What Can We Learn? Part 1: The Nature Conservancy

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In the arts, it's only natural to look to peer organizations in our field for gathering new ideas and benchmarking our success. However, there are countless technology and engagement lessons we can learn from institutions unrelated to the not-for-profit arts sector. Over the next few weeks, we'll be looking at creative web engagement strategies used by such institutions that can serve as inspiration for the arts industry. The Nature Conservancy's website includes a portal to individual user pages called My Nature, which can be customized upon creating an account on the site. My Nature's content categories, as well as the tone of its written copy, somewhat emulate those of major social media platforms - namely Facebook. News feeds (sound familiar?) can be personalized based on interest categories selected by each user, including birding and photography. A showcase of member-submitted photos and "Why I Give" stories from supporters invite further browsing and contribution, and ensure new content for repeat visitors. Clear calls to action, whether that “action” consists of exploring and sharing content or taking larger steps like making a monthly donation, make it easy for visitors to deepen their personal engagement with the organization and make a difference in whatever way they choose.

Those calls to action are assembled into a badge system very similar to Foursquare’s: as users complete certain tasks related to engagement or support, they earn badges that are displayed on their my.nature.org homepage.

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Screen Shot 2013-04-25 at 4.34.16 PM

Gamification is a topic that we've discussed extensively here at Technology in the Arts, and its effectiveness is well demonstrated in this case. Among the game dynamics behind this badge system are:

1) Ownership: collecting "tangible" (in the digital world, that is) rewards for completing tasks

2) Achievement: having one's accomplishments be recognized

For the Nature Conservancy, the tasks currently included in the badge system are primarily virtual (e.g. "find out more about conservation in our e-newsletter"), but arts organizations might be able to expand the "game" to include real-life actions too. What about offering a badge for new patrons to commemorate attending their first performance, or to reward a loyal pre-concert lecture attendee?

The Nature Conservancy has a history of implementing creative, proactive web initiatives that create a true sense of community and socialization while still being informative. Their encouragement of conversation and active participation reinforces the universal relevance of environmental conservation issues: everyone is both affected by and capable of aiding the cause, and they may not even need to leave their laptops to show their support.

Even in this age where social media has developed into a powerful conversation forum, many websites still focus more on providing content than on inviting it. As the Nature Conservancy demonstrates, this one-way relationship does not have to be the case. How does your organization use its website to invite patron engagement with its brand and mission, or even with each other?

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Featured photo credit: This work by Michelle Cheng is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.