I, like many others knew about SOFII. I was a registered user and once in a while would check it out if I had some time to kill. I LOVED the idea behind SOFII.
To have a online, living and breathing museum of fundraising that I could access anytime – FOR FREE! – was almost too good to be true. And in a way it was.
I found it largely unusable. [EDIT: To clarify this statement, I found that due to varying navigation and overload of links and images, SOFII, for me, was hard to use as a tool.]
Kimberley described SOFII to me as “a fundraising conference every day“.
SOFII founder Ken Burnett describes it as: “…an archive, a historical record, a repository of wisdom, tips and insights and also hopefully a stimulus to new innovation too. It’s much more than just a stimulus to new ideas though, important though that function is.”
SOFII is a great idea in theory but in practice, was it working?
Ken Burnett acknowledged it might be working, but it could work far better. A redesign and overhaul was on the table for 2009 and I knew I wanted to be a part of that.
Full disclosure – I knew to have my name attached to a project as important as SOFII would be fantastic. To be able to work closely with Ken to help redefine and re-imagine a site like SOFII would be a great communications and design challenge and, I hoped, would expose the work my firm is doing to fundraisers from all around the world.
I offered up the skills and experiences of my partner Mark Haak and I to Ken, and hoped they would let us help.
I knew that the most important thing, the make it or break it moment of the new SOFII would have little to do with design and more to do with its functionality.
The content on SOFII is, in a word, phenomenal. The problem is how to find it. There are so many links and graphics on every page it is difficult to know where to go to find what you want.
The current site also has a search function but it still requires a bit of work to find what you might be looking for.
So we knew from the “get go” we had to make the site functional, clean up the navigation and design and build in stronger search functionality.
The other thing I wanted to do is give SOFII a new logo that hopefully better represented the spirit behind the site.
I remember an early conversation with Ken. It was important that he knew we were both on the same page about what we wanted from the site, and to make sure he fully understood how we were approaching this redesign.
A philosophy,that obviously wasn’t ours, but we preach to our clients all the time is: WE put the donors at the center of everything we do – which means – we make sure whatever we are designing or writing or asking for is appropriate to that audience, will make sense to them, and puts their needs ahead of everyone else’s.
As I explained to Ken – we were approaching this rebuild in a VERY user-centered way. It needed to work for the user.
So starting with form of the site we broke it downtown into, what we felt were the most important elements of the site and presented this wireframe to Ken and Carolina Herrera.
We knew that most people were coming to the site to look at the exhibits and maybe catch up on the latest news.The search functionality was front and center – it had to be. We wanted people to find the things they might be looking for from anywhere they were on the site.
Trying to organize the exhibits in a way that might be obvious or intuitive to the user was largely one the biggest communication challenges. Especially as we started looking at how exhibits were classified. But ultimately, upon the relaunch and testing by users like you, we will know if we succeeded or not.
My brain was also working on the logo.
I remember I was sitting in a session by Kimberley MacKenzie at Fundraising Day in Toronto this past spring, where she was presenting a session about SOFII. And while listening to her talk and the feedback from the audience (about 95% of whom had never heard of SOFII), my brain kept repeating one statement.
Inspiration leads to innovation.
I doodled a couple ideas at the conference which I later mocked up and sent to Ken to consider.
After circulating to some of his SOFII ambassadors, the feedback was that the light bulb just wasn’t cutting it.
The logo needed to say inspiration and without going into a long drawn out ramble about the process we came up with a few more solutions.
Which lead to the selection of the final logo.
So once we had our wireframe approved we moved onto the design. Again, our desire was to keep the site functional and to hopefully make sense to the user as to where they need to go to find the things they might need.
Ken really pushed us to make sure the images on the exhibit pages could be displayed as big as possible so we revised the layout of those pages.
Upon approval, it was time to move onto programming and migration. This whole site rebuild would not have been possible without the incredibly hard work and dedication of our programmer Dean Reeds from Open Web Group.
As we often do, as we started migrating the content from the existing site into the new site, Dean made many video tutorials of the “how-to’s” so he could train Carolina on how to insert new exhibits and articles moving forward, and fortunately due to Dean’s hard work, that process is as simple as creating a word document.
SOFII has been on a bit of a fundraising drive because there are costs associated to running a site like this. And if you have a moment take a look at this video and then contact Kimberley if you would be able to give something to keep a resource as important as SOFII up and running and moving forward.
We are hoping to relaunch just in time for the new year. I was speaking to Sean Triner this past week about a selecting a few of the current users to act as beta testers to find any cracks that might still exist when it goes live and after the testing is complete, and we’ve made our final tweaks we will be releasing SOFII 2.0 out to you and the world.
A site like SOFII has a lot of potential for growth, and we have some ideas already for version 3.0 which will continue to make it a one of a kind and massively important resource for any fundraiser in the world.
Obviously, if you haven’t already, go to sofii.org and register as a user. Then send it to 10 people you know in our sector and ask them to join.
The success of this site will always require the support of its users. Users like you.
Thanks for your help and support.