Mirror, Mirror on the Wall …

Jakob Nielsen’s Alert Box made a straight forward jab at national/chapter branding relationships in his March 30 Alert on Donation Usability. Lisa Junker pointed this out and thrust the challenge directly to associations: are your chapters mirroring your association? Ask yourself, are your chapter websites …

1. Completely different than the national site?

2. Violating elementary brand guidelines as using a consistent color scheme and proper logo use?

3. State different mission or goals, emphasize different issues or state different facts about the profession/trade?

As chapter administrators for five groups, we know the website question is fraught with issues from who’s going to pay to whose site is it anyway? So this is certainly a thorny question. Add to that, the fact that busy volunteers don’t put website at the top of their to-do list. But the Nielsen study gives us the best reason yet for charging headlong into this issue:

“Missing or confusing information aside, the worst user experience erosion in this study was caused by heinous integration of local chapters with the higher-level organization.“As for forging an integrated user experience across organization levels, forget it. Most non-profits could substantially improve their overall Web presence by creating a unified look-and-feel and supporting other improvements for local sites.”

It turns out that when people are looking at which nonprofits to support they look for the organization’s presence in their own community. The only item more important is mission. So imagine what happens if they don’t recognize the chapter website as belonging to the national or find a chapter website that is dated or disorganized. Sure this study focused on donations, but the message is still relevant. People are focused on what’s close to home. This was driven home for me as we talk to members of a national association about their chapter. To a person, these members are saying in 2009 it’s about the chapter, about what’s happening locally, and about who’s addressing the issues at the local level. Wouldn’t it be great if when these members thought about their association that included you at the national level too?

How are you handling your local brand?