Website Review: Michigan Community Resources

For the past week or so I have been working on designing and building a website for Inspire Michigan, the non-profit I am working with this semester. The experience has, without a doubt, been incredibly humbling.

I generally consider myself a pretty savvy aficionado and consumer of social media and communication, but when it came time to actually construct and build a working website for my organization, the task proved to be pretty difficult. My biggest frustration is that despite an overarching vision for how I would like the website to look and feel like, migrating through the myriad of technical difficulties and having my ideas actually manifest themselves on the web is very challenging.

Believe me, after this experience, I have incredible respect for those people actually in the trenches designing website. However, to give myself a little reprieve, I am going to do something a little bit easier for this blog entry and instead just a critique a website.

I have decided to critique something close to home, the website for my brother’s non-profit, Michigan Community Resources.

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Michigan Community Resources started as a non-profit called Community Legal Resources that gave free legal resources and consulting to other non-profits and low-income residents. It since has expanded to provide numerous services related to community engagement, urban planning, and community organizing.

Despite the good work they do, their website needs some work.

First thing’s first, the organization needs to address the URL issue. The URL right now is clronline.org, which is reflective of the old name. Not only have they not updated to show the new name, but for those visitors who are unaware of the organization’s background and history, the URL makes little sense.

After finding your way to the landing page, there is a nice link to a video that explains the name change, but as you scroll down, the page is loaded with confusing PDF attachments that do not relate or pertain to a passing by visitor. The page has a lot of text, with only one image, and it seems exhausting and stressful to mine for the information that I need, even something as simple as what Michigan Community Resources does.

As you continue exploring through the website, the navigation proves to be incredibly difficult with far too many options on any given page. There may or many not be a purpose to these links, pages, and PDF’s, but even if there is there should be a filtering or layering effect to allow users to find exactly what they need.

The site also has problems with text overlapping onto images. Obviously, depending if an organization is using a CMS or is coding from scratch this can be more or less difficult, but it is still something that needs to be fixed.

Perhaps my biggest critique of the website is its lack of a comprehensive “Donate Now” campaign. Not only is there not a donate button that is easily found on every page of the site, but the “make a contribution” page is incredibly complicated and requires downloading a form. This, along with the lack of a succinct about page and mission statement, turns away many potential donors. I would guess that they receive little to no donations from the web.

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Inspire Michigan

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This semester I will be working with a non-profit called Inspire Michigan, an organization founded by Ned Staebler, an Ann Arbor resident and the current Vice President of Economic Development for Wayne State University. Inspire Michigan “is a political group created in response to the struggles we face in Michigan,” and works to seek, support, and train candidates that endorse a platform of investment in the state’s natural and economic resources. Inspire Michigan started so that political will could be attached to the goal of preparing Michigan to be a competitive force in the new global economy.

Inspire Michigan certainly has noble and lofty goals and communicating that message concisely and clearly over the web will be very difficult, but its a challenge I am incredibly excited to tackle. While I believe greatly in Inspire Michigan’s mission and message, there are a few obstacles ahead to improving its web presence and development.

My first and foremost objective is the website. Currently, Inspire Michigan is attached to Mr. Staebler’s personal website, and does not have an organizational website for itself. However, addressing this issue is not as easy as it sounds, as the URL  “InspireMichigan.com” is already taken. Once the URL issue is taken care of, my largest goal for the semester is to completely remake the Inspire Michigan webpage, developing a comprehensive site with an emphasis on aesthetic simplicity, easy navigation, and a strong development strategy.

Aesthetically, Inspire Michigan already has a logo (pictured above), but I want to expand on that and integrate it into every medium of communication. As Mansfield discusses, the logo and “look” of a non-profit should be consistent and continuous on every page on the web in order to act as a “brand.” As far as navigation, currently a few of the tabs do not lead to any information, sub-page, or even outside links. There is currently not a great venue or forum for updating on new events and updates, and a very limited connection to Inspire Michigan’s social media. These are the navigational issues I hope to improve. Given that Inspire Michigan, while a political group, is a non-profit, a well thought out and planned “Donate Now” campaign is also essential to its web development.

While these objectives are incredibly specific, per Drucker, I certainly haven’t left out my long-term planning and vision. My goals are to find who exactly is Inspire Michigan’s main audience and demographic, prepare Inspire Michigan’s communications for the 2014 campaigns, and make it a prominent and influential group for all future election cycles. Certainly these are most likely overly ambitious goals for a semester long internship, but I’ve never been afraid of hard work and there is nothing wrong with aiming high.