A Giving Business Model

Asking for money ain't easy....

And anyone who has ever tried raising funds for charity will say the same. Whether it's $5 or $500 - it takes great time and energy to raise money for the most worthwhile of causes.

Giveness, a company that was first established in October 2006, overcomes this barrier by enabling users to make purchases online at Giveness.com for everyday items, while concurrently donating to the charity of their choice - without any added cost to them. Buyers can shop, buy, and give creating a win-win (and win!) situation for the merchant, the nonprofit and the supporter.

Waldvogel and Werling, the Founders of
Giveness, formed a sub-affiliate network partnership with both eBay and Amazon.com to enable this model to work. They have also developed relationships with over 30 major retailers (including Gap, Apple Store and Macy's), and when online shoppers make their purchase from any one of them through the Giveness site, a percentage - anywhere from 4 to 30 % - goes to one of the nonprofits registered with the site - as pre-selected by the purchaser before they made the purchase.

There's no membership fee or registration required for purchasers, and
Giveness also provides an online community where users can engage with message boards, and post photos and other information about themselves. Nonprofits and individuals can register for this community, which currently hosts over 500 members.

Nonprofits interested in registering are carefully screened, and so far 164 charities and nonprofits have signed up.

Spreading the Word with Widgets
Nonprofits and individual members of the online Giveness community can take advantage of Flash-based "widgets" on the site. The Fundraising Widget Application allows nonprofits to create their own widget to post on their own web page (or Facebook profile, blog, etc). The widget makes it easy for site visitors to shop and benefit their organization directly. The widget can even feature content (ie/ product recommendations) that suit the nonprofit organization's mission and interests.

Giveness.com won 2nd place in the Philanthropy category of the seomoz.org 2008 Web 2.0 awards, and I can see why. The website makes great use of web 2.0 concepts, and are the depiction of a well-designed, friendly, usable site. When I made a selection to shop at a store through the site, the first thing I was asked for was the charity I'd like to donate to. I selected one randomly and immediately received a 'Thank You' message on the screen, before it moved me through to the store.

The quasi-personalization the site is enabled to perform continues to build a relationship with the user. After my first 'purchase', every time I visit pages on
Giveness.com it recognizes me and it the top right, there it is again "Thank you for supporting...".

I'm always keen on learning of sites like this that are out there - of nonprofits who are using the power and efficiencies of the web to do things better. Because as we all know, fundraising ain't easy.


Ambiguous animation painted on public walls

Amazing stop-motion animation done in Buenos Aires and in Baden by Blu.


Web Design Best Practices (part 3): Navigation

I'm not a graphic designer, but that doesn't mean I don't know where to find nacho chips at the supermarket.

Before you start thinking I've lost my marbles by putting these two seemingly incongruous elements together in a sentence, let me explain myself. Navigating through a website is a lot like making your way through a supermarket. Supermarkets and websites share many characteristics which we can consider through the concept of "affordances", or "action possibilities which are readily perceivable by an actor" (definition from

At a supermarket, these expectations are broadly related to 1)store layout, 2)product placement, and 3) cross-promotion. On a website, these expectations are related to 1) homepage layout, 2) product placement, and 3) cross-promotions. Similar, no?

At the supermarket, you arrive at the entrance, get your shopping cart, and make your way through the sliding doors. You know with your eyes closed that the first food you're likely to see are fruits and vegetables, then bread, then meat. (Supermarkets, at least the big ones, also tend to promote "green" products at the entrance now too - for public relations purposes).

On a website, you have come to expect that the website homepage will give you a thorough, if high-level, overview of everything that's in the site, starting with the "reason" for the company's presence, the products or services the company offers, and the company's actions (through news, events, and public relations).

Second of all, without knowing why, you have a pretty good sense of where you'll find, let's say, nacho chips. Even if you've never been to the specific supermarket before, you are pretty confident that nacho chips will be found a few rows to the left of the vegetables, probably in the aisle adjacent to dairy products. Your knowledge of the placement of a product supermarket is pretty astonishing, isn't it? It's because of intuition based on past experience, habits, and the practicality of gathering this product as part of experience of fulfilling tasks in a more or less linear way associated with your household economy. In other words, nacho chips are a treat, but while you are picking up required items such as butter or milk, they sure are nice to have.

Similarly on a website, you have a pretty good sense where you might find the "search" box: on the top right of the screen. Websites often use this space on the screen for search because it is habitual, and practical, to place a site-wide tool in a highly visible location without limiting space for core business.

