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Help for Haiti's Weak Link

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, January 25 2010

Friday night's Hope for Haiti concert and telethon was, in many ways, a smashing success. The show, broadcast simultaneously on dozens of television stations featured dozens of very big name stars. It managed to pull in a remarkable $57 million in individual donations, which compares rather favorably with the $100 million that the Obama administration pledged as the first-round contribution from the U.S. government. In almost every way, Friday's special was a masterful demonstration of planning and coordination. Bringing together all those celebrities on all those networks in such a short time takes tremendous planning skills.

But there was one part of the operation that didn't go all that well. The website that the fundraisers were directing people to, HopeForHaitiNow.org, seemed to buckle under the interest and donations flowing into it. The possibility raised, of course, is that that website downtime means that the total raised to assist people struggling to deal with the aftermath of the disaster in Haiti could have been much higher, that the level of succor provided could have been far greater. It's a fairly stark reminder that that good intentions can go wasted without a well thought-out web strategy to capture them. In other words, online matters. Infrastructure matters. Democratic online strategist Tracy Russo powerfully argues that what happened Friday night should serve as a wake-up call:

I hate to offer such harsh criticism to those who worked so hard to make this event a reality, but it needs to be said. It needs to be made clear that you can’t make your website an afterthought - especially not when you are directing hundreds of millions of viewers to that site to make emotional impulse donations.

Beyond the obvious functional failure - that the website should have been prepared to withstand the massive demand of so many simultaneous visits and donations attempts at once - the site failed the form test too. But that’s another matter all together. I’ll take an unfortunately designed site that works over one that’s just pretty any day.

For some of us, tonight’s beautiful program became a stark reminder of how much work we have to do to transform the culture inside our organizations and to make those with the power understand that a proper, functional website is a core business need.

How can we make that message clear so this never happens again? How do we get a seat at the table so money isn’t left on it? Because tonight, the difference is as plain as life or death for so many suffering so much.