Heart & Stroke.

The foundation’s CMO Geoff Craig on why relaunching its website is just the beginning of its modern mission.

Heart & Stroke, one of Canada’s largest charities, has been fighting heart disease and stroke for more than 60 years. To energize a modern generation of donors and volunteers, the nonprofit partnered with Huge’s Toronto office to redesign its digital presence and unify its network of nearly 20 sites and 10,000 pages.

“After deep user research, one thing became clear: people were ultimately looking for a connection, whether they were a stroke survivor, a donor, or a volunteer,” says Derek Vaz, Group Director of User Experience at Huge. “We realized that Heart & Stroke had to shift its role to become a greater connector.” 

Storytelling is at the the core of the new heartandstroke.ca. The site’s navigation is simple, the content is relatable, the CMS is best-in-class, the imagery is beautiful—and everything is optimized for mobile and search. It’s part of a holistic brand overhaul, which includes a visual identity created by designer and Pentagram partner Paula Scher. 

Huge spoke with Heart & Stroke CMO Geoff Craig to learn more about the process and results of its digital transformation. 

Tell me about the mission of Heart & Stroke. 

Every seven minutes in Canada, someone dies of heart disease or stroke. Half of all Canadians are touched by heart disease and stroke. That's just too many. We have massive health care challenges. A third of our kids are overweight or obese, and heart failure is becoming an epidemic. More people are surviving strokes, but don't have access to needed rehab.

Our job at Heart and Stroke is to find solutions to these problems and to improve these statistics. 

Heart and stroke

What led Heart & Stroke to rebrand and launch a new site? 

Frankly, we're just not having enough impact against our diseases. Part of that is because we need to get Canadians to reappraise both the disease and our brand in terms of what it’s doing for solutions to the disease. We need to drive donations to get there. 

Five years ago, independent Heart & Stroke organizations were in every province—Heart & Stroke Ontario, Heart & Stroke Quebec, Heart & Stroke British Columbia, et cetera. When we brought all those entities together in 2011, it was complete logo soup. Our tone and aesthetic was not consistent. For all the presence we had, we disappeared in the camouflage of individual events. 

You can't invent communities or invent meaning; you have to tap into existing ones.

Why is digital so important for nonprofits today? 

Digital is a growing channel, and the way to beat trends overall in giving is with sophistication in this area. I think it's that simple. Before they make a gift, 41% of people—and 90% of major donors—go to a charity’s website. 

If you don't have good game, you're going to have no game. The charities with foresight, that are willing and can afford to double down in technology, will have a much greater advantage going forward. 

Tell me about the idea of “Groups” on the new heartandstroke.ca. 

You can't invent communities or invent meaning; you have to tap into existing ones. In this case, one of the drivers of this site was customization and, ultimately, personalization. Therefore, the concept of Groups is very, very important. We want make it easy for readers to find the content that’s most meaningful to them by clustering content according to audience segments like donors, volunteers, etc. 

“Content” sounds like such a pedantic word when you're helping someone who can't walk anymore, but that's what it is: helping people live with disease and helping communities find each other so that the quality of their lives can be better. 

Heart and stroke

What were the biggest goals for the new heartandstroke.ca? 

We had to balance national and regional needs. We also needed to create greater linkage between our mission programs and donations. People either come to the website to get help or to give help, and we had to marry those better than we've done in the past. The final goal was the customization and personalization aspect. 

We also needed to establish common goals across the organization and multiple stakeholders, which was a much greater task than I even imagined. The content needed to be prioritized and reduced, based on the content that is actually the most valuable to our constituents and to the organization. Then we had to create a comprehensive governance plan including standards, policies, and rules to ensure that we didn't create chaos all over again. 

That’s a common theme in digital transformation; it’s more than redesigning a website, it’s about modernizing an organization. 

I think it's very common for things to be siloed in not-for-profits. There are all sorts of different mission and fundraising programs, and multiple stakeholders. Getting them to think and work together is a cultural shift. Of course, you don't just open up a new website and you get a new culture. Our unification and digital transformation has forced us to think differently. 

Our website is an organic and evolving thing, and that will never change. I do think about this in terms of a digital ecosystem. We're in the process of a customer relationship management (CRM) system implementation as well. If the website was a bit of shock, that’s going to be heavy artillery bombings coming. 

What were the biggest challenges in creating a unified digital presence? 

These journeys are always bumpy. The good folks from Huge were very smart upfront in identifying the fact that their connection to our cause was a key driver in making this work well. 

We have 86,000 charities in this country. It's a tough game. One way you can win is by being a very local relevant charity. The challenge is that when you take a dollar and put it into building part of the digital ecosystem, that's a dollar that's not going into research or some other kind of program. We had to have a business case for how investing in this digital ecosystem would ultimately provide value to people and generate donations so we can support more medical breakthroughs.

Heart and stroke

Previous to becoming CMO of Heart & Stroke, you led marketing and brand initiatives for companies like Unilever and Maple Leaf Foods. How has your experience in the business world influenced your vision for Heart & Stroke? 

I spent the majority of my career in packaged goods. When you've been flogging soap and soup your whole life, you're like, "Hmm, what's going to be on my tombstone?" Years and years ago, my experience working on Dove was the most impactful. We took a bar of soap and a quarter cup of cold cream and laddered it up to self esteem. 

Here, I think I start higher than that with saving lives. I actually have to ladder it down to something that's tangible so people will want to give toward something very specific. The good news for me and for us at Heart & Stroke is that our mission is so strong. But, you have to be much more creative and much more innovative, which was always a challenge when you had money, so it's even more challenging when you don't.

When it all comes down to it, saving lives is as challenging and complex as it is rewarding.

Can you share any results since the relaunch of heartandstroke.ca?

It's early days, but our donation conversion rate is up 120%, year-over-year. We've seen a 34% lift in our online revenue, which is amazing. Then when it comes to the site itself, we've got a 22% increase in mobile and tablet traffic. From the user experience perspective, we've got a 40% decrease in our bounce rate, which is amazing.

In terms of the site, we live in a fun community, so people around the world have said some nice things about it, including a counterpart in New Zealand. They connected and said how great the site looks. It's also really got people galvanized internally, which I think is one of the most exciting things. I think the role of the web and content is going to be massive for us. 

What’s next on your agenda for Heart & Stroke? 

Next we're working on the data science component of digital marketing. I am talking about CRM. I am talking about Recency, Frequency, and Monetary (RFM) models. I am talking about journey mapping. 

For example, we have a program called Jump Rope for Heart through which we raise money in schools. I want to be able to say, “For every 100 10-year-olds that participate, 13.6% of them will leave us in their will” because we have an ever-improving algorithm for driving a great user experience so that they will be compelled to do so. 

That's where I want to go. I'm not there yet. I joke and say when I leave here, I want to have all those algorithms figured out, but I don't think I'm going to live that long. That's what I'm trying to push, and that's the vision that we have here. People are pretty excited about it. The art doesn't go away, of course; you still need compelling content and a great user experience. 

When it all comes down to it, saving lives is as challenging and complex as it is rewarding.

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