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January 5, 2023

Mission Multiplier: Websites: Web or Ball of Yarn?

Jane Pfeiffer

Hello and welcome to Mission Multiplier. I’m Jane Pfeiffer, founder and President of Fieldtrip. Fieldtrip is a marketing and branding firm that works with nonprofits and purpose driven organizations to help you close the gap between marketing and your greatest potential. When you close that gap, you create a mission multiplier.

Over the holidays, I had this great idea. My mom was an avid sewer and had tons of yards of fabric scraps in her basement. I’m not a seamstress and was looking for an idea of how to use these scraps in some type of meaningful Christmas gift. I then went on the great Pinterest and found an idea that required making twine out of fabric scraps. Then I would crochet them into these little scrap fabric baskets. Sounded great, right? I planned to make about ten of them. I’d never crocheted in my life. I can twist fabric. Okay- let’s just say I failed on multiple levels. I tried and tried and tried. Finally got a technique called a magic circle, which was the base of it.

After about 20 tries, I finally got that right and then made the first basket. The tension was inconsistent, so it looked like this lumpy mess. I tried it again and then I didn’t really add the stitches correctly as I was expanding the base. That attempt looked wonky. I tried a few other things and finally gave up and thought, “Well, I’ll just sew it together.” That looked like a ball of mess. Needless to say, I did not get that gift. However, I am determined to figure out how to do it because I don’t like to quit. That’ll now have to be a gift for next year. On a similar note, as I’m playing with yarn and ripping more than I’m stitching, it got me to think about how websites are similar to a ball of yarn.

It might sound crazy. I’m sure if you’re an avid stitcher/crochet/knitting/etc., you can use that experience to look at a ball of yarn and see unlimited potential. All the things you can make. Contrarily, if you’re a novice like me having something like this magic circle where it’s interconnected, it’s difficult to figure out the right formula. Once you have it, it’s a solid base from which to create lots of things. Not quite as many as an open ball of yarn, but that structure is important from the beginning so that you can create more following.

Often nonprofits, when they’re approaching updating or building a new website, they tend to think of a ball of yarn. It’s limitless. You can just add another ball to it when it ends and you start at the beginning. You work through a sequential process and at the end you have something beautiful. More times than not, by approaching it in that way, you end up with something that yes, is beautiful, but it’s also fairly rigid in what it can and can’t do.

On the other hand, if we were to think about a magic circle or a magic web, it is a solid foundation. You might not be able to have as many options, but what you are creating is very straightforward. It serves a purpose and it can still take many shapes and forms so that it is uniquely reflective of your organization. I thought about what would be the Magic Circle or magic web for nonprofit websites, and there’s a couple key foundation points.

First and foremost is thinking about the ultimate use. Making sure that your website is not “me” focused: talking about what we do as an organization, what we offer, why we’re here, our story, we offer all these features. It’s critical to really focus on you (the user, the wearer of the stitched item and thinking about their needs and only their needs) and then reverse engineering that back into what you have to tell multiple audiences. As a sub-note to audiences, we have to think about the primary audience- it isn’t your donors, it’s not your volunteers, it’s not your board of directors. It’s your clients (your beneficiaries). What do they need from you in creating this asset?

Similarly, the second foundation piece is to focus on benefits and not features. This is not about you and it’s not even about what you do. It’s about the benefit of working or using or coming to you or giving to you. How does that help me become a better person if I’m in your audience? Benefits, not features.

Third is iterative and not linear. This was the impetus for how I compared it to a ball of yarn. You can’t think about it from a linear beginning and ending process, but an iterative process. You start, but there is structure and you’re going around and around building that foundation and touching and testing it to make sure that it holds up. A missed stitch here means the whole thing, the whole project’s going to be off. This interconnectivity of the foundation is what everything is built upon. That’s where your time begins. All that happens before you get into the fancy design and the eye pleasing images and content (the things that we typically think about as components of a website). The foundation comes first then flexibility. The foundation of the site is something that can evolve and flex with you as your organization changes, as it grows, as it shrinks, as it becomes niche, or any number of changes. How flexible and how versatile is that approach? Actionable and not descriptive?

Focus on creating actions that can be taken on your website, not a description of how it works. When you’re thinking about actions, you really have to think about usability and accessibility. If your clients might have limited access to the internet, lower reading level, what might be some of the obstacles that they encounter? An example is a hamburger menu – Those three lines in the top corner that house where the menu lives. Well, does your potential benefactor know that intuitively? Let’s take away the guesswork. Let’s look at everything we can to make this site usable and functional for the most important audience. And then finally, hostage free. Now I’ve talked about this in a prior video, but making sure that the website asset works for you and that you’re not beholden to it and can only make small changes or are dependent on an outside source to manage the site on a day to day basis.

Those are the things that go into your magic circle for a nonprofit website, and there’s so much more detail, but it’s a solid base from which to start with and does allow you to create many things. Most importantly, your most important marketing asset. Thanks for watching and find more videos at