Why Do You Have a Website? (Episode I: A New Hope)

If you’re here, then we’re going to bet that you’ve been in that meeting: the one where your boss, a board member, or another stakeholder said, “We dump all of this money into the website, why do we have this thing? What are we trying to do with it?” One of the big things that Whole Whale does is help nonprofits and social-impact organizations get past the idea that a  website is a brochure with a “donate” button and towards building  a website that drives long-term impact. In this 3-part series, we break down the essential question: “Why do you need a website?”

The digital impact chasm

The key to answering this question lies in the digital impact chasm. Chances are you know what you’re doing and what you hope to accomplish as an organization. In the middle is the digital impact chasm. You’re creating content, and at the same time, your organization is working to further its vision through the steps outlined in its mission statement.
impact chasm
It’s easy to get trapped into thinking that’s caught in the chasm versus building a bridge between the sides of output and outcome. This is where we see organizations fall into the pattern of thinking defined as, “We’re lost, but at least we’re making great time.” This is where we see organizations focus too much on how many monthly visits and sessions their website has or how many likes their social media posts received.
That’s not impact.
When we fall into the digital impact chasm, we fall into the pattern of relying on data from dashboards that are easily accessible. These data are important, but it’s important to remember that metrics are the map — not the destination.

The digital logic model

One way to combat the digital impact chasm is to implement the digital logic model, focusing on input, output, and outcome.

For example, with Power Poetry, the largest organization for teens creating poetry online, the outcome they’re after is creating hyper-engaged users so that they’re promoting literacy through the medium of poetry. Working backwards with that, you have to have certain outputs like the number of poems created by teens on the site. In order to create these outputs, we have to look at the input — what do we invest to create what we make? For Power Poetry, we’d be looking at content, PDF guides, and training videos. All of these elements go into that makeup.

Beware the poverty of attention

The next step is how to operationalize all of this, because the challenge here is that we are awash with information and data. As Herbert Simon wrote, “Information consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” Therefore, we have to know what to pay attention to.
This is why we need to define good indicators. We look for indicators that follow the acronym SMART: specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time bound. It’s also a good idea to look for metrics that are valid and understandable. You can work with any variation on these themes, but the most important qualifier in the list above is “measurable.”
Instead of saying you want to increase awareness, you’re better off looking at numbers: If you’re at x, aim to go for 2x. From there, there are a number of different models to pace out these outcomes.

The impact marketing funnel

At Whole Whale, the impact marketing funnel is one of our favorite models. At the top, you are inevitably starting with having an aware audience, then moving down to have audiences that are interested, engaged or taking action, and finally committed to your organization.
marketing funnelDefine the layers and think about the different metrics that go into those pieces, and you’ll be able to see that because you created a piece of content, you may have received an email sign-up that turned into a volunteer that turned into another person moving towards your mission.
What matters is finding the metrics that matter.

Metrics that matter are key

In their book Will It Make the Boat Go Faster?, Ben Hunt-Davis and Harriet Beveridge profile the Olympic rowing team that went from worst to first at the 2000 summer games by making every decision based around one key metric: Will it make the boat go faster? It’s a fantastic mantra. Find your “Will it make the boat go faster?” type of metric and focus on it. And once you’ve focused on it, it’s time to set some stretch goals.
For instance, if I were to tell you to run a marathon, that might be a reasonable goal. You could run it at whatever speed you want. But if I originally told you to set the goal at qualifying for the Olympics, I’m willing to bet that you’re not in the 0.01% of people who would qualify for the Olympic Marathon. I’m setting a goal that’s way beyond your ability to reach it, and what’s more, I have now frustrated you and have all but guaranteed that you’re not going to go after it. A more reasonable metric (to continue the running metaphor) may be caring about healthy miles per week. Which brings us to key performance indicators (KPIs)…

“Any more than 3 KPIs is a circus”

We love Peter Drucker’s above quote because it’s a reminder that when you focus on everything, you focus on nothing. Picking out these indicators may be unique to your department, or they can be at the higher level of your organization, making sure that they roll up into your mission and vision. This is especially true with our digital metrics, which brings us to the question: What are we measuring when it comes to our digital strategy?
At Whole Whale, we’ve put together the above chart to plot your different elements. On the Y-axis is importance, on the X-axis is measurability, and you ideally stay above this line. The easy, low-hanging fruit (page views, reach of posts) in the bottom left is a little too superficial for seeing if you’re making the boat go faster. In the bottom right, we have hard to measure and low importance metrics — which are useless. Where it gets positive is in the upper quadrant, be it the amazing top right of hard to measure but high importance (great, but can’t be done on a regular basis) or the much more tenable easy to measure and high importance.
Let’s make this practical: With Power Poetry, we’d love to see literacy improvement. That is a hard task to do, so in the near term what we can say is if we get more poets, more poems, and more poets over poems, that’s a driving metric we’re able to have. At the bottom of the chart, we have content visits which we do care about as it pertains to relevant resources that people are accessing.

Plot your points. Use this model as a way to have the conversation internally. Put together a diagram to share with your stakeholders to see where the metrics lie.

This is the first in a 3-part series on why you need a website. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 in the coming weeks and in the meantime, click here to subscribe to Whole Whale TV (and be the first to know when new content is added)!