Connecting People to Causes they Care About
Can a simple website help improve awareness of (and collaboration among) nonprofits supporting Veterans in and around Philadelphia?
“I found it on Google,” he answered simply. I was chatting with a friend about a nonprofit he was very involved with and eventually asked how he originally learned about it. For some reason, his answer got me thinking. While I’m all for the power and impact of search engines; I wondered how many other people just like my friend were looking for ways to support nonprofits they care about but aren’t able to find them. The demand to serve is certainly strong as nearly 1 in 4 Americans formally volunteer in some capacity. And when the urge to do so strikes and they start their online search, hopefully, they get lucky by typing in the right keywords while at the same time a relevant, local nonprofit has an SEO-friendly website or large enough web presence to rank on the first page. But how might we remove those prerequisites to ultimately make it easier for people to discover nonprofits doing work they find meaningful?
When friends old and new ask me about the tech scene in Philly, one of the first resources I share is The Philly Startup Guide. Built and curated by Philly Startup Leaders, the website serves as “a guide to tech and entrepreneurship in the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection.” Simply put, it’s a one-stop shop curating and showcasing relevant resources (co-working spaces, venture capital firms, local tech startups, etc), offering a great jumping-off point for those who want to learn more about the entrepreneurial ecosystem in and around Philadelphia. A similar, easy-to-use resource should exist for those interested in volunteering for or supporting nonprofits.
Upon diving into a potential solution for this issue, I quickly realized the breadth and depth of the hundreds of nonprofits located just in Philadelphia alone. Perhaps I could start small to quickly validate the demand for such a resource by scoping it down to just a single cause or population. Many worthwhile causes made sense to focus on, but one really jumped out to me. While I have no formal connection to the military, I’ve been lucky enough to build meaningful relationships with dozens of incredible veterans throughout my life. With 50,000+ Veterans living in Philadelphia county (US Census) and plenty of great organizations supporting Veterans in a variety of ways, I thought this could serve as a great area of focus for the project.
Armed with a scoped down — but hopefully more specific and actionable — idea, I got to work on building the site to showcase a network of mission-aligned organizations. The first step was combing through a handful of existing resources like GuideStar, Charity Navigator, Volunteer Match, and others in order to build a spreadsheet of information on relevant nonprofits. Once I had that spreadsheet in a decent spot, it was time to construct a simple webpage to collect and showcase these organizations.
The rise of user-friendly website builders like Weebly, Squarespace, and Wix has made it easier than ever for people — regardless of their web development experience — to build and launch websites. Ultimately, I went with Webflow for this project due to its multiple CMS-friendly features (see video below) as well as the ability to easily customize the look and feel of the site within the tool. Thanks to a host of built-in templates on Webflow (I used “Escape”) getting the site up and running was fairly straightforward. A few customizations here, a couple of new buttons there, and before I knew it the site was updating dynamically from the database and looked halfway decent. For mapping, I opted for a 3rd party tool called Atlist that made creating and embedding a custom map a breeze. Purchasing the phillyvetwork domain through Godaddy and pointing it to webflow was done in just a few clicks. Fortunately, the [cityname]vetwork domain is widely available for other cities that want to give this a shot (don’t feel obligated to include the liberty bell logo in your version of it…)
I’ll be the first to admit, this site is not without flaws. There’s no doubt I missed or forgot some organizations doing great things for Veterans. (The linked google form at the bottom will hopefully make it easy to update). Moreover, one could argue that the site is trying to serve too many stakeholders such as nonprofits, volunteers, donors, and Veterans at once. Could there be a better way to design a site (or multiple?) that directly addresses the needs of each group more efficiently? Most likely the answer is a resounding yes.
Other ideas and future enhancements include:
- A section calling out specific “needs” for each organization (board members, volunteers, donations, advocacy, etc)
- Additional filters for specific causes (legal/health/etc), GuideStar levels, service branch, etc
- Adding an ‘events’ or volunteer schedule page
- Featuring one of the organizations each month with some additional information
Again, as a civilian with no military experience, I don’t know what I don’t know. Veterans, nonprofit leaders, web designers and others, please reach out with tweaks or updates I should consider for the next version of this project via the comments section below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
All that being said, as LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffman noted “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” If you like the site, please feel free to share it around! Thanks for reading and sticking with me to the end of the post :)