Approaching Not-For-Profits – Part 3: A Typical Client Case Study

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Now that we’ve delved into the mind of the not-for-profit organization, and we’ve discussed various methods of marketing to these groups, let’s see the theory in action.

The Phone Call

Last May, I received a phone call from the brand new Director of a Christian Ministry that sent teens around the world on short term missions trips. For the sake of their privacy, I will refer to this organization as the ABC Org and the Director as George. They already had a Website, but they weren’t happy with it.

At the time, the site was a FrontPage 98-generated frames page with cartoonish jungle graphics, and a midi file of chirping birds. Link colors were inconsistent, as was the use of fonts and navigation. This page would top Vince Flanders’ list.

The Brief

George did not have a strong concept of what he wanted for the page — he just knew that he didn’t want what he had. He said he wanted something bright, and thought he might like a splash page that incorporated the organization’s logo.

This was pretty general — obviously I needed more detailed information. So I asked a few yes/no questions to narrow the field a little. I found out that George wanted the site to allow users to complete partial signups for trips. In future years, he was keen to automate the whole process, but George felt comfortable taking one step at a time, and not jumping in at the deep end.

As discussions progressed, my client revealed that he wanted the site to have individual trip pages presenting trip descriptions accompanied by "indigenous" music. Personally, I was opposed to this (as I’m generally against intrusive and bandwidth-intensive web page processes), but as George was the client, I simply offered my professional advice and let him make the decision.

The Timing

After my discussion with George, he told me that he was unable to sign a contract at that time. He had to wait a few months to have budget approval, and to scope out what the world safety scene was.

It turned out that this was an important step, as several trips were cancelled after 9/11, and projected enrollment (and budget) had to be adjusted to compensate for wary parents deciding not to send their teens overseas during these troubled times.

In august, we agreed upon a slimmed-down proposal that would include the partial online enrollment, and a complete site redesign. The new site would be partially dynamic and would include interactive features like a rotating globe on which clickable trip locations were featured, as well as the ability to play (and stop) the indigenous music playing on each trip’s page.

Beta Testing and Launch

Upon completion of the site, I turned it over to George to analyze, and he "loosed the hounds on it" (which, in reality, simply saw his administrative assistant and one other person trial the site).

Okay, so it wasn’t extensive beta testing, but given the size of the site, rocket science wasn’t required. Some sites, particularly sites with huge database backends, require extensive testing and plenty of time to iron out bugs. But for our purposes, a review by these staff members was all that was required.

Over the next week, George sent me a steady stream of little details that needed to be fixed, along with a few bigger issues that he had "just had an idea about". I managed to implement the changes and the "bonus features", and soon after, we launched the site.


George called me one day in February asking me to pursue targeted banner ad campaigns with various Christian radio stations around the country. We made arrangements with various radio stations, and saw a dramatic increase in site visits enrollments following the campaigns’ inception.

Although attendance for the program was down dramatically in 2002 (which could be directly attributed to international tensions after 9/11), approximately 5% of total program enrollment was directly credited to these ad campaigns. This wasn’t bad at all, considering the negative ad climate on the Web at the time, and the fact that this was the first time such an approach had been employed.

The Future

I’ve recently spoken with George again. As the organization’s summer missions season draws to an end in 2002, he’s looking to shift direction for 2003. He’s asked me to develop the 2003 site, as he says he’s found the communication and ease of business between us to be refreshing. Though we can’t get started until budget approval in September, we’ve already begun dialogue about the coming project.

George has also reaped the benefit of 2 cash-back referrals, earning 5% on each contract, and he’ll also receive a 10% discount and free hosting for becoming an "alumni" client.

Where do we go from here?

These are the methods I’ve employed with just one client in this marketplace. My entire focus is on not-for-profit organizations, and I’ve strayed from this target market only once or twice. It’s a difficult field, but with a little work, can be an extremely high quality (and exclusive) market for the freelancer. Very few developers market to this group, so it’s fresh pickings for those of us who do.

As the dot-com boom of the late nineties wanes, and more mature technologies emerge, you will begin to see not-for-profit organizations benefit more from technology.

There is now a tremendous need for mature Web applications within this marketplace, and the work for freelancers really is there. Many non-profits simply don’t recognize their own need, or realize the potential for technology within their organizations. The key lies in understanding your clients, exploring their needs and constraints, and delivering the right sales pitch. Make the client see why they can’t live without you! It’s a virtually untapped landscape for freelancers — so what are you waiting for?

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Aaron Brazell is the senior technology manager for b5media, a new media network. He is a well known and respected voice in the world of blogging and social media and has a passion for written communication. He has been developing in PHP for six years and has been actively involved with WordPress for nearly three years. He writes on his blog, Technosailor and is available for WordPress consulting

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