Vera Kalbol, Cat Rescue Canada
These days everybody is an expert where the Web is concerned. You need someone who is competent enough to design your site, upload and maintain it. They dont need to be the best designer in the world. The important things are that the site work in the way it was intended — that all the pages load, links work, and that the site is optimized for quick loading. If your Webmaster can accomplish those tasks then youre ready to go.
Remember that you arent a company selling your services — you are a volunteer group running a charity, and it is okay to look like one.
In my work I have been involved with some large charitable organizations. One concern they have all had in common is that they dont want to look too successful, or people wont respond to pleas for donations. You should remember that, too. Dont think you need to have someone create a Flash opening for you, or add a search engine, or any of the numerous gimmicks that are so popular. If your site looks too slick people will think you paid a lot of money for it. If your rescue is that well off, then you dont need their assistance, do you?
That doesnt mean that your site shouldnt be the best it can be. Have somebody who is reasonably literate do your writing. Have someone else proofread it — ideally someone who can spell without a spell checker. Nothing is more annoying than seeing a ton of spelling mistakes on a site! Small grammatical errors can be forgiven; most people wouldnt recognize them, anyway. Make sure that the information on your site is accurate. Dont misrepresent your rescue work; it wont get you anywhere in the long run.
Think about what you want your site to accomplish. Try to prioritize. Make a list with the most important areas first. Heres an example:
The Web site will be used to:
1. adopt animals
2. obtain donations
3. find foster homes
4. let people know what we do
5. educate the public
Those are the kind of priorities you will likely have. Notice that stroke my ego isnt on the list. Remember that the site is not for you. It is for your visitors, and should cater to their interests and needs.
In my example the first priority is adopt animals. In order to accomplish that, you must let people know you have the animals. Take pictures, write informative descriptions, and post them on your site. Make sure the pictures are clear. Crop them so that you arent showing a lot of background. You arent selling the couch, you are trying to find a home for the pet sitting on it so show the pet and crop out the couch. Keep people out of the photos. If the photos can all be a uniform size your page(s) will look neater, but thats not carved in stone.
Writing a good description is important. If you were adopting a pet, what would you want to know? The pets age, breed, colour, temperament, spay/neuter/vaccine status, known health issues, and behavioural issues are all important. How is he or she with other pets, or with children? Do they need a lot of exercise? Anything at all that might help people decide if that pet is right for them is important enough to include.
The second priority on my sample list was to obtain donations. There are lots of ways to receive donations online. Have your Webmaster check them out. Paypal is a common one (www.paypal.com). Some other charity organizations will handle payments for you (such as www.charity.ca) for a fee and issue your tax receipts, too. Make it easy and convenient for people to give. Dont worry about having your own merchant credit card account. People like services such as Paypal because they feel safer giving their credit card info to a company that is in the business of moving money between parties. That way, the people you give the money to never receive your card number.
Priority three was to find foster homes. Think about how your Web site can help in this regard. Have something written about the importance of foster homes and post it on the site. Have a couple of foster homes write short articles for your site, saying why they like to foster and what they get out of it. Give your foster homes lots of thanks and recognition. Let your visitors know that you appreciate your volunteers and they will be more likely to join the ranks.
Then you want to let the public know what you do. Just start writing! There are different opinions on how much content a site should have. I think where a charity is concerned, there cant be too much information. Business sites are handled differently dont confuse them. Your sites objective is to achieve the goals that you prioritized earlier. You can make your own rules. You dont have to do what other rescues do, or make your site look like theirs.
Think about it and ask yourself, who would I want to give my hard earned money to, or volunteer my little bit of free time with? Arent you more likely to favour charities that tell you who they are and what they believe? Any charity who is evasive about these things sure wouldnt get my money or time! Give your visitors what YOU would want. Pretend you are being interviewed, and answer the imaginary questions. If you take the time to let the public know your opinions, you are more likely to find solid support.
The last priority on that list was to educate the public. Take some of the issues that mean the most to you and have articles about them on your site. There are lots of places on the Web where you can read about any issue you want to mention. Dont try to be an expert on anything except what you know really well, and write about those things.
Part I: Learn From Others Mistakes
Part II: You Need To Know The Basics
Part III: Get A Webmaster And Plan Your Site
Part IV: What To Do, And What Not To Do
Part V: Other Things You Need To Do