Monthly Archives: November 2013

A Guide to the Community Development Online Blog

Today I shall explain how I’ve organised this blog and so help you track down the threads you might be interested in.  If there are other threads you would like me to cover, leave a comment.

The blog has 4 main categories, each with several subcategories and these can be seen in the sidebar.  If you click on “Resources” in the main navigation, you will find pages about the subcategories.

Stay with this post and I’ll show you where I’m taking the blog for now.  As I receive feedback comments, I can change direction and focus on what interests its readers.

Many third sector organisations have poor websites and do not use their online presence to support their work.  There are several reasons for this but they mostly relate to lack of financial resources and a shortage of staff or volunteer time.  So, the challenge is how to use the available resources more effectively.  So, my emphasis is how to deploy your resources so that the techniques you use are subject to your overall strategy.


This category is about community development and how it can be supported online.  It is not just for community groups.  Many organisations working in neighbourhoods need to know what works and what doesn’t.  So, if your church wishes to develop work in its neighbourhood or if you are a local business seeking to build community in a neighbourhood or across a city, this category will help you.

Currently, I’m blogging about New Deal for Communities and the lessons learned in its final evaluation in Burngreave, my community.  I’m going to show you how grants often do not build community.  I’ll show you how the local economy is central to any neighbourhood work and how it can be supported online.


Marketing is relevant to your work whether you have something to sell or do not!  If you have a cause and want to bring people together around it you need to understand marketing.  Your web presence is a powerful marketing tool.  If you’re not using it for marketing, for what are you using it?  Too many websites don’t do anything at all!

At the moment I’m writing about the structure of websites and the various types of pages you might find on them.  Each page should have a single clear purpose for your marketing strategy.


This category shows how you can work out the purpose of your site.  It explores how you generate conversations online and build relationships.  The internet is a communications tool and if you’re not using it for that purpose, your organisation is missing opportunities.

This sequence explores some general principles for seeking donations online.  Donations are by no means the best way of generating income online but many organisations will recognise this approach and it illustrates important points about building relationships online.


This category demonstrates how to do things online.  There are plenty of sites that will show you details of how to use applications and techniques.  When I describe an application or a technique, I shall always introduce it from a strategic viewpoint.  How can we use this to be more effective?

These posts at present cover ways you can drive traffic to your site.  This is an important topic for many organisations trying to promote their cause or business online.

Could be Anything

The idea is to respond to your requests on Fridays.  I can write about anything and respond to your ideas without breaking the sequence on other days.  So, do let me know what you would like me to cover!

And don’t forget you can subscribe to the blog for a weekly update so that you can easily review the topics I’m posting about.  If you subscribe you will also receive a free email sequence about community development.

Next week I shall write about how I plan to develop this site to support brilliant online voluntary sector work!


Finding Your Site by Direct Entry

Over the next few Thursday posts I shall look in detail at how to you can encourage people to visit your site.  The full list of approaches to increasing traffic is in the earlier post “How to Help the Right People Find Your Site”.

Direct entry is where your visitor types your url into their browser.  To do this  they are likely to copy your url from a document you supply.  This approach may seem to be a bit primitive compared with the others but it is important particularly for local organisations.

Three things you need to consider when you think about direct entry.

  • How local is your market?  Do your customers live or work close to your business?  Local might mean a part of a city or across a city or region.  If your market is national or global, direct entry will be less relevant to your marketing needs, although it may always have some relevance, eg at conferences or if you post out products.
  • How visible is your business?  If you have a shop front business, with people passing the entrance, this opens up extra possibilities for direct entry.  If your business is a service, perhaps from your own home, then your opportunities will be more restricted.
  • The value your site adds to your business.  If you are not visible, your site might be your main shop window.  If you have a real shop window, you will need to think about how your site enhances opportunities for customers who already use your shop.

You need to develop a marketing strategy dependent upon whether you want to find new visitors or to increase sales to existing customers.

Let’s say you have a bakery with a single outlet with plenty of footfall.  You may want to:

  • encourage visitors to come to your shop from other parts of the city.  Can you persuade them to take a detour to your shop?  For example, you might (1) collaborate with neighbouring shops to develop a portal website to promote the local area, (2) run market stalls elsewhere in the city and encourage customers to go to your website.
  • increase sales to existing customers, by increasing customer loyalty.  They might spread your news by word of mouth and buy bread from you regularly.  So, on your website you might include recipes for your bread and sell the ingredients in your shop.  Whilst some people might try to make your bread at home, whatever the results, buying bread from you is always going to be easier.  The recipes will show people what your product is really like and help them understand what goes into your baking.

