Imagine going to a website to buy a pair of running shoes. When you get there, the site features a big button asking you to donate to the site to help pay its bills. It has a paragraph about why most people who start a running program do it wrong and end up wasting the money they spend on shoes.
It wraps it up with a warning that you probably didn't think long and hard enough about whether you have the determination and resources to be a runner.
Over in the corner somewhere is a link called "buy shoes." If you're clever enough to find it and determined enough to click on it, you get another lecture on your suitability for running along with links to different pairs of shoes -- each of which contains yet another warning, as well as daunting language about all the disadvantages of that type of footwear.
Replace "buying shoes" with "adopting a pet," and you've just described a disturbing number of shelter and rescue group websites.
It's easy to think of your website as being about what people do for your organization or for animals. You want them to adopt, to volunteer, to become foster homes, to attend your events.
But whether people are looking for a pet to adopt or checking out whether you're a charity they'd like to support, the part of their brain that responds to marketing messages is still at work. And marketers know that all websites need to be about what the company or organization can do for the site visitor, not the other way around.
In other words, "Ask not what your visitors can do for your website, but what you can do for them!"
Instead of lecturing or begging, tell your site visitors that people who volunteer are happier and healthier than people who don't. Tell them that pets can reduce blood pressure and the risk of heart disease, and are even a kind of "fountain of youth."
Show engaging, positive photos and stories of the pets you have currently looking for homes.
Make sure they know that you're eager to talk to them about the pets on your site. Make it easy for them to call or email you, and ensure that directions to your adoption events or location are upfront and accurate.
Share with them the great things you're doing, and how their donations pay for them.
Post photos and stories of the wonderful experience your foster homes have had with the pets they've cared for.
Above all, thank them for visiting, for considering adoption and for wanting to help animals.
Visiting your organization's website should be fun, rewarding and inspiring. It should make people excited to support you, not sorry they stopped by.