Three Little Words

A directory should be efficient, interesting, and informing.

  • Efficient: The method used to dispense information should be accessible, and the process of using the directory should be intuitive, as well as simple to use. Ideally the user should require little or no explanation to retrieve what he or she is looking for.
  • Interesting: The directory should be attractive, and using it should be engaging – consider adding something in the way of a personal touch – photos of those involved in this project, a story or Blog of how it all began, a letter explaining why you think a directory is important.
  • Informing: The user should see essential information about each organization without having to sift through extraneous material.

Design suggestions

  • Provide a thumbnail image for each listed group on the main webpage of the directory. This allows everyone – patrons, casual web users, as well as listed organizations – to better view and appreciate the entirety of what is offered to the community.
  • Provide an index, a list of key words that link to specific listings, things like: Assisted Living, Camping, Child Support, Farmers Market, Housing Help, Picnic, Speech & Hearing, Veterans Assistance, Yoga. Index key words should act as a filter.
  • Provide a word search.
  • Offer a way to browse by establish major categories, like: Arts, Nature & Parks, Housing, Social Meetings, Education & Health, or Culture & Arts.
  • Consider adding other functions like an events calendar, a “volunteers needed” list, featuring a group of the month. These can add to the overall usefulness and appeal.

Software

As to the directory software platform, websites come in various styles, from professionally built and maintained, to WordPress-styled sites, and no-cost simple blog software like Google’s BlogSpot.

There are two popular and free website development tools: WordPress (wordpress.org), and Blogger (blogger.com). WordPress is the nonprofit branch of a for-profit business, and Blogger is a free service owned by Google.

Of the two, Blogger is the easier to use, but offers fewer options than the more sophisticated WordPress. It is a trade-off. If you are willing to learn a more complex system, you can offer more features; if you want to keep things simple for a smaller service, Blogger may be the way to go.

Practical experience

The city I chose to test my idea has about 24,000 residents. This was an early bare-bones test, meaning it was my first attempt at creating a directory and my first relationship with a public library. In terms of success, I’d give it a 5 out of a possible 10: the website functions as designed and functions well, and it has a modest regular usage in terms of unique visitors: Peekskill Library Community Network (https://peekskilllcn.net).

All this directory does is list nonprofits by category and key word or index. A lot is missing. The following is a list of the things that could have been, but did not happen (A new library director did not wish to participate).

Could have:

  • Events calendar.
  • Organization information other than what was culled from a website, things like a unique message to those using the directory, or a more personal way to connect such as a unique email, phone, or contact form.
  • Free or shared resources; a user login for listed organizations so they can post items they want to make available to other nonprofits, such as office equipment or space.
  • News blog for announcements.
  • Newsletter sign-up page, for cumulative organization updates sent to any user of the site.
  • Nonprofit Community Festival: a street fair event that informs and celebrates the nonprofits servicing the community.
  • Library displays of local nonprofits, periodically showcasing different organizations.
  • Library bulletin board displaying events and notices from nonprofits.
  • Availability of the directory inside the library, and training of staff in how to use it when assisting patrons.

Community snapshots

A community that has an online directory listing of nonprofit resources also has – for everyone to see and contemplate – a snapshot of itself. Communities have other snapshots – demographic statistics, local businesses and coupon packets – but as for grasping the more personal aspects of a community, the directory snapshot offers a more genuine sense of what a place is like: a feeling for the whole.

You can learn a lot from this picture, and just like a photo snapshot, there are several ways you can display this community family album: for example, on a website or in a book. Creating different forms of the snapshot view can offer more opportunities for everyone to understand and appreciate where they live and what their resource options are.

One picture is the online directory, but another, offering the same information, can be in book form. This is a different kind of reference book that the library can offer. Many reference books may be passé, but this one can enable a quick-view sense of the range of nonprofit resources in one’s community without having to click through links and webpages on a screen. Other pictures of the nonprofit community can be shown in graphic form, posters, brochures and the like.

Directory book

Once an online directory is created, it’s not difficult to create a paperback directory – just copy the text into a Word document, and upload it for a print on demand book (kdp.amazon.com – makes it easy).

Screenshots from an actual publication show indexing and categories, both with corresponding page numbers.

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