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At a recent conference, I did an informal survey of nonprofit professionals to see how many people visited nonprofit websites, other than for work, in the past 3 months (lots of hands)and how many planned to go back to those sites (very, very few).  I asked, “Why don’t you go back to those sites?”  “Because all they do is ask that I donate,” one guy said.

That is the state of most nonprofit websites—most engage users on only a superficial level.  They rely on an information dump that ignores what the user wants to do and learn.  A big “Donate” button on your homepage does not address the question of how to get that user motivated.

There are a couple of nonprofit sites that have woken up to this and really stand out for trying to spark intellectual and emotional engagement.

March of Dimes’ phenomenally successful www.shareyourstory.org now is home to over 13,000 short stories and 1,000 blogs by parents of premature children.  March of Dimes is able then to approach these community members during fundraising or petition drives and ask them to give back to March of Dimes.

Engaging users by providing tools to help the users tell their stories doesn’t need to cost much or require much technology—check out these videos about living conditions in the favellas made by illiterate Brazilian kids at www.amplifiedvoices.org.  The kids were given a couple of hours of training with a camcorder, and an Imac to edit the films themselves. 

Even the World Bank is engaging the larger community by hosting live online interviews with their top executives.  Next week, for instance, you can direct questions at François Bourguignon, the Bank’s Chief Economist at http://discuss.worldbank.org

Building relationships, highlighting individuals, and enabling dialogue are the strengths of nonprofits.  These skills and values can be relatively easily and cheaply used to make their websites places that people will return to again and again to connect with causes that matter.

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