You will want to build long-term relationships with your customers, so that you can tell them of future promotions and developments.

So, how might you make your url better known?

  • Business cards are essential for any business.  There will be little room to publicise your promotions but hopefully people who receive your card will check out your site and join your email list.
  • Flyers can give people a reason to visit your site.
  • Posters are possibly less successful because people need to copy your url from the poster.  However, they are permanent and may still be around when the flyers have gone.
  • Things like paper bags.  A baker might sell produce on a market stall and include their postal address and url on the bags.  Perhaps add a reason to visit the url.
  • And don’t forget to add a signature at the end of your emails with your url and line of business.  This will come up every time you create an email and it can of course be deleted if it doesn’t seem appropriate.

Getting some traction between your website and your business is important if you are a local trader.  However, if your market is further afield, you will need other methods to increase visitors to your site.  They’re up next, starting next time with back-links.

Have you any examples of brilliant online promotions for local businesses?  How did they publicise their website locally?

Donations: What Have You achieved?

This is part of a sequence about website design to support a campaign for donations.  So far, you have

The next step is to show what your charity has achieved so far.

You will need to think about whether you put these headings on the same page or on a series of linked pages.  There is no final answer to this question.  If you have a lot of material you may find:

  • each step in your argument makes sense on a new page.
  • each step invites links from several parts of your site and so a page per point works
  • you want to present the material from different arguments in different ways.  So, you might have used stories for situation and approach, but now want to use statistics.

On the other hand if your copy is short, it may make sense if it appears on a single page.

If you are a new charity and have little evidence of your track record; say you are a new charity and then seek other evidence of your ability to deliver.  This might be the track record of people on your board or support from partner organisations.

So, what can you present at this stage in the argument?

  1. With statistics there are two issues.  Do you have convincing evidence of your performance?  How are you going to present it?  People tend to scan websites and so your stats need to be easy to pick up at a glance.  A prominent heading summarises the main findings expressed through bold graphics should be easy to pick up.  You can link to detailed information about the stats.  Also ask someone who understands stats to check your figures, to make sure they stand up and say what you claim they are saying.
  2. Social proof.  Stats present quantifiable information whilst social proof presents qualitative.  Are there people who have received help and are willing to provide a testimonial?  Or others who have observed and can verify your work?  Use testimonials with permission and if you use photos or illustrations with text, it’s best to check they’re happy with the pictures as well as the text.

It’s best to mix stats and social proof.  Keep it light and lively, offering a link to more information for those who want it.

Keep your information up to date and date your evidence!  If it is possible to see the evidence is fresh, it will encourage readers to take you seriously.

What evidence would you consider valid for a new charity that can’t present evidence of its work?  What sort of evidence is likely to make you enthusiastic for a cause?

How to Assess Your Website Needs

In my last two Tuesday posts, I described both the typical website as perceived by the casual visitor and something of their hidden life.  To make a start, you need to assess your website needs.

You need to understand website structure if you’re responsible for your own site.  Even if you pay a designer to create and look after your site, the more you understand site structure, the more productive your relationship with your designer will be.  The amount of help you use will depend on your budget and your aims for the site.

Four Things You Need to Consider

  1. What do you want your site to do? How will the site save you time and further your aims?
  2. You need to decide how you’re going to carry out your plans.  Use a content management system (CMS), such as WordPress, because then all the functionality you need is available to you.  You really don’t need someone to reinvent the wheel on your behalf.
  3. You might need (1) an email list, (2) some means for customers to pay you or make purchases, eg a ticketing service, (3) you will need to monitor your site, back it up and be sure it is secure.  There are many WordPress plug-ins and on-line services (paid and unpaid) that do all this and more.  I’ll cover these in the technical section of this blog.
  4. You need to decide how much you can do yourself and the support you need.  No-one has all the skills they need to do everything.  There are online forums that might help (this blog is one of them) but you will almost certainly need to purchase some services.  You need to manage these relationships and  I shall cover this in the Purpose category of this blog.

I can help you assess your current website or your plans for a new website.  An assessment will show you what you can do within your budget, how much you can do in-house and what you will need to pay for.  Details of this service are on my website, Web Consultancy Offers.

How did you decide how to implement your website?  What platform did you choose?  Did you seek advice or explore online?  Do the results satisfy you?  I’d be interested to read your reasons and so would many others.

Burngreave New Deal: Community Based Partnerships

Since last Monday’s post “Are grants bad news for community projects?“, I’ve reviewed the evaluation of Burngreave New Deal for Communities (BNDC) and it seems more relevant than the national evaluation.  As a local resident, involved in BNDC, I write about what I know.

