Design Tips for Social Entrepreneurs – 5 Ways to Maximize your Impact

by Tara Wagner

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Social entrepreneurs occupy a middle ground between non-profit aspirations, and for-profit accountability. As such, their design needs aren’t met by either a traditional business template, or a site built for an entirely donation-based model. Designing a site for social entrepreneurship should hybridize the best of both worlds; here are a few tips to make it happen.

1. Keep your purpose front-and-center

When you’re part of the social entrepreneurship world, it’s easy to forget that the whole phenomenon is relatively new and unfamiliar to most people. Many of your potential friends and donors from the non-profit world will distrust the for-profit energy of a social entrepreneur—and many potential partners in the business world will see you as “just another NGO”. That makes it all the more important to make your organization’s purpose as clear as possible, right from the start.

Don’t hide your big idea on an out-of-the-way “About” page. Your site’s homepage should display a clear, concise description of what your organization does. Avoid meaningless catch-phrases like “achieving solutions” and “results-based paradigm”; talk about what you actually do, and how, and why it matters.

2. Focus on the user’s path through your site

Business sites have the advantage of a single focus: if a site effectively brings users to the checkout page, the hard part is over. Social entrepreneurs’ sites, on the other hand, have to guide different categories of users to different destinations . Clients, customers, donors, and beneficiaries of your service will navigate different channels to meet their needs. Your landing pages should have a clear path for each kind of user, leading them to the information and site functions you want them to access.

3. Provide youth-friendly, mobile-friendly navigation

All web design should consider the site’s target demographic, and social entrepreneurs are no exception. By an overwhelming margin, the users most likely to donate, volunteer, and engage socially with your enterprise are under age 30, and they’re more likely to access your site from a mobile device than a desktop. It’s a lot easier to add elements to a minimalist design than to pare down a cluttered one, so pursue a “mobile-first” design strategy: create a site that looks and feels right on a smartphone, and then expand from that point using adaptive CSS where necessary.

Give every element on your site a healthy amount of breathing room, including links, embedded video, and (especially) your donation and checkout buttons. Users are easily put off by clunky mobile design; nowadays, it feels antiquated and unprofessional—and who wants to donate to, volunteer for, or patronize an antiquated, unprofessional service?

4. Make cash flow your first priority

All your marketing, graphic design, and social outreach is built around one thing: bringing revenue to bear on the problems your organization was created to solve. (If cash-flow didn’t matter, it wouldn’t be social entrepreneurship—it would just be an NGO.) To that end, check out WordPress plugins that provide a virtual terminal service, so users can pay with one click, and make sure every page urges users to action. At every step of the way, your users should be learning why they should help, how they can help, and why your organization is the best tool for them to have an impact.

5. Keep your style coherent

Creating a recognizable brand is essential to any venture, for-profit or not; and that means a lot more than a logo. Your site and all promotional materials should have a recognizable, unified color scheme, fonts, and consistent structure. Try to anticipate any media you’ll include on your site beforehand, including embedded video. If you have to cram new plugins or objects at the last minute, you’ll often have unforeseen design issues, especially switching between display sizes. Don’t use a generic WordPress theme unless you’re prepared to modify other promotional materials to match—the idea is to allow users to look at anything your venture produces, and say, “I know exactly who made this.”

If you’re looking for a good social venture to support online, what clues tell you that a site is trustworthy and credible? Does a logo from Charity Navigator or another non-profit review site impress you? Let us know in the comments!

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeremy Norton June 22, 2013 at 10:16 am

Having a youth-friendly and mobile friendly navigation is what I am working right now. I know I am missing a lot with not having getting into mobile since a lot are navigating the net while on the go.
Jeremy Norton recently posted..Help with Setting up a BusinessMy Profile

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Kalen
Twitter:
June 20, 2013 at 5:20 pm

These are great points Tara. So many people completely lose sight of the purpose of their sight. They want a layout that looks nice to them rather than one that converts.

Your point about catering to the younger demographic is definitely important even if they aren’t necessarily your target market. Many of them can be advocates for you and refer their parents/older friends and family members to you. In fact, many of the older people in their lives probably have them do their research for them since they aren’t comfortable navigating the web themselves.
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Arleen Harry
Twitter:
June 20, 2013 at 12:13 pm

I know I need to start working on the mobile aspect of my website, but it is hard to keep up with all the social media. I think you have to pick and choose and not try to do everything at one time
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Tara June 20, 2013 at 12:16 pm

It’s definitely hard to be concise when it all seems to important. Some people try to stuff everything in with a labyrinthine site map, but I’m with you–sometimes, you have to just decide what’s essential and ditch the rest.
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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
June 20, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Arleen,
I’m always surprised when I review my Google Analytics to see the number of people who access my site via mobile devices. Do you know how your site appears on the devices that are ranking high in your analytics? That may have an influence on how high a priority you want to give to a responsive design for your site.

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Catarina
Twitter:
June 20, 2013 at 11:29 am

Good suggestions. Will pass them on to a friend of mine who, amongst other things, is a social entrepreneur. Not sure if it’s ideal for smartphones. If it’s isn’t she would benefit from changing the design to fit mobile users.
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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
June 20, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Catarina,
Mobile website design is a hot topic right now. Next week, I’m publishing a guest post by Teddy Hunt about website design tips for tablets and mobiles. He shares some great tips.

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Silviu
Twitter:
June 19, 2013 at 10:27 am

Hi Tara,

Thank you for this well designed article. You are talking about identity here, even more … you are talking about elements of a visual identity or how to communicate your identity through graphic elements and layout.
This is a difficult but beautiful domain. It involves design, business, psychology and many other things.
It all begins with finding your purpose (very difficult for many) and then communicating that purpose to millions.
Unified color schemes, fonts, consistent structure… this is a whole world, indeed. People and businesses need this a lot.
You have chosen a wonderful topic and did great job. Thank you.

Have a nice day
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Tara June 19, 2013 at 6:32 pm

Thanks, Silviu. Certainly, with mobile and tablet users, design isn’t just about the “look” anymore–the “feel” of a page also matters a great deal. It’s just one more aesthetic dimension to think about. Thanks again for your comment!

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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
June 20, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Hi Silviu,
Thanks for letting us know that you enjoyed Tara’s guest post. It’s always great to see you here!

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Susan Cooper
Twitter:
June 18, 2013 at 10:49 am

The advise to start with mobile first strategy is one I hadn’t considered when I first started out. It makes so much sense to me. It forces you to focus on the most important part of your business all the while keeping to simple, clean and straightforward. :)

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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
June 19, 2013 at 9:29 am

Susan,
Next week, I’m publishing a guest post by Teddy Hunt about website design tips for tablets and mobiles. I think you’ll enjoy it.
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