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Non-Profit Analysis- A Tale of Too Much Information

In his book Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug highlights four questions all worthy home pages must visually answer for customers: What is this?  What do they have here? What can I do here? Why should I be here- and not somewhere else?   These questions seem so simple and straightforward- and yet- in the evaluation of four non-profit websites — Our World 2.0, People for Puget Sound, Taproot Foundation and Oregon Humane Society — it’s clear that these are not principles all web designers live by.

What is This? Among the four sites, the two that address this question most effectively are the Oregon Humane Society (OHS) and Taproot Foundation.    Arguably, OHS has an easier task since most people inherently associate humane societies with lost pets and pet adoption services.   But what makes the site particularly visually effective is the “cheeriness” conveyed through the artwork at the top of the page.  The tagline “Feel the Love” doesn’t hurt much either.   Both signal a distinct departure from the traditional dreary shelter sites loaded with pictures of sad looking animals with “save me” captions.  Taproot is equally effective in conveying its mission of transforming the nascent field of pro bono service into a national platform to leverage top talent in support of our communities’ greatest needs. The home page is all about the call-to-action– clean lines, a smart flash video that communicates value and impact and a button that takes the visitor to a page that reinforces the value proposition and how to engage.

Oregon Humane Society - An inviting site for would-be pet owners

OurWorld 2.0 and People for Puget Sound are significantly less effective.  In fact, upon further assessment it appears OurWorld 2.0 should be categorized as a media site (or an education site, since it’s technically owned by United Nations University) not a non-profit.  Granted, OurWorld2.0 does have compelling photos (as most media sites should) but there is so much content it’s difficult to quickly understand if there’s a specific focus area.  But if a visitor is interested in learning more about global issues such as climate change, food security and biodiversity there’s a lot to offer.  The People for Puget Sound home page has a beautiful picture of the Sound with a call to action Save our Sound.  The implication, of course, is that the Sound is in trouble.  But nowhere on the home page does it state exactly the problem that needs to be solved and PPS’s role (this is buried in the About Us section, just above the scroll line).   Additionally, there are twenty different navigation options (OK, more like four).  Not only is this confusing to the visitor, but it means the organization loses control over its message and story delivery.

OurWorld 2.0

What do they have here? OHS and Taproot are the most effective in presenting information in a concise organized way that consistently reinforces their value proposition.   For example, knowing that adopting out animals is their primary mission, the OHS site not only provide adequate information about the adoption process it has thumbnail pictures of all animals available for adoption.   According to OHS staff, the majority of their clients visit the site first to see what animals are available – with a relatively high percentage calling in to put a hold on an animal based on a picture alone.  As mentioned earlier, Taproot visitors very quickly understand the purpose of the site and can easily access information necessary on how to engage.

Taproot Foundation Homepage

OurWorld 2.0 is all about lots of information – many articles on many different topics.  For a visitor looking for information on a particular topic germane to the site  it ostensibly provides quite a bit of value.  But for a browser, the number of articles is generally overwhelming.  For example, the home page alone includes forty thumbnail photos and blurbs with no apparent hierarchy (ie cover story).

People for Puget Sound includes a breadth of information from travel guide-like information (“Explore the Sound”, though with no location information) to education resources to membership information.   But, as mentioned above, there are so many navigation options and so much varied information on the home page it’s hard to know where to start or have a sense that taking the time to explore the site will provide a visitor with the information they are seeking.

People for Puget Sound Homepage

What can I do here? Taproot and People for Puget Sound appear the most deliberate in driving visitors to act, though to varying degrees of clarity.  Taproot wants interested visitors to join the pro-bono movement by completing a profile and seeking out projects.  Puget Sound wants visitors to engage with the organization, though it’s unclear if finding an Earth Month activity or attending a May 18 breakfast is of higher value to either the organization or the visitor.  It’s also worth noting that not all the items under the Do Something header on the home page are actually engagement opportunities—the second item Get the Latest Info on the Gulf Oil Spill Disaster is actually just a link to a news story (on another organization’s website no less).

OHS takes a more subtle approach, providing guidance to visitors via a well thought out left-to-right navigation list at the top of the page.   Organizational priorities are to encourage people to adopt or donate so, not surprisingly, these are the first in order. Dog training class sign-ups, guidance on how to volunteer, what to do about lost pets and submitting snapshots for pet photo contests round out the options.

OurWorld 2.0 is all about encouraging people to join the conversation through comments and following via social networks.   Yet, there are so many articles it’s there doesn’t seem to be a real “hub” of conversation directly on the site- though there seems to be more engagement on social networking properties.

Why should I be here – and not somewhere else? The answer to this question is relatively easy for OHS and Taproot.  OHS provides a wide range of information for pet owners or wannabes.  Also, it’s a generally friendly site with compelling visuals- whether they be pictures of animals available for adoption, results from photo contests or images from recent OHS activities.  Taproot conveys a unique value proposition and for those interested in engaging, as simple process for joining the cause.

The answer is less clear with OurWorld 2.0 and People for Puget Sound.   Lots of information on OurWorld 2.0, but it’s not clear if the content is of higher quality or based on a unique lense than other like sites.  And for People for Puget Sound, I would argue that the site is most useful for those that know exactly what they are looking for.  That said, it’s likely much of the information is available through other resources that are more usability oriented.

Taproot and OHS win because they not only visually reinforce their respective missions but the content and navigation are clean and simple.  Both OurWorld 2.0 and People for Puget Sound share the challenges of too much information and difficult-to-understand organizational structures that detract from the overall visual and experiential effectiveness.


1. barrett127 - 9 May 2010

Nice article. I am one of the editors of Our World 2.0. We are a bit curious as to why Our World 2.0 is selected for your analysis since it is very different to the other three cases. As you point out, “OurWorld 2.0 should be categorized as a media site (or an education site).” This is correct. The main UNU website is here – http://unu.edu/
But then again, you would be better off comparing UNU with other universities.
Perhaps you could do a comparison of Our World 2.0 with for example –
Yale 360 – http://e360.yale.edu/
Grist – http://www.grist.org/
Treehugger – http://www.treehugger.com/

Nevertheless, we appreciate the analysis you have undertaken. It is always valuable to get feedback and we take it seriously.

2. kegill - 9 May 2010

Thanks for your note!

The students put sites in “genres” earlier in the quarter.

One purpose of the categorization exercise was to show that to some extent there is an evolving sense of design sensibilities associated with “genres” and that there are conventions associated with sub-genres (such as education, which may or may not be a NFP venture).

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