Running Away From Home Page

March 15, 2010       Kate Rogers      

Friends and lovers alike scrapped their standard flowers and chocolates this past Valentine’s Day in exchange for razors and hair dye. Through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s “Totally Baldacious” campaign, they showed their love and support for cancer patients by either shaving or dying their hair. And for those afraid to take the plunge, the campaign created a widget that allowed supporters to “bald” their Facebook and Twitter profile pictures, just for fun. The campaign was designed with social networking as a key component. It launched on Feb. 8 using the microsite www.totallybaldacious.org. Todd Whitley, vice president of eMarketing for the White Plains, N.Y.-based charity, said the microsite allowed the nonprofit to cut loose from its standard marketing techniques, and educate constituents in a lighthearted, interactive manner.

“It allows you to break out of a current messaging mode that might be a little bit stayed,” Whitely said. “We are using language that just doesn’t fit in with our other sites. You can revitalize your brand with a microsite in a complimentary way.” Microsites, which have been used by charities for more than five years, are a unique way for organizations to create buzz for specific events and campaigns. They can be effective in appealing to an audience that is different from whom an organization usually aims to reach. It can also combine the efforts of several different organizations under a single platform.

Nonprofit home pages are littered with missions, news, fundraising opportunities and more. Creating a microsite is a way to have a distinctive call to action, according to Mike Johnston, president and co-founder of Hewitt and Johnston Consulting in Toronto. “Home pages tend to be horrific creatures with 67 links and fundraisers can’t always catch enough eyeballs,” Johnston said. “Donors get distracted and move to different places. To make enough money, we have to get away from cluttered home pages and make destination pages.” Charities should also keep in mind that microsites are just a part of multi-stage engagement, and moving donors back to the original site is important, he said. “There’s limited marketing dollars for an organization,” Johnston said. “The impact has to be as effective and precise as possible. Home pages are lower response, so we have to have places like microsites for the best results.”

For holiday shoppers in search of giving dad something more useful than yet another boring tie this past Christmas BRAC USA came to the rescue with a microsite. Donors were asked to enter an item they pledged not to buy during the holiday season on www.whatIdidnotbuy.com, and donate the money they would have spent on a pair of shoes or sweater to BRAC. The charity created a destination separate from its home page as a way to draw new donors and educate them about BRAC’s mission. While the charity is the largest non-governmental organization in the world, it is not a household name in the United States, Johnston said. HJC worked with BRAC to create the donor acquisition campaign. “Our motivation was providing a way for people to channel that money that would meet someone else’s needs, and connect them with BRAC,” said Michelle Chaplin, program coordinator for BRAC USA in New York City. BRAC raised $1,500 via the micosite campaign, and also increased its end-of-year giving numbers. Chaplin said BRAC followed up with all donors to let them know where their money went, and what it helped to accomplish.

The Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, in Fort Lee, Md., created on a microsite a community of support for the families of patients diagnosed with Duchenne, a form of muscular dystrophy, as well as the young men with the disease,www.community.parentprojectmd.org. The site, which launched in 2008 as a replacement for the charity’s home page message board, has more than 2,500 members who discuss everything from the disease to good vacation destinations that are accessible, according to Will Nolan, director of communications and administration. “It’s about connecting parents with other parents of the diagnosed, so they don’t feel so isolated,” Nolan said. “It’s a way to share experiences and emotional ups and downs between families.”

On the microsite, which costs the organization $30 per month, parents share pictures and tips, announce grassroots events and campaigns and interact with specialists in the field. As opposed to larger networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, Nolan said Parent Project’s microsite is a more concentrated group focused on supporting one another. “Its not a static thing,” he said. “The site feels like a living and breathing thing that will continue to grow.”

Jay Moonah, vice president of marketing at Wild Apricot, also in Toronto, said it might be more beneficial for charities to create content campaigns on pre-existing sites, which are already search engine optimized (SEO), rather than create microsites for particular campaigns. “A microsite is worth it for the branding opportunities,” Moonah said, “and if its something that’s big enough to warrant having that separate profile. The key thing for me, is that you should think carefully about why you need a microsite, and if it may be best to use the resources you have, or build something entirely new.”

In creating a microsite, he said it is important to include social media in the mix, to give donors more ways to engage with an organization. “If people can follow you on other channels, that is a huge opportunity,” he said. Likewise, Farra Trompeter, vice president of client relationships and strategy at Big Duck in New York City, said charities should determine if it is necessary to create a microsite before moving forward. “I think it’s dangerous when an organization thinks tool first, strategy second,” Trompeter said. “They need to understand their audience’s goals and needs online, and if there is a need for something different.”

If microsites are mismanaged, Trompeter said they could languish and nonprofits risk losing the connection with their audience. Keeping a balance between updating both main site pages and microsite pages is important, she said. Creating a microsite typically runs a nonprofit anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 to complete, Trompeter said, whereas a complete Web redesign can run an organization upwards of $100,000. Big Duck helped the Parent Project MD and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society launch their microsites. Johnston said the level of functionality a charity seeks often determines pricing. “The magic of programming is where the money is,” he said. “Just making an aesthetic page is something a 13-year-old can do in their mom and dad’s basement for a few hundred dollars. It’s about connecting the tools.”

Much of the cost of building a microsite is in maintenance, Moonah said. Adding content to pre-existing sites saves time and money, he said. Whitley said the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society plans on marketing future campaigns through microsites that fuse education, fundraising and social media. “Especially in this time, we are looking to be reactive to the market,” he said. “The more we can provide constituents with interactive ways to engage with us, the better we will be in growing that community.”  NPT