Selling the Relationship | npENGAGE

Selling the Relationship

By on Sep 2, 2010


While reviewing some new wireframes with a client the other day, we began to compare their own, nonprofit website with some other, commercial sites. In a way, commercial websites have it easy. Typically, they have tangible products or services to sell, making it really clear what they want users to do on the site (buy, buy, buy!).

Nonprofit websites don’t usually sell something tangible. Sure, you may have an eCommerce store or even a Virtual Gift store, but there is always a bigger message than just “buy, buy, buy” or even “donate, donate, donate”.

My client’s feedback on their new wireframe was something along the lines of, “When I visit a site like, I immediately know what you want me to do. Here, it’s not as clear. What is it we want people to do on our site?” I responded that it’s more challenging for nonprofits because you’re trying to sell a relationship, which can be defined differently for each organization. For some organizations, a relationship may mean that users rely on your site as a source for news on a specific topic. For others, it may mean that they care about your cause and simply want to keep up with what you’re doing to make a difference. Sure, donating and possibly buying something should be part of that relationship, but not likely at first. It takes time to cultivate relationships and your website should provide something valuable for users and offer a positive experience so that they’ll ultimately value your organization.

Take some time to consider your online goals with respect to your relationship with a constituent. I can bet that your goals may include “increase donations” or “build our house file”. What are you offering in return? You’ve got to sell a relationship, so what does that look like for you?



Lacey Kruger, principal information architect for Blackbaud, designs online properties for nonprofits that delight and inspire. Whether a full scale website, a campaign site or a peer to peer fundraising site, Lacey guides clients through a research-based and user-centered approach to design. In her 15+ years at Blackbaud, she has developed a deep understanding of nonprofit web presences. That knowledge, along with her years of experience in information design, have established her as an industry expert.

Lacey has written a Blackbaud eBook, “A Guide to the Nonprofit Web Design Process” and her article, “Designing Nonprofit Experiences: Building a UX Toolkit” was published in User Experience magazine. She has presented at industry conferences including bbcon, IA Summit and BIG Design.

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