Sample Social Change/Nonprofit Web Site Analysis

Columbia Riverkeeper, URL: The non-profit environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper is a local affiliate of the advocacy group Riverkeeper. Members work to stop water pollution in rivers and streams. The home page of Columbia Riverkeeper uses a rhetorical strategy based primarily on logos, the rational and evidence-based demonstration of both the need for action and the effect of the group’s actions. A secondary strategy is to create a local identity for supporters in the Columbia River region. Columbia Riverkeeper’s home page does this through the use of targeted pathos appeals and identification, mostly through their visual images. For a nonprofit group to be effective, it must establish a connection with two different audiences: current supporters, and new potential supporters. Since the primary goal of a web site home page is to persuade viewers to act on the organization’s message, it’s essential to address both of these different audiences with appropriate messages. Then, the organization can create appeals designed to impact each group. One way to do this is by incorporating Burke’s idea of identification, which maintains that for persuasion to occur, the audience must identify with a message. The web site of Columbia Riverkeeper demonstrates this idea very clearly in its appeals to both existing supporters and potential new supporters. In the first step to creating an effective home page, Columbia Riverkeeper has a clearly defined strategy to appeal to its existing supporters: the banner at the top of the page is a continuously changing photograph/text combination that highlights the group’s recent successes, ongoing work, and current campaigns. The photographs feature views of water, river scenes, or images of polluted runoff, a strategy that reinforces the group’s focus on efforts to improve water quality in the Columbia River. In addition to this visual strategy, the language of the headlines in the accompanying text includes strong positive words like, “Victory!,” “Big Win” and “Support.” These words help to reinforce the strong positive identification of existing supporters with the organization by emphasizing the effectiveness of current and past work. The strategic appeal to potential supporters begins with Columbia Riverkeeper’s logo and choice of colors on their site. The background of the logo is dark blue, a color that suggests clean water. The graphic in the logo represents a river and its banks, and immediately helps a new viewer identify the main focus of the organization. The background of the top banner on the home page is light tan, which highlights the blue in both the photos and the logo, and draws the viewer’s eye to the photographs. These images of the Columbia River help a new viewer to quickly identify with the group and its main focus of action. The colors of the home page and the photos provide an immediate an unconscious connection for a first-time viewer to the organization’s main concerns: water quality and the river. In addition, the language choices described above serve a dual purpose, to show the group’s successes to potential new supporters and motivate them to also join in.

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