engagement, listening, website innovation

The Non-Profit Idea Portal: Your Website

4 Comments 15 January 2009

photo by Faith Goble

photo by Faith Goble

A while ago, Jeremiah Owyang wrote about the irrelevant corporate website, and offered suggestions for change. One of his suggestions was to integrate customers into the website, including allowing their views about the corporation, good and bad. 48Web, contemplating the corporate website in five years, suggests that “corporations will be “crowd-sourcing” their corporate website, bringing down the wall, and letting user generated content flow to the top – whether good or bad.” Risky strategy for the staid blue-chip corporation.

Or is it? Not in the day and age of social media, where public opinion flies around the internet quicker than you can ask “who typed that?” Bravo to the corporations that have acknowledged that customers are the ones who sustain them and support them. The customer is the business’ best critic, sidekick and evangelizer.

Which is why it was heartening to find a few large companies boldly asking for feedback, in a very public way. This is how you turn a customer into an evangelizer, and a complainer into an asset. Good corporate examples of this are are

  • Starbucks’ My Starbucks Idea, where customers offer ideas, vote on them, shape them, and find out how Starbucks implemented them
  • Dell’s Ideastorm portal, which is very similar to My Starbucks Idea, but allows unregistered viewers to see comments. The first three comments I viewed were quite negative. Kudos to Dell for not censoring discussion!
  • Oracle’s Oracle Mix, where customers can share ideas, vote on them, comment on them, and ask Oracle tough questions.

(These companies also have community networks, affinity customer groups, and plenty of website space for community discussion. The focus of this post is the idea portal.)

One noted government (public sector) idea portal is Barack Obama’s citizen website, Change.gov. The website asks citizens to submit ideas on issues the new administration will face, comment and rate them, and the best ideas will be submitted weekly to Barack Obama in a “citizen briefing.”

I searched far and wide for a non-profit website that asks for ideas, suggestions, improvements and critique in the same upfront manner as the companies cited above.  (I do not mean offering a community forum, which is not the same as the idea portal.) I found none.

Non-profit corporations are known for putting the customer first. Their missions are usually centered around a customer group: improving schools for child education, advocating for healthy communities, offering services to the elderly, etc. However, it is just as scary for the non-profit to open up its virtual doors for critique as it is for the corporation. But Do It. Open up your doors and invite your customers in. BOLDLY.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Mimic Starbucks, Dell, Obama and Oracle: create a separate portal for your customers to enter, ask questions, and offer ideas.
  • State portal guidelines: comments must be thoughtful and constructive. (“I called 20 times and never received a call back. Due to this, I won’t be using your services again.” or “I loved the last newsletter, but the font was too small and the page too crowded.”)
  • Update website readers: respond publicly to comments on the site, and offer status updates about the suggestions regularly. You will lose customer confidence if you do not respond to the comments and ideas transparently.
  • Why not offer incentives or prizes for the most constructive suggestions? Or the best ideas?
  • Promote your customers: highlight the most recent ideas, the best ideas, the ideas that help your organization save money or do its work better.
  • Re-focus the idea portal several times a year: specifically ask for creative fundraising ideas in the spring, customer service suggestions in the summer, new services or products in the fall, etc.

Forrester Research calls this “energizing.” It is talking to your customers directly, and interacting with them. It is preventing unwanted bad press elsewhere. It is taking that “irrelevant corporate website” and giving it some relevance, responsiveness and corporate transparency. It offers tremendous opportunities for your organization. It is exciting!

Change the world, one idea portal at a time.

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Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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