Which of two restaurants side-by-side would you think might offer the better meal? The one with a long line out the door or the one that is half empty?

I see how people make this choice every time I visit “Restaurant Row” here in Portland, a few blocks of SE 28th Avenue that has more than a dozen eating spots. People regularly choose the more popular restaurant because of the social proof created by those diners who opted to wait even when they could eat immediately at the other place.

What is social proof? It’s the positive influence created when people see that others are doing something. Social proof is also a powerful tool you can use to get people to notice your organization’s website.

Too many nonprofits still rely on a “build it and they will come” approach, and end up with websites that function as filing cabinets that no one visits (The World Bank famously discovered last year that one-third of its reports posted online were never read).

You can’t rely on awareness or the importance of what you do to engage the people you want to reach. You also need to build trust with your readers. Here are six ways to use social proof on your nonprofit’s website to attract and keep readers:

  1. Tell Your Own Stories

Quotes from people served by or involved in your organizations document your expertise and credibility. Testimonials are especially effective when accompanied by a full name, photo and affiliation when appropriate.

Choose your testimonials strategically. Pick people with whom potential clients or other desired audiences will identify.

  1. Share the Limelight with Your Partners

Who are your nonprofit’s key partners? Identify and include them in your website along with their logos. You benefit by association with these organizations and your partners will welcome the exposure you provide for them. Good places to do this include your site’s footer or in tab in your site’s navigation bar.

  1. Show Us Who’s in Charge

Sometimes it’s impossible to find a nonprofit’s leaders and staff on the organization’s website. Including such lists shows your community support and expertise. Make sure you include your list! Too many nonprofit websites neglect to include board and advisory committee lists as well as the names of key leaders.

  1. Toot Your Own Horn

Case studies let you show what your nonprofit has accomplished and what you can do for others. Such studies also provide good background for potential funders and other partners who may want to do research before approaching you. Use short (250 – 500 word) stories or video to describe how you helped the people and communities you served.

  1. Leverage the Math

Those social media buttons at the end of your blog post or report aren’t just for sharing. The numbers showing the number of times readers have shared your content also demonstrate that others think highly enough of your work to forward it to others.

  1. And Don’t Forget to Thank the Academy . . . .

Have you won an award? Look for ways to feature the award throughout your website, not just on your blog or in a news release, in order to keep the news (and the social proof benefits it offers) in