A Helping Hand
RMHCNA is a nonprofit organization that offers affordable temporary housing to out-of-town families whose children are being treated at hospitals here in Edmonton. The massive house has family suites, kitchens, laundry facilities, and even schooling for K–9 students. But more importantly, with the help of generous donors and volunteers, the House creates a home away from home for families who are going through the hardest time of their lives.
The RMHCNA website is the primary source of information for people wanting to learn more about the organization. Worried parents need to know where the house is, how to book a suite, and what their stay will be like. Donors and volunteers, on the other hand, want to know where their time and resources would be most useful and how they can help. So when RMHCNA asked us to help create a better online experience for users, we took our task to heart. During the discovery stage, we identified four major problems that we’d need to solve as we built the site.
Create a better online experience for users
When we first started the project, if you were to ask a stranger what the House does, they probably wouldn’t be able to tell you. Because people looking for information typically go online, we decided the best way to educate the general public was through the RMHCNA home page.
We designed three custom icons to illustrate who RMHCNA is and how they help families. Visitors wanting to learn more about the House can click “The House.” People looking to help the House should click “Getting Involved,” which outlines different ways to donate time or money. Parents needing information about staying at the House will find it by clicking “A Place to Stay,” where they’ll learn about everything from eligibility to the waitlisting process.
The House is a charitable organization focused on helping children and their families. That purpose should instantly create an emotional connection with visitors, but the look and feel of the site wasn’t vibrant enough to accomplish that. Our goal was to make the site more approachable without feeling juvenile. This would more accurately communicate what the House is and how they make a difference every day.
Because RMHCNA is a sub-organization of the global Ronald McDonald House Charities®, they have to match up with the charity’s extensive communications guidelines. We worked within those constraints by adding heartstring-tugging photos of the kids and their families. The RMHCNA team also brought an illustrator on staff to create adorable drawings of the kids, which further adds to the emotional appeal of the content.
We also carried the look and feel into the blog with custom avatars for each writer’s blog posts. This small gesture rewards writers for the time and effort they take to write. The idea of seeing their avatar also gets them excited about hitting the “Publish” button, which is a big boost to writer engagement.
On the previous version of the site, we felt there were plenty of opportunities to improve the navigation. There were just too many menus, complete with sub-sections and drop-down menus that only confused visitors. The team believed they’d see more support from donors and volunteers if the website were easier to navigate and offered clear actions for people to take.
We have a “less is more” philosophy when it comes to site navigation. We find that when we simplify the search experience for visitors, they respond by taking the actions we want them to. That’s why we designed the website as a series of breadcrumbs to lead people on a journey. As they navigate through the site, they discover stories of families whose lives were changed by the House.
The layout now drives visitors toward the highly visible Donate button so they immediately know what they can do to help. We also simplified the nav bar to just half a dozen pages so visitors can find the exact content they’re looking for without getting overwhelmed by information.
The RMHCNA team likes to update their site regularly with information about field trips, upcoming events, and other House details. But because of disappearing drafts and other content management hiccups, this process was taking way too much time. They needed a system that would reliably allow them to quickly make the necessary content updates.
We thought the good folks at the House would be a good fit to try out Scaffolding, a WordPress plugin we designed to simplify content management. It’s more reliable, it makes content updates easy, and because we built it in-house, we can handle any bugs right away (assuming we ever find any). Now the RMHCNA team can quickly add images and video, shuffle content sections around to create fantastic-looking new layouts, and hit the “Update” button with no worries at all.
Since the website first launched, we’ve been working with RMHCNA to maintain it and make a series of visual, content, and functionality changes as needed. These efforts included two major updates.
Every family who comes to the House has a story about what brought them there and what they experienced. The RMHCNA team gathers these powerful stories — some with happy endings, a few without, and many that haven’t ended yet — and they needed somewhere to tell them.
We placed these stories front and centre on the home page, and we made it easy for RMHCNA to add new stories themselves whenever they like. Now visitors can learn about the real people who stay at the House to make a terrible situation even just a little bit better.
The look and feel of the site has changed quite a bit since we first launched. At one point the site needed to align with the new Ronald McDonald House Charities® global brand standards. We updated the colour palette and styling, and we changed the types of content that appear on the home page. Over time we’ve also made a series of smaller adjustments as well, based on the RMHCNA team’s changing needs.
Now that the site is finished, visitors can more easily understand how the RMHCNA helps sick kids and their families. The team also has a super-simple resource that any staff member can use to share stories, events, and details about everything happening at the House. In the first six months since the site launched, it saw great results.
A few Habit crew members are parents, and all of us love a good cause. That’s why this project was so special to us. We still have a strong relationship with the House and support them wherever we can, whether it’s participating in McHappy Day or collecting Christmas presents for the Miracle Room. We feel incredibly privileged that the House trusted us with such a huge part of their organization, not to mention fiercely proud of the work we created together.