Grants can do good and I do not deny the good done with the £50 million spent in Burngreave over the New Deal decade.  However, with all that money to invest, the programme systematically failed to engage with the local economy.  We need to think about communities in economic terms and build models based on economic activity that puts grants in their place.  What is their place?  I’m still working it out!

If there is potential to support local economies online, those who develop online services need to understand local economies.  So, in this and the next five emails I shall comment on the six lessons learned according to the Burngreave New Deal for Communities: End of Programme Evaluation, January 2012.  Here’s the first lesson learned:

“there is a need for community based partnerships to establish processes and mechanisms for collaboration before embarking on delivery; a year zero in which BNDfC has been able to establish a robust partnership might have helped overcome some of the difficulties experienced at the outset of the programme”

Burngreave NDC did not build local community based partnerships in year zero or at any other times over the 10 year programme.  Why was that?

What Went Wrong?

Let’s go back to the beginning.  NDC was an imposed programme.  The government informed the city of Sheffield one community could receive ND funding.  The local strategic partnership, which I think at the time was called Sheffield First (the charmed circle that makes up these partnerships recycle themselves so many times it’s impossible to remember what they called themselves in any given year) met behind closed doors and announced a shortlist of communities.

At this stage you would think they might have talked to people in these areas.  We asked them and they refused to do so.

Way back in 1997, after a 2 or 3 years of hard work we launched Burngreave Community Action Forum (BCAF).  It had support from active residents and met quarterly with over 60 people attending each meeting.  A year or two before NDC, BCAF founded a charitable company called Burngreave Community Action Trust (BCAT).  BCAT employed four staff who delivered BCAF’s community plan.  What would BCAF/T had said had Sheffield First invited  them to a conversation before making their decision?

Maybe the forums in the other shortlisted areas would have provided evidence that swayed them to a different community.  Or a conversation at that stage would have established commitment to BCAT as a community based partnership.

The Real Issue

One or two years later, BCAT might have been able to play this role (with support it might have been sooner).  On the day NDC announced Burngreave as the lucky recipient of its largess, a vocal group of residents turned up at a BCAF meeting and told us BCAF/T was not going to get its hands on the money.

Sheffield First did hint that BCAF/T was the reason they chose Burngreave but it was clear that first evening, BCAF/T had a lot of work to do to show people BCAF/T was their organisation.  In fact, many other organisations had designs on the money and feared a community united behind a single representative body.  This was never about one local group getting the money at the expense of others, it was about control of the money by local people or the local authority.

BCAF/T knew about the divisions in the community.  They were the reason we founded BCAF.  Council policy caused many of the divisions over the previous 10 or 20 years.  They used grants to divide the neighbourhood and £50 million simply widened the gaps.

I don’t know whether these are the difficulties referred to in the first lesson.  It is interesting, with all those resources NDC was unable to resolve these differences.

Have you experienced relationships undermined by funding?  Share your comments below.

Solvitur Ambulando

Last Friday I introduced solvitur ambulando (Latin: solve it by walking) and this time I shall develop it a little.  Whilst walking is  not a technique that will help you solve your community development problems on or offline, it can be really helpful.  Walking solves problems to do with your:

  • physical health.  It is easy to get behind a computer screen and forget your sedentary lifestyle is bad for your health.  I have type 2 diabetes (because of my previous sedentary lifestyle) and I’m sure walking (I do at least 35 miles a week) helps me control it.  The daily discipline is very important.  I find a good walk also helps deal with other minor aches and pains.  The way I look at it is that if I’m so ill I can’t walk then I probably need help!
  • emotional health.  If you have anything to do with other people, there are times when you want to run away screaming.  There is something comforting in the rhythm of walking and I find a calmed mind can often cope with emotional stress if not come up with a response to it.  One problem we have in our busy lives is not allowing ourselves the space to resolve our problems.
  • mental health.  I think much the same applies to mental as physical health.  I find a good walk raises the spirits.
  • community health.  Use public spaces.  Take time to drop things off for people and to talk to the people you meet.  I allow myself plenty of time to get to where I’m going in case I am distracted en route.  You also notice what is going on so that you can share news or report something that needs attention.
  • The rhythm really does help you solve problems.  Part of it is taking a break.  Often even a few minutes away from the screen is enough to surface the solution to a problem.  I take a notebook and pen and jot down ideas that pop into my head before I forget them.
  • Oh yes! All this is for free (unless you forget to head back in time and so need to catch a bus!).