The third element of navigation has to do with cross-promotion. You know that you are likely to find salsa at eye-level beside the nacho chips. While logically salsa shares more qualities with tomato sauce or barbecue sauce, its application is directly related to nacho chips (and subsequently related to watching a football match on TV). What if supermarkets also placed avocados, garlic and lemons beside the chips? Would people eat more guacamole?

Similarly on websites, when you're on, say, a product page, you are likely to find information about product support, a sign-up for a product newsletter, and options to contact a sales-person.

How do you take this information on intuition, placement and affordances and turn it into a better user experience? Some of the answer comes down to following best practices, seeing what your competition is doing, studying websites you admire or dislike, and working with a user experience specialist to put best practice into practice. And some of the answer comes from learning about affordances. Frankly there is no better way than to sit beside a real-world user of your website and watch closely to see what they find, how they move through the site, and whether they do what you want them to do.

You may also benefit from a fact-finding trip to the supermarket, and then put your metaphorical avocados at metaphorical eye-level, beside the metaphorical nacho chips.



I Love it! - Available at Amazon.


Web Design Best Practices (part 2): Accessibility

In addition to acknowledging that users have developed habits of interaction over the years, every well designed site should be accessible to the largest (target) audience possible. But accessibility goes farther than that.

Websites are a tool as well as communication channel, we must consider not only the demographic and psychographic profiles of our market, we must also think of very nuts and bolts things such as disabilities (visual impairment, dyslexia, deafness, colour blindness) and constraints (high-speed versus dial-up access, screen size, operating systems, and so on).

Accessibility features refer to various standards and commonalities that assist users by giving them what they expect, and what they need, to make their interaction successful and efficient. For more information on technical aspects of accessibility, please visit the World Wide Web Consortium
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0.

One way of looking at the issue of accessibility is to think that websites should be easily
read. The concept of readability captures the speed and efficiency with which information is consumed and processed. It can refer to navigability, various types of visual information (graphics, imagery, rich media, and to alternatives to rich media) in addition to written words.

Of course, some traditional graphical design issues are at work when designing a page. But online, there are far more rigorous constraints than there are on the printed page. One recent
study by Jakob Nielsen suggests that there on a web page there should be no more than 28% of the content one would view on the printed page. According to this study, users spend an average of 4.4 seconds per 100 words.

What should this mean for a well-designed website? First, put your content creation machine on a strict diet. Say more with fewer words, use small graphics, bullet-points and bolded text to enhance the readability of the page. House your content in a navigation schema that makes it easy for text readers to explore.

Web Design Best Practices (part 1)

Clients often ask - heck, I often ask myself - what best practices should be followed when designing a website. I'm sorry to inform you that there is no formula for the perfect website. In fact, it could be argued that every website is as unique as the organization behind it.

That doesn't mean there aren't principles that should be adhered to (or at least acknowledged). I'll share some insights that should help as you consider what should be on your site, and how it should be designed: page layout; navigation; user-centred design; accessibility; how to improve your site through iterations; and features that should be included. I'm going to start with the complicated question of

When designing a website, people consider
what they want to include in the site before they consider why elements are included. This is a mistake. The first, and most important feature of a well-designed website, is the user-friendly way in which the consistency of the organization’s business and communication objectives meet with the designed end-result. Put another way for the sake of clarity, this means that every element – from content, design, navigation and interactive features – must be considered in light of the organization’s intentions. Only those items that advance your goals should be included.

With the advent of social media, users have come to expect a broader range of tools available to them on websites. Many sites incorporate sound and video into their sites, and provide sophisticated feedback mechanisms, planning tools, easy-to-fill contact forms, enabling saving and forwarding page-level information, and access to tools such as live chatting. It is important to remember that interactive tools should always be used in response to an organization’s objectives. For example, where video and sound files may help one company sell more products, another organization may find a calendar tool is very valuable to respond to end users’ needs to form communities around common events.

This does not mean that every website is radically different from every other website. End users have developed expectations for how they interact with sites over the past decade of website usage. In terms employed by the user experience community, these are often referred to as “affordances”. For example, users expect there to be a “contact us” page on every website and that usually "contact us" is included in the site's header.

If there is one formula for a well-designed site, it would be: your communication and business intentions + your users' intentions = success. In other words, provide what you need to further your goals in a way that is easily grasped by your valuable and time-pressed end users.