Empowering Pediatric Cancer Workshops
Kids & Art: A Journey from Volunteer Website to Non-Profit Tech Hub
Kids & Art grew from a volunteer website project for a friend into an ongoing engagement where I handle the non-profit's design & technology issues. I integrated SaaS products as needed and the modified the design over time as the website evolved into a hub for outreach emails, collecting donations, volunteer management, workshop signups, e-commerce, PPC campaigns, and soliciting grants.
I supported the foundation's expansion from monthly destination workshops to weekly hospital workshops at 2 locations with online volunteer management. In the 2018 1200 families participated and 1400 volunteer hours were donated.
The foundation's revenue grew from $33K in 2014 to $157K in 2018 totalling $497K with ~7% directly from online donations.
- Google Apps
- Google Analytics
- Google Adwords
- Signup Genius
- Web Designer
- Web Analyst
- PPC Marketer
- FE Developer
Kids &Art's first site was on a website platform that was due to be shut down in late 2014. Purvi asked me for help and I volunteered to move the content over to Squarespace.
Kids & Art provides art workshops for pediatric cancer patients and their siblings. The website is targeted to the children's parents who sign them up for activities, volunteers, and donors. The demographics skew heavily towards caretakers and relatives, females aged 25-50 living in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The plan was to use the site’s blog to:
- Raise awareness about Kids & Art and its mission.
- Solicit funds for art supplies.
- Solicit volunteers to run the art workshops.
- Promote destination workshops around the San Francisco Bay Area.
PPC & Analytics
A few months in, I setup Google Analytics and a Google Ads campaigns under a Non-Profit grant. We had lots of goals and we needed to get a perspective that was detached from on the ground feedback. We operate in the Bay Area and we get a lot of well meaning advice to try new tools. Data on the actual page traffic gave us a way to prioritize what changes may make the most impact on a significant amount of visitors.
A year in, I also set up Squarespace E-commerce to sell stationary with K&A themes.
As we held more workshops, we received feedback that we should showcase the kids' artwork more.
By 2016 we had enough visual content to redesign the page layouts with that in mind. Every standard page would showcase artwork and workshop participants in a 4 image gallery.
The work evolved from a volunteer basis to time on a fixed retainer. The budget was limited so we prioritized important content updates with some slack built in for urgent unforeseen issues.
Unused time was banked forward for big design or tech updates. Since pages were built individually this forced us to roll out changes slowly page by page
Some changes did not work as planned and we rolled back quickly to archived older setups.
I looked at leveraging the Squarespace CMS’ structured data collections for products & images. I thought it would make managing content updates easier with cards filtered through summary blocks to consistently present a rich variety of content with minimal design input.
While collections worked well for products, it wasn’t a good fit for team member bio's and I rolled back to building team pages as one-offs. The backend was too cumbersome with no ability to sort a collection of images alphabetically.
Structured data collections need both a strong front-end tools for presentation and back-end tools for content management to be useful.
Adwords & Landing Pages
We had a Google AdWords grant for non-profits until 2019 and used it to drive traffic with custom landing pages for volunteers and donations. It brought a few new volunteer artists but there wasn't much of traffic that converted to donations or sales.
We tried to enlist outside help without success.
My impression is that PPC was a poor fit. Pediatric cancer is not something most people think about until they have a personal connection to the issue. If a search query is a digital signal for this situation, it’s a fine judgement call to discern the appropriate way to reach out.
Our data did not offer great answers. The majority of search terms were dominated by national and regional pediatric cancer treatment centers. The next tranche revolved around information about diagnoses, treatments, and alternatives. Art therapy for pediatric cancer was too niche to be discerned from Google's search data.
We did better with ads and landing pages for volunteers. While no single campaign stood out, it seemed the aggregate effort of ads, targeted landing pages, and targeted copy in relevant sections got us volunteers both locally and out of state.
By 2016, K&A expanded to regular workshops at 2 Bay Area Hospitals in addition to regular monthly destination workshops. With 150+ volunteers, they needed software solutions for managing them.
Kids & Art relied on several free or low-cost products in concert knowing full well that it's difficult for most people to jump between products.
K&A relied on Eventbright and Signup Genius to organize its workshops. They were simple and low cost but it was an ordeal to extract and collect data from multiple sources.
Being based near Silicon Valley, all in-one solutions are constantly being pitched to us and evaluated. We want to manage donors, volunteers, workshop participants, run fundraisers and sell products. There are several providers in the non-profit space that address these goals but it was difficult to match our needs out of the box:
- Efficiency. One platform would speed up on-boarding internally. In theory the pooled data could leverage the connections between participants in the different areas.
- Privacy. A major block had been the collection, access control and ownership of sensitive medical information about minors.
- Transaction Fees. As a larger part of our funds come from individuals online fees are significant. So cheques are still preferred over online donations despite the inconvenience and added time to process and manage the donations.
In 2018 Kids & Art partnered with a startup to manage volunteers and donations in one place in the hope that new features in their roadmap would match K&A's needs.
My long working relationship with Kids & Art was an indirect casualty of Covid. In-person workshops were cancelled to avoid putting immunocompromised patients at risk. Kids & Art held online workshops on zoom during the pandemic.
Afterwards there was a push to develop a proprietary video conferencing platform integrated with a partially gated Wordpress based website in 2022. I felt out of sync with this new direction so we parted ways amicably.