Gerry McGovern // New Thinking

Putting people’s needs first

November 10, 2013 -- Gerry McGovern

As a result of focusing on people’s top tasks (what people really need) and helping them do what they needed to do as quickly and easily as possible, the Norwegian Cancer Society has seen a:

  • 70% increase in one-time donations
  • 88% increase in monthly donors registered
  • 164% increase in members registered
  • 348% increase in incoming links
  • 80% increase in visitors

What the Cancer Society did was counter-intuitive. It stopped focusing on donations (organization needs) and instead focused intensely on peoples’ needs (symptoms, treatment). By giving people what they needed, the organization got more of what it needed.

The Norwegian Cancer Society, a non-profit organization, used to have lots of long, detailed content on its website. However, “a lot of the content failed to answer peoples’ most important questions,” according to Ida Aalen, senior interaction designer at Netlife Research. “For example, an article about colon cancer began with a long-winded explanation of why you have a colon, rather than answering the reader’s immediate questions relating to cancer.”

“The website was not prioritized and was difficult to navigate,” Ida continues, “partly due to the fact that as many as 45 people had access to publishing on the website. Nor was there an overall strategy for the website.” These 45 people had produced over 5,000 pages.

“We had known for a long time that our old website was outdated,” Beate Sørum, Digital Fundraiser for the Cancer Society states. “We knew that it was not prioritized, overgrown and unruly. It had become this maze where you navigated deeper and deeper into the site, losing track and never really finding what you were looking for. This had been recognized for years, but it took some time for the organization as a whole to mature to the idea that we didn't just need "a new design" - we needed a whole new structure, strategy and way of managing a website. We knew it would be hard work and a few battles, and so we chose to work with Netlife, who we knew would give us what we needed - not what we wanted.”

Peter Drucker once said that all organizations are basically the same, whether they be armies, churches, non-profits or commercial organizations. It’s certainly true that in working in web consulting for almost twenty years, I keep seeing the same problems coming up again and again in non-profits, intranets, commercial websites, government websites, etc. These time-honored, constantly recurring issues can be summarized as follows:

  1. Content that doesn’t address customer tasks but rather focuses on unnecessary context and/or on organizational needs.
  2. Distributed publishing that results in poor or no editorial oversight and a constant flow of silo-based, organization-focused content.
  3. Websites that get worse over time because, while they have processes to publish new content, they rarely have processes to remove old and out-of-date content.

The new Cancer Society has 1,000 pages and 6 people responsible for it. But simply reducing content and contributors is not enough. Success is much more about getting the focus right. It is about the absolute shift away from an organization-centric view of the world, and focusing relentlessly on what the person coming to your website needs to do.