So, over to you.  Do you walk and if so what problems has walking solved?  If you don’t walk, what do you do?

Who are the Right People?

Last time I listed several approaches to driving the right people to your website.  Before I describe these approaches in more detail, I shall ask: who are the right people?

Knowing your market will inform the decisions you make about how you drive traffic to your site.  There are lots of helpful tools but remember you are communicating with human beings.  No tool can do that for you.  Tools facilitate communication but they don’t do it.

I remember when I was a child, we used to tease my mother because she had a telephone voice.  I’m sure many people have heard friends or family who sound completely different when they are on the phone.  My mother wished to project a certain image when she used the phone.

Was she right?  It depends.  One school of thought is you need to be authentic, to be yourself.  Certainly, being natural in your communication helps build relationships.  On the other hand first impressions count.  Being laid back may be one of your endearing qualities in real life.  I’m not convinced it is always a positive online.

The term avatar is used online in two different ways.  They can be images (sometimes animated) generated by software that give you an online identity.  The other usage is in marketing, where avatars are your imaginary customers.

It helps to know what the people you are writing for are like.  I find my avatars emerge slowly as I write for them.  Other people are able to imagine elaborate avatars in advance.

You’re using online media to communicate, not with a machine but a real person.  Remember one person opens and reads your emails.  Usually this person is someone you have not met and so their avatar stands in for them.  They are an imaginary friend and you need to write to them as you would to a real life friend.

So, try to write your content (blog post, email, website, social media …) as if you are writing to a friend.  You won’t get it right for everyone but if you have one or more avatars they will help you find the right tone for your writing.

‘I bumped into my imaginary friend the other day.  Haven’t seen him for 50 years.  He’s put on weight.’

One way to improve your writing is to invite comments on your content.  This will help you to assess the impact of your writing.  So, invite comments and respond to them. Here are my invitations for this post but feel free to comment on whatever you like.

How do you communicate online with people you haven’t met?  Does online media help or hinder?  What are the pitfalls?

Donations: How You Address the Problem

This is the second of six posts about seeking donations online.  In the first post about your charity’s situation, I outlined some approaches to describing your cause, mindful of your target audience.  In this post about donations how you address the problem I show how you can make a number of responses to the same situation.

After you describe your charity’s situation, the next step is to describe what your charity actually does.  If you want your visitors to leave your site in droves, this is where you place your aims and objectives.  Remember, this is a website, not a funding application.

So, you need to build a relationship with your visitors.  You can do this on your site or there are other options, eg email lists.

If you have a number of landing pages, you can prepare distinct content for visitors with different interests.  After all, you’ve gone to the trouble of identifying them as members of particular groups.

So, if you are a cancer charity, to continue with the hypothetical example in my last post, what do you do for this type of visitor?  Let’s run with just two types of visitor.  They might be (1) a bereaved relative of someone who has died of cancer and (2) someone interested in cancer research who wishes to support it.

Let’s say the charity provides support for families of people with cancer.  A type 1 visitor may be interested in the support the charity offers.  They may be someone who needs support or someone who has had support and wants to show their appreciation.  The type 2 visitor may be more interested in how support functions as a part of treatment for cancer.

Implications for Your Website

Can you see the problem with using a single home page? It either limits you to addressing one type of visitor or else you have to crowd the page with several arguments, not all of which may be compatible.  Extra pages cost next to nothing and they mean your site can offer a range of visitors what they need.

One other point.  You need to be clear in your own mind about the distinction between your situation and how you address the problem.  There may be more than one response possible to a particular situation.  You may be working alongside other charities that offer services complementary to yours.  So you need to be mindful not only of what your visitors need from your site but also that you are clear about what you do and what you don’t do.  Your visitors might appreciate some guidance to an alternative site if yours is not the right one.  Whilst you might lose a visitor to another site, you may also be demonstrating your integrity.

Share in the comments examples of where the same activity can be described in different ways to different audiences.  If your website does this, it would help readers of this blog, if you can add a url.  Can you think of examples of more than one charity offering complementary approaches to the same situation?

The Hidden Life of Websites

Even though we’ve all seen pages that don’t fit the home page, about page, a few info pages, contact page model – do we think of them as integral to website design?  The hidden life of websites comprises all the pages we discover as we explore the site.  Here are some examples of pages that are not so easy to find because they’re not on the main  menu.

