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!