Madison Ave. Collective

est. 2008

Understanding accessibility

Designing a website that’s “accessible” means you’re providing an equivalent experience for all users, regardless of the physical ability an individual user may or may not have. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) puts it this way: “Accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact” with your website without barriers.

Who is the W3C? They’re an international non-governmental association that develops technical specifications for HTML and CSS, as well as recommendations and best practices for security, online payments, and accessibility. The W3C’s international gold standard for website accessibility rules is called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

What federal law says

Section 508 of The Rehabilitation Act, first adopted in 1973 and amended by Congress in 1998, requires federal agencies to make their electronic information accessible to people with disabilities. The rules were originally established in the fairly early days of the Internet, but Section 508 was modernized in 2017 to align with WCAG.

What this means in practical terms is, adhering to Section 508 for website development is synonymous with WCAG compliance. And while these standards are merely best-practice “recommendations” according to the W3C, for all U.S. government agencies — as well as for businesses and organizations that receive federal funding — these accessibility standards are requirements under Section 508.

What’s the difference between ADA and Section 508?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which became law in 1990, requires state and local governments, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and labor unions make “reasonable accommodations” for employees with disabilities. ADA is a broad law against disability discrimination that applies to agencies and organizations with 15 or more employees. While it doesn’t go into technical details about website development, Section 508, on the other hand, essentially tells employers how to comply with ADA. How so? By following the WCAG.

In addition to ADA and Section 508, there are other federal laws that touch on the subjects of website development and access to electronic information. The Connected Government Act of 2018, for example, requires all new and redesigned federal agency websites to be accessible using mobile devices.

What state law says

Oregon’s Department of Administrative Services has developed a set of guidelines for usability and accessibility for state agency websites. Effective March 2017, all agency websites must:

WCAG accessibility checklist

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are separated into three levels of conformance. These roughly translate into “basic stuff” (level A), “essential stuff” (level AA), and “shootin’ for the moon stuff” (level AAA). The W3C acknowledges that AAA may be impossible to achieve, so for the most part we’ve only included rules from the first two levels here. Also, for the sake of brevity — and to prevent eyes from going crossed — we’ve omitted highly technical and fine point recommendations. (If you care to dig deeper into the geeky details, W3C has more than 1,100 technical specs.)

Here’s our quick reference checklist for developing a website that conforms to WCAG and Section 508 standards.

1. Provide text alternatives for non-text content

2. Make page layout and content adaptable

3. Use color appropriately

4. Make text readable

5. Provide keyboard and user controls

6. Avoid negative physical reactions (seizures)

7. Use page titles

8. Make the website easy to navigate

While accessible website design isn’t rocket surgery, it does require an approach to planning that starts at the very beginning. Done right, accessibility is woven into all phases and stages of website development: content strategy and information architecture, user experience and visual design, and programming.

Need help implementing these accessibility standards for your website? Contact Logan Hoffman at logan@madcollective.com or call 541.971.4113 ext. 711.

This article is also published on Medium.

Here at Madison Ave. Collective, we have a tested naming process for creating a memorable name that engages your most critical audiences and positions you for success.

All branding and marketing projects start with questions. Lots of questions. In order to uncover unknowns and proceed with confidence, we recommend starting with a Discovery phase. Learn all about Discovery for your next branding project in this free, 8-page illustrated guide.

All website development projects start with questions. Lots of questions. In order to uncover unknowns and proceed with confidence, we recommend starting with a Discovery phase. Learn all about Discovery in this free, 8-page illustrated guide.

From positioning statements to elevator pitches to taglines, here are eight messaging elements you can use to define and promote your business or nonprofit.

This handy infographic will take you step-by-step through our branding process.

Nonprofits exist to make an impact. And branding can help you deepen the impact you make: clarifying your goals, translating your mission into a powerful story, and bringing your entire organization into alignment.

The importance of branding for nonprofits is well expressed by several notable names, including the World Wildlife Fund, The Red Cross, and Cancer Research UK, all of which are “widely recognized,” as “people from all over the world know what they do and who they are,” said Dan Linn at Solution Link. Why are these organizations well known? — “because they have a great brand strategy.”

Developing such a strategy is a complex task that touches on many different areas, all of which are achievable with the right expertise. What’s often most difficult lies closer to home: getting internal buy-in from your team during the branding process.

Today we’re going to share a simple technique to help you move through that challenge successfully. Before we go there, let’s start by looking at some of the markers of a strong brand.

Building a stronger brand

A strong brand is one that differentiates your nonprofit from others in the same space. One that harnesses the power of storytelling to communicate what you do in a way that inspires people to join in your mission. One that builds credibility by expressing your leadership, your impact, and your partnerships.

To bring these thoughts to life, let’s see how our client, the Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems at Oregon State University, does so.

Example: the Center for Small Farms

The Center for Small Farms hired the MAC to strengthen their brand with a messaging toolkit that included an elevator pitch, several audience-specific value propositions, and extended copywriting appropriate for a variety of applications (such as a website or brochure).

Here are a few excerpts that demonstrate some of the principles we mentioned above.

1. Express leadership

“The Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems is a leader in sustainable, local food production. We’re working all over Oregon to unravel challenges and create innovation in farming communities.”

2. Express impact

“Small farms boost local economies, support the environment, promote public awareness, and build community resilience. And every dollar of support helps us do more.”

3. Express partnerships

“We have partners in every corner of the industry, who trust us because we’re effective and support us because it matters.”

By developing language designed to strengthen our client’s brand, we helped the nonprofit position itself to reach larger donors and pursue its financial goals.

That said, doing good work is only part of the process. How a nonprofit handles feedback within its team plays a major role in determining how successful that work will be.

The buy-in challenge

It’s one thing to hire an agency to partner with you on your branding. It’s quite another to persuade your internal stakeholders on that partner’s strategic recommendations.

Why is it so hard?

The disconnect comes down to a difference in what we know, and where we’re standing.

1. Different expertise

The staff and board of a nonprofit are experts in doing the work of the organization, and they typically care a great deal about that work. Specialists within a branding firm, meanwhile, are experts in brand communication.

Sometimes it’s hard for internal stakeholders to trust external expertise, because it stems from a skill set and rationale outside their own experience.

2. Different vantage point

Internal stakeholders are insiders: they have powerful insight into the nonprofit’s values and offerings. But being immersed also lends itself to blind-spots about how your organization is perceived by those you seek to reach.

Sometimes the creative solutions that meet the needs of your external audiences feel counterintuitive to an insider. When doing the tremendously important work of branding, it’s crucial to see from the outside in.

Seek feedback — not buy-in

The solution to this challenge is disarmingly simple. Change the goal from “getting everyone’s buy-in” to “hearing everyone’s input.”

It’s rare for everyone on a large team to agree on anything, let alone on creative decisions. In fact, perfect consensus can be detrimental to creative work. The most daring, noticeable, memorable, and effective ideas are also the most likely to get cut right off the bat, leaving only the safest and blandest ideas to be getting on with.

Great branding isn’t the result of unanimous committee agreement. It’s the work of small, tightly focused teams with the experience, research, and insight to make decisions that prove their worth over time.

To be clear, it’s vital to include your team in the branding process. As internal experts, their perspectives are invaluable. As ambassadors of your brand, they need to be on the same page about what it all means. And as human beings, they’re sure to feel frustrated if they’re ignored.

Switching the focus from buy-in to feedback addresses all these needs at once.

How it works

1. Seek input early and often

Be proactive about collecting input from those with the vantage point to offer meaningful feedback. Listen well, evaluate how their input aligns with stated project goals, and integrate what’s useful.

2. Reserve the right to make a different decision

Don’t count on getting 100 percent buy-in on any step of the branding process. Allow yourself to rule out feedback that’s off target. Expect some amount of disagreement with your decisions. It’s normal for people to dislike what they aren’t used to; that’s a human impulse.

Remember, the goal isn’t to please everyone on your team, but to make decisions that empower your organization to do its best work.

When you take this approach, beautiful things can happen. Even amid internal disagreement, proactive listening combined with confident leadership can bring an entire team together.

The process in action: the Center for Small Farms

The client we mentioned earlier in this article is a case in point. Here’s how the process went for the Center for Small Farms.

  1. We did our homework: the MAC performed a brand audit, then conducted interviews with the nonprofit’s directors, extension agents working directly with farmers, the farmers themselves, and others.
  2. Drawing from what we learned about the nonprofit’s mission, offerings, lived culture, and audiences, we developed messaging components firmly founded on research and expertise.
  3. We worked with the nonprofit’s directors (a team of two) to fine-tune the messaging.
  4. We scheduled a round-table discussion to present the refined work to the larger team and collect their feedback.
  5. We met with the two directors to review the team’s input and evaluate what we heard. We didn’t incorporate every note, but we did consider every voice and integrate input that served the project goals.

The result was a strong, unified messaging toolkit, which will help the entire nonprofit unify their voice throughout the state of Oregon. And because each team member knows their voice was heard, they’re ready to stand behind it.

Tricky, but worth it

At the MAC we understand how hard it can be for nonprofit teams to navigate internal politics, avoid the pitfalls of committee decision-making, and gather multiple perspectives into a productive consensus. It’s a process we’ve helped many of our clients navigate.

In fact, we see it as part of our job as a branding partner to provide this type of guidance, helping each organization work through their internal process successfully to arrive at a final product that truly serves their goals.

Hard work? Sure, it can be.

Worth every minute? Absolutely.

This article is also published on Medium.

Branding for nonprofits is not just a fundraising tactic. In fact, it’s not a tactic at all. Branding is a strategy that serves as the compass for your different initiatives.

A strong brand builds your trustworthiness and credibility. And the best way to grow trust and connect people to your nonprofit is through brand storytelling.

Your story creates a connection between your organization and individuals. It invites them to get involved and shape a future narrative.

We’re not just telling a story to entertain. The goal is to tell a story that draws people in and inspires them to share it with their own connections. You want to engage your audience in a powerful way that elicits emotional connection that translates to taking action.

Brand storytelling framework

You may doubt your ability to tell a captivating story. You may even doubt that your nonprofit has a story worth telling. But I say, baloney.

You don’t lack the ability and you’re not without a story. What you’re missing is a framework to weave your nonprofit’s brand into a story that wins you followers.

For this, we’ll turn to Joseph Campbell.

Campbell, a mythological researcher, was best known for his work in comparative mythology and religion. Through his studies he discovered a common narrative pattern called the hero’s journey.

The hero’s journey provides a foundational framework that can be applied to crafting a captivating brand story that has emotional appeal, is relatable, and will draw people in.

We’ll roughly follow Campbell’s concept to illustrate how you can use the hero’s journey to tell your nonprofit’s brand story. A quick case study on the nonprofit charity:water will provide a concrete example of how to put the framework into action.

Step one: Identify your main character and their trigger

Every story needs a main character or protagonist. This character (or hero) is someone or something that your audience can identify with and have empathy for.

Your main character is likely your founder, but it could also be your nonprofit as a whole, your product, or service.

Once you’ve identified your main character, list out their main personality traits and attributes. These attributes can help you connect with your audience in a humanistic way.

Charity:water’s main character is its founder Scott Harrison. Years of promoting nightclubs and fashion events in New York left him financially successful but spiritually bankrupt.

This tension and frustration was his trigger. Harrison asked himself, “What would the opposite of my life look like?”

He leaned in to the trigger and signed up for an eight-month volunteer position on Mercy Ships: hospital ships that provide free medical service to the world’s poorest nations.

Step two: Address the conflict

Your hero’s conflict doesn’t need to be absolutely gut-wrenching to be inspiring or believable. But without conflict, your story is a lullaby.

Since you’re a nonprofit, the conflict to include in your story is likely found in your mission statement. Your conflict is the issue or problem you are determined to solve.

For Cornerstone Associates, a client of the MAC, the main conflict it addresses are the barriers people with mental and physical disabilities face in becoming integrated into the community.

For Harrison, when he was volunteering with Mercy Ships, he encountered a level of poverty and disease that he didn’t know existed. This experience conflicted with what he believed to be an acceptable standard of living and became the impetus for starting his nonprofit.

When speaking to their followers, charity:water invites people to imagine what life would be like without water. This stirs up an inner conflict with the goal of encouraging people to get involved with the nonprofit’s cause.

Step three: The revelation

The struggle with conflict leads to the eventual revelation that the issue or problem can be addressed.

For your nonprofit’s story, the revelation could be how your founder discovered a solution to a specific problem or how a service you offer addresses a specific need.

When Harrison returned to New York, he was determined to address the medical problems related to inadequate access to clean drinking water.

On his 31st birthday, he launched charity:water by asking for donations of $31 instead of gifts. This first step to addressing the identified problem brought in $15,000 and helped build the nonprofit’s first wells.

For followers of charity:water, they understand how their financial contributions or sweat equity contribute to improved health and quality of life.

Step four: Leading the transformation

This is the part of the story where you show how your nonprofit is solving an issue in a unique way. Through the transformation, you illustrate the value you provide. This transformation invites your followers to to connect with you on an emotional and logical level.

The brand story for charity:water contains two transformations. Harrison was personally transformed, and through his nonprofit he is transforming the lives of others.

Finding your nonprofit’s brand story

Now that you have a foundational framework, get out there and look for your brand stories. Stories are developing every day; you just have to be willing to look.

Look for small, specific stories that bring your brand to life. How did a project help one person? Was a volunteer transformed by working with your nonprofit?

Win followers

By working with the hero’s journey framework and being on constant alert for intriguing stories, you’re well armed to craft a story that solidifies your nonprofit brand in people’s minds and wins you followers.

When you tell a captivating story, you humanize your nonprofit and invite connection. When you strike a chord, your story will inspire people to follow along and actively help you achieve your mission.

This article is also published on Medium.

It’s a summer evening and you’re attending a benefit concert for a local nonprofit.

As your eyes sweep the crowd, you notice a 55-year-old woman subtly snapping pictures of the band that she’ll later post to Facebook or text to her kids. She has donated to the nonprofit for years, and the concert is just one more opportunity to make a contribution.

Meanwhile, a 37-year-old couple is hovering around the beer garden, waiting for their chance to take a picture with the nonprofit director and big benefactors so they can impress their Facebook friends. As they wait, they browse the organization’s website to learn about donation opportunities.

A group of 25-year-old friends first learned about the concert thanks to the trendy band. When they found out it was a benefit concert — extra bonus! As the lead singer croons, they artfully take pictures and videos for their Instagram feed: #giveback.

Everyone appears to be enjoying the evening, but as a member of the board of directors, you’re concerned that the nonprofit has missed an opportunity to drive home its message with potential advocates.

What could have been done differently?

Generational marketing

Generational marketing, the strategy of segmenting audiences based on generational characteristics, provides marketers with insights to the preferences, ideals, and values held by different age groups.

This knowledge allows organizations to craft messages that will resonate with target audience segments. That said, as with any segmentation strategy, remember that each audience group is comprised of unique individuals. Be wary of making sweeping generalizations or stereotypical appeals.

How to use it

Depending on your business sector, your unique selling point or brand promise could be cross-generational. This is especially likely if you’re directing a nonprofit.

Regardless, when sharing your message you’ll need to adjust your approach to effectively reach different generational segments.

Start with common characteristics, and then dig deeper for each targeted generation.

Once you’ve nailed down your message for each segment, you can ask:

Messages that drive action and engagement

So, how can you use generational targeting to drive engagement and action among different audience segments? Here are some ideas to get you started.

For Baby Boomers, your message could appeal to their desire for self-fulfillment by using the second person point of view. Also, do not remind them that they are aging.

Marketing tactics for baby boomers

When creating a compelling message for Generation X, focus on your brand value. Make a direct connection between their individual needs and how your brand could impact their life. Also, if appropriate, subtly appeal to status.

Marketing tactics for generation X

When targeting Generation Y (aka Millennials), brands have the opportunity to align their message with this generation’s desire to make a difference and help the greater good. If you do this while creatively communicating your brand’s personality, you’ve struck gold.

Marketing ideas for millennials

Encore: Taking these principles to the next concert

Another benefit concert has arrived.

This time, your nonprofit has a firm understanding of the generational differences and preferences among its target audience groups. With this knowledge, you’ve used targeted messaging in your pre-event promotions to encourage attendance.

You recognized Baby Boomers as valuable contributors, thanked them for their regular donations, and told them that the founders wanted to meet them in person at the concert. At the concert they received material about becoming a legacy donor, meeting their desire to make a long-term impact.

You encouraged Generation X to attend, since the funds raised could improve their families’ access to a new community initiative. The invitation to become a regular donor was included in their confirmation email.

You targeted Generation Y through messaging that clearly outlined how attendance would help the organization raise the remaining funds necessary to finish a community project. You also provided the opportunity to text your nonprofit a small donation, as the first step towards a long-term relationship.

As a result, attendance increased 20 percent over the previous year, and the nonprofit met its fundraising goal. Better yet, individuals from Generation X and Y — groups that had been minimally engaged — signed up for volunteer opportunities and sustaining, automated donations.

Knowing your target audience’s age and the factors that shape generational attitudes and perceptions allows you to craft a message that is more likely to resonate and drive action.

This article is also published on Medium.

If you’re a project manager looking for guidance on finding the best creative partner, or a procurement specialist looking for ways to streamline your company’s policies, this book will help you navigate your search and get results that provide the return on investment you need.