  1. When you first arrive at a website, you arrive on a landing page.  Some websites have many landing pages, others have one, usually the home page.  The website owner who knows their markets can design several pages that address each market’s needs directly.  So, you might Google a keyword or phrase and follow a link to a relevant landing page.  Or else you follow a link from a particular site to a landing page designed for visitors from that site.  How do you know it’s a landing page?  You might think you’re on the home page until you hit the home button and find yourself somewhere else entirely.
  2. Funnel pages often follow on from landing pages or if you follow a link to a particular offer.  Sales funnel offers may be described on one or over several sales pages.  It’s a funnel because other readers will join them from other pages.  They might tell you more about a product and then channel you to point where you must decide whether to buy a product or subscribe to an email list or sign a petition or …  Funnal pages keep you reading and you wouldn’t believe the time and effort that goes into them!
  3. The final funnel page is sometimes called a squeeze page.  There you have to decide to sign up or leave the site.  It will always have a form on it and usually a heading and minimal copy or a video.
  4. And there is the success page you visit following your purchase or subscription.  This page will thank you and sometimes you can log into part of the website previously inaccessible.
  5. Blogs are another part of the site where there may be more pages than you can find in the main navigation.

These pages are designed to do a job.  A website is not a static picture; it is a programmable machine.  Your challenge is to work out how to structure information so that it supports your purpose.  This works equally well whether you are selling something, seeking supporters for a cause, sharing information or displaying artwork.

If you can think of page types I’ve missed, share them in the comments.

Are Grants Bad News for Community Projects?

Last Monday I wrote about Burngreave New Deal for Communities (NDC).  What has NDC to do with web design?  I’ll show you how online and real life activities can support each other.  This Mutuality category is mostly about real-life community relationships and as it develops, you’ll see how it hangs together with online content.  Sources of finance for community projects are crucial to their success and sustainability.

NDC offered £50 million of grant money to Burngreave over 10 years.  Grant money (and sometimes loans and contracts) can be counter-productive.  I support many grant aided initiatives but I’ve seen over and again the negative effects they can have on community initiatives.  NDC was a massive  programme and I think it demonstrates some of the reasons grants can be problematic.

Some Problem Caused by Grants

I’ll develop these in future posts.

  1. Grants do not build relationships.  These days a lot of effort goes into monitoring and evaluating grant funded projects.  The Government monitored NDC very closely .  But monitoring and evaluation does not build relationships; too often it abdicates relationships because the funding body undertakes no financial risk.  If the government can afford to spend £1.71 billion on a programme it can afford that sum whether or not the programme is a success.  When the programme is over the funding body walks away with its statistics and has no further interest in what it has funded.
  2. Grants create dependency.  Dependency has real consequences for sustainability.  Too many community projects apply for grants before they build their business.  If their activity is not viable  before funding, it is not likely to be viable once the money runs out.  Projects become viable in various ways; trading is one but is not practical where the activity does not easily draw down revenue, eg additional teaching in schools.  So, the NDC programme suggested existing authorities would invest mainstream funding once an activity was proven.  This could happen in theory but is it likely if there is no mainstream commitment before funding is invested?
  3. Grants obscure the difference between vision and practicality.  It’s easy to have a good idea but more difficult to show the idea can be sustainable.  A big injection of cash too early can obscure the fact that an activity is not viable.
  4. Grants offer false social proof.  Once one grant is approved, other funders will follow suit.  Before you know it a good idea has lots of support before it runs into the sand because it is not sustainable.
  5. Grants create divisions within communities.  During the nineties Sheffield City Council had a policy of funding ethnic minority economic regeneration centres.  These divided neighbourhoods in two ways.  (1)  Each ethnic group (including White British) had their own centre.  There was plenty of funding in those days.  Where are they now?  (2) Most of these centres was internally divided between those who controlled the assets and those who did not.
  6. Grants are not sustainable.  Many good ideas flourish for a few years before the money runs out.  NDC was a ten-year programme and now, 3 years or so on from its closure, there is little to show for its work.  Whilst a few people and families can point to interventions that helped them, the neighbourhood as a whole has nothing to show for the investment.
  7. Grants undermine the purpose of recipients.  This is sometimes called ‘mission creep’.  What happens is someone has a good idea and then their fundraisers find the closest fit between the idea and the grants available.  Before long the community group  finds it is mainly doing stuff for the funding body and not their own agenda.  Call me fussy but if I’m not being paid I’d rather work for my group than for a funding body.

Do Grants Ever Help?

OK I do believe grants have a role, where an idea has proven its viability.  Until then we should be more cautious about offering grants without evidence of viability.

Next time: I’ll focus on NDC and its national evaluation.

Do grants help or hinder community development?  Have you examples to support your view?  Share your view in the comments below.