyond donating.
These three elements can be integrated into a single website. They might be handled individually, the way the Romero Institute approaches their Let’s Green California Lakota People’s Law Project initiative through their main site, Education Center, and Action Center. In this case, each element of their digital constellation fills different needs.
Whatever strategy you use, the benefits of a living digital hub over a static brochure site are clear — greater engagement, opportunities to build a brand and a community of followers and supporters, a platform for increasing engagement, and a center for creating a sustainable revenue stream.
An Iterative Mindset
Approaching your website is a constantly evolving platform, or an interconnected system of platforms gives you freedom from the static website mindset. It doesn’t need to be perfect — ever. Instead, it should grow and shift as your mission changes. It’s not locked in amber or stuck behind museum glass. It’s an active ‘ecosystem’ where you connect with your community and get your funders, board, and team involved.
That’s not to say that you should just slap it together. An effective digital hub is built on a strong digital and brand strategy. You need to be sure that your digital strategy is focused on helping you accomplish your goals. Have the right information hierarchy and design system in place. Get the majority of your content into your digital hub so you can see how well it’s working (or not).
Launching a digital hub, brand rollout, marketing campaign, or fundraising push is a moment in time where you want everything buttoned up. But you can adjust as you go. Don’t let perfection impede your progress.
Be strategic. Build a living digital hub. Launch to the delight of your followers. And then confidently move on to the next thing.
2. A Modern Tech Stack
All-in-one digital platforms, such as WordPress, led the way to an internet populated by websites that are more dynamic. But they have drawbacks. While they promise to allow you easy content changes, the truth is that the level of customization and widgets required to build out a complex site can make them difficult to maintain and update — and easy to break. Some organizations find this process so daunting that they simply give up and their site quickly becomes outdated.
To most effectively catalyze change, your website needs to be customized for your organization. That should make it easy to keep your site fresh with every bit of content type, including photos, digital media, and even new pages when you add a program, new products, or service offerings. And you shouldn’t feel held hostage by the design firm you hired to create your site.
We use the JAMstack approach to web development to provide digital experiences that are fast, responsive, immersive, and easy to update. JAMstack lets us provide features such as live preview, so that you can test out changes on the fly without publishing them online. We use a component-driven design system that produces flexible websites — built on a custom, branded design system — that allow content creators to easily add, update, and remove copy while maintaining good design principles and brand consistency.
Part of our tech stack is CraftCMS. We use this robust content management system because it provides a good user experience for your team. You shouldn’t need a “webmaster” to make changes. Instead, your tech stack should empower different users and provide different levels of access.
When a donation platform comes to your attention that better suits your needs, you should be able to integrate it into your tech stack with minimal fuss and without having to rebuild your entire site to accommodate it.
Your site should be built using clean content blocks. This componentized approach makes it easy to build out new content. You can have an editorial look and feel to your site that avoids a cookie cutter look. That way, each piece of content is presented in a way that is best for the information or experience you are creating.
Want to make a change across your site without having to update the same component on every page? JAMstack and CraftCMS allow for global changes that save you time and change updating from tedious to terrific.
A Digital-First Culture
Once your website is easy to update without breaking your site, you can build a digital-first culture that propels your mission.
People working in this type of environment feel free to be innovative and take calculated risks. You can try a new approach and analyze the results and adjust your approach to see if you get better results. Build your digital activities over time. With success, you can grow your capacity. Start with what’s achievable. Add an action center or media hub as needed.
Your staff should be empowered to create an MVP for programs and campaigns, put them out there and then see how they do. Campaigns no longer need to be “set it and forget it” efforts or months long efforts. You don’t need to launch with something perfect. Let it evolve using community feedback.
Avoid the temptation to create a perfect digital experience that’s frozen in time. You’ll likely have to scrap it when it no longer aligns with your organization and start from scratch.
3. A Lack of Content and Engagement Strategies
We are strong believers in the idea that today’s social impact organizations must learn to think and act like a digital media company rather than a pre-information-era charity. To win in today’s attention economy requires that you publish scroll-stopping experiences. You should understand viral campaigns to be able to recognize when you’ve hit on something that’s catching fire and get the most out of it.
To lead the conversation in your cause area, you need to craft a digital content strategy for your content marketing. Determine capacity and establish a realistic editorial calendar. Have someone in charge of publishing your content who holds people accountable. Establish a brand voice that presents your cause and your solutions. Be authentic. People are awash in marketing input and can sniff out insincere messaging.
Develop your engagement pyramid and think about how you can deepen engagement at different points. Create an impact story that is understood across your organization. Know your niche in your cause area. With that knowledge, your team can produce content focused on your specialty area and within the expertise of your organization.
Think about when to educate your audience and when to inspire them to take action. Your message can be spread far and wide using digital tools, platforms, and channels, but advocates make conveying your message more personal. It’s typically 1:1 communication where they are expressing their passion for your organization from an informed perspective — and that’s a powerful conversion method.
Remember to include your partners in your content and engagement strategy. Providing them with a partner toolkit can help them be an organization that promotes your efforts. Look for opportunities to co-communicate and co-sponsor with partners and then follow up with communication to your audiences before and after joint events. Building strong relationships with partners can be accomplished by guesting on each other’s podcasts or asking them to guest post on your blog. Video interviews give you both content.
Avoid putting out content just for the sake of it. Take the time to make yours something that people look forward to receiving.
Not every piece of content is going to go viral. But good content has value. You never know what will resonate with someone and convince or inspire them to join your cause. Always do your best work, but don’t get bogged down in trying to hit a home run every time. Content marketing is a long game and aiming for perfection can make it feel like a chore.
Creating content is about sharing what you and your organization is passionate about. Produce it from a place of joy. Share with a sense of camaraderie that aims to get people as excited about your work as you are.
Ditch Perfection for Progress
Your digital hub isn’t a pristine painting preserved in a museum. It’s an extension of your organization — dynamic, lively, and ever-evolving — just like the social impact space. Trying to make it perfect will inevitably cost you time and money and keep you from using the power of today’s digital tools to take on the challenges your organization exists to address.
Know that as a core part of your organization, your website can and should evolve as you change. Create it with the mindset that progress is preferable to perfection, and you’ll be in a strong position to harness the power of the information era to create a better world for everyone.