Habitat for Humanity – Executive Summary

Project Overview Final Report & Video

Introduction/Background

In 2016, 22.4% of Worcester residents were living in poverty, which is approximately one out of every five people (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016). Affordable housing is a concern in Worcester, Massachusetts and its surrounding suburbs. Low and middle class families struggle to pay their mortgage due to low wages and a decline in the economy over the past few years.  In 2016, Massachusetts, the median home price was $312,250, ranking it the fifth most expensive state to own a home in the country (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016). There is help for qualified residents, however. Habitat for Humanity (HFH) is a non-profit organization dedicated to building and maintaining affordable housing for families that are in need. Habitat for Humanity is active in every state in the United States and over 70 countries around the world. The organization has several affiliates across the United States and in other countries. Specifically, Habitat for Humanity works to eliminate substandard housing in all 14 counties in Massachusetts.

Some Habitat for Humanity affiliates own and operate ReStores, nonprofit home improvement stores that sell new and gently used furniture, appliances, home accessories, and building materials at discounted rates. All profits from a ReStore support its affiliate’s home projects. The ReStore serving HFH MetroWest/Greater Worcester (MW/GW) wants to update their website to be more aesthetic, easier to use and navigate, and more interactive. The Habitat for Humanity MW/GW ReStore is also relocating to a new location Worcester with a larger area by a margin of 9,000 square feet to accommodate the growing needs of the store. We conducted studies on successful non-profit websites and web design, and have developed the new MW/GW ReStore website based on our research. We have also researched marketing techniques to implement for ReStore in order to increase its customer base. This work will allow the ReStore to obtain new shoppers, donors and volunteers due to its growth, and assist the Habitat for Humanity in eliminating substandard housing in Worcester and its surrounding suburbs.       

Methodology

In order to tackle this project, we divided our approach into two main goals:

  1. Develop new ReStore website
  1. Assess former ReStore website
  2. Assess other NPO websites
  3. Comparatively analyze assessment of ReStore website and NPO websites

 

To come up with the final design for ReStore’s new website, we carried out various data gathering methods. We surveyed 266 Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) students and Habitat for Humanity (HFH) club members at other colleges on website design preferences and their opinion of the former ReStore website. We conducted two focus groups with WPI students seeking feedback on a number of successful Nonprofit Organization (NPO) websites. We also interviewed key staff at ReStore for their opinions on the specific content they wanted for the new website.  

  1. Market ReStore new location and new website
  1. Design new website with effective search keywords
  2. Create new URL
  3. Market the new ReStore location and website

We surveyed 266 college students on what search keywords they would insert when looking up for an inexpensive and quality desk so that we can incorporate the keywords in the content of ReStore website so that the site would appear when someone searches certain phrases. To brainstorm a new URL (Universal Resource Locator), we collected the ideas from the ReStore staff and researched what makes a URL effective. Finally, to market ReStore’s new location and website we developed a marketing plan to reach college students and residents of Worcester. Due to the time constraints of the project, not all of the marketing strategies could be implemented. However, we were able to contact Habitat for Humanity clubs at local colleges about raising awareness of ReStore through programs and flyers. We also contacted journalists at various newspapers in the area to write a story about ReStore’s relocation and new website and received confirmation from the Telegram and Worcester Magazine that they would cover the story. Lastly, we developed a short promotional video about ReStore’s new location and website for use on social media and potentially as a television commercial.

Findings and Recommendations

Website Design

The Habitat for Humanity MW/GW ReStore wanted to update their website in order to attract more customers and have its own identity separate from the affiliate. To achieve these goals the new website needed to be more user friendly and have a new URL.

In terms of website design, we assessed the website based on criteria such as content, graphic design, navigation, and interactivity. Through 20 website evaluations done by the team, surveys and interviews with the ReStore staff, and survey responses of students from various colleges, we found that the main opportunities for improvement on the MW/GW ReStore website were in the areas of graphic design and navigation. We also assessed websites of other successful organizations such as the American Red Cross and UNICEF and analyzed websites of similar organizations such as EcoBuilding Bargains. From the 20 websites we assessed and survey responses from the ReStore staff and college students we noticed patterns in users’ preferences.

In terms of graphic design we found users prefer websites that use a simple color scheme and have limited text. In terms of navigation, 65.2% of the 266 students surveyed preferred a navigation bar on top with around five to eight options. Two of the staff members we interviewed liked navigation bars which stayed as the website moved which was present in other successful websites we assessed such as Livestrong and Goodwill. Overall, we developed a design for the ReStore site that is more simplistic by reducing the amount of text and using more media. The new website design is easier to navigate by optimizing the navigation bar and narrowing down information into different subsections.

Search Strings

One way to increase web traffic to the ReStore site was to make it more visible on search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo. According to 30% of the 266 college students we surveyed, they would use the search string term “cheap” to locate an inexpensive desk. As ReStore does not want to represent its products as cheap, we wanted to find a way to make ReStore show up higher on Search Engine Results Pages without the product being represented as cheap. We also found other popular searches were for “used”, “inexpensive”, or some string related to “near me” such as in Worcester or a college. We used these keywords to make the new ReStore site more visible through search engines.

 

Marketing Restore

Our final objective was to market the new MW/GW ReStore website and location. We identified and narrowed down ReStore’s target audience to encompass college students and in general Worcester residents. To market to students we contacted Habitat for Humanity clubs at various colleges in the Worcester area to promote the ReStore on their campus and used social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This strategy is effective for college students as the majority of users of these sites are between 18 and 29. To brainstorm marketing ideas we met with Purvi Shah, a professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute who specializes in marketing. According to Shah, effective ways to reach Worcester residents included advertising using flyers in public areas such as supermarkets and bus stops, creating a commercial for local television channels, and through newspaper articles (P. Shah, personal communication, November 21, 2017). These platforms are open to most Worcester residents; therefore, it is an effective way to reach the general population. We contacted several newspapers in Worcester such as the Telegram and Gazette to cover an article about the ReStore relocation and new website. Bonnie Russell, a journalist from the Telegram, published an article about the project to redesign the ReStore website and included information about ReStore’s relocation. Also, when the new store opens there will be further press coverage from the Telegram. As part of the project, we created a short promotional video for ReStore’s new location and new website to be used on social media and the new website and potentially as a commercial. Finally, we developed a list of recommendations for further marketing all that ReStore has to offer.

Conclusion

As the MetroWest/Greater Worcester  Habitat for Humanity ReStore continues to expand to a larger location and a second location in Ashland, the customer base needs to expand with it. By using data that we collected through surveys, interviews and focus groups and analysis of other websites, we were able to create and market a new website for ReStore to help attract new customers. This new website design will be easier to navigate and more inviting to first time users. By creating a commercial alongside the launch of the new website and opening of the new store, as well as getting an article written in the Worcester Telegram, ReStore will be able to raise their public awareness and expand their shopping, donating and volunteering base. We were also able to develop a marketing plan for ReStore so that they may continue to raise awareness of their products and mission to sustainably fund the MetroWest/Greater Worcester Habitat for Humanity affiliate.