Each month the Web 2.0 jury reviews the website of a selected Canadian charity, focusing on its fundraising effectiveness. It’s a chance for the charity to receive personal coaching from two experts in online communication and fundraising. To submit your site for review, contact janet@hilborn.com.

Kori: Hi Ryann. Welcome back. This is our first piece together so I’m not sure it’s my place to give you welcome, but good manners never hurt.

This month’s candidate is Impact First International, a Canadian nonprofit combining the issue of health with microfinance solutions. I’m a big fan of the microfinance approach both as a donor and a communications professional. It offers clear messaging opportunities and a direct way for donors to create real world change.

My first impression of the site was positive. A clear name and logo alongside a short punchy mission statement tells me who they are. The language options give them some international weight, and they have clear calls to action thanks to their donation, email sign-up and social media opportunities. However, I lost the story right after that. My best advice to make the site more effective is “Look at Kiva, look at Plan.”

Why Kiva?

Kiva is the best in the business at making the case for microfinance, and a big reason for that is that they demonstrate donors’ impact in human terms. A visitor to Kiva’s site is overwhelmed with human faces and the human stories of success. Impact First must have hundreds of similar stories to share, and that’s what I need to see. I need to see the human faces they’re helping and the story behind those faces, and I need to see it front and centre everywhere I look.

Why Plan?

Plan is leading the field in positioning the case for improving lives by helping girls. Their Because I am a Girl campaign shows what they do and why it matters – faster than a viewer can think about it.

By contrast, Impact First’s positioning isn’t clear. Their home page tells me they are “Eradicating poverty through microfinance, health and education”, but the only reference to women is a vague one in the main navigation. Yet on their About page their mission tells me they’re committed to improving the well-being of women. They need to be crystal-clear and consistent throughout the site and in all of their communications.

Except for the shortage of individual stories, the site has most of what I need. The basic information is there, the engagement options are plentiful, and it gives me a clear path to donate. But it doesn’t work holistically. The work of the organization isn’t integrated with their call to action and engagement opportunities and the result is that they’re not selling me, nor are they making me feel the importance of their cause.

Pop-up people

Here’s one place to start – why not overhaul the great interactive map at the bottom of the home page? Make each country light up with a popup image of a person being directly helped. Include a quote from that person about why their life is better thanks to Impact First’s help, and use the map as a window to tell all of your stories. Then the site can be built around those images and stories. That would keep me interested, make me care, and have me opening my wallet.

What are you seeing Ryann?

Ryann: Thanks Kori, and happy New Year everyone! Ever heard of Impact First? Never? That’s because they recently changed their name from GEMS of Hope. Never heard of GEMS either? That’s because…well, they don’t seem to get out much. But they’ve been around for 30 years and do fantastic work.

In the interest of full disclosure, a long time ago I did some volunteering for and donating to GEMS. But any soft spot I may have had has since hardened from years of working with nonprofits…just kidding. I’m still a softie.

The Impact First website is clearly on the cusp of something greater. It’s as if someone new has come in and done the best paint job they could until they have enough saved for a full, tear-down, gut-job renovation. I give this site a B because there’s great content; it’s just hidden behind an outdated website.


They use CanadaHelps, which is sufficient for new and small nonprofits, but I would have thought that an organization that’s been around as long as Impact First would have greater online donating sophistication. That’s my main criticism: a lack of online sophistication.

Yes, there are multiple ways to give and fundraise. There’s even an Ideas Handbook and how to become an Ambassador (I love both ideas). And the images are great. It’s just so difficult to navigate through.

Suggested improvements include:

  • making the button that appears in the top right banner larger (make it the whole banner),
  • including more links from more pages straight to the donation form,
  • chunking up the text on the Donate Now page (less text per page),
  • re-structuring the Help Out section into giving and nongiving,
  • including a name, person’s email and phone number to better facilitate donating, and
  • moving to a more robust online giving platform to better control their donation information, communicate with their donors, perform tests and analyze donor data and behaviour.


Impact First does a pretty good job of trying to engage with older and younger demographics on their site. The blog has some very thoughtful posts that deepen awareness and respect for IF’s work. There are also social media links that remain on every page. I really like the use of videos and images that appear throughout the site – it’s a wonderful way to personalize the organization and connect donors to the work.


Much of the content of the site is high-calibre and well written. I especially like the Help Out section, where you can easily see where specific dollar figures go and what they accomplish, and the Women First Banks section, where you can read about the banking system that underpins much of IF’s work. I’m happy to see the e-newsletter sign-up, and even happier that it appears on every page. This is integral to list growth.


Oh, the ever-elusive website voice! While there is no real voice to this website, there is a lot of engaging and inspiring content. That, combined with photos and videos, gives me the sense that the voice of this website is an experienced, educated person who has travelled, seen inequity firsthand, and has a tested, actionable plan to fight it. What I wonder is who is the target audience? Who is IF trying to cultivate?


Further to the point of the target audience, I’d like to see the website look and feel more streamlined, more contemporary and more sophisticated. Right now, the overall design doesn’t match the thoughtful content. If you’re judging the website book by its cover, this website won’t be judged kindly. If Impact First wants to attract new people, grow their list, or increase online donations, I fear the website will hinder, not help those goals.

Visiting a website is an experience. A new visitor should be able to understand what the organization does, see their heart, and sign up and donate easily. A website should aim to convert visitors from stranger to friend and friend to contributor. Impact First does this well with its content. Now they need to do this with the overall design of the site.

Kori Brus is philanthropic counsel and marketing specialist at Good Works, where he focuses on nonprofit campaign strategy and online engagement. He’s the former communications director of Ecojustice Canada and former community manager for Web of Change.

Ryann Miller is director of nonprofit services at Care2, where she helps charities and nonprofits recruit online supporters. She is the former managing director of DonorTrends and was a senior fundraising consultant at HJC New Media.

This article originally appeared in the Hilborn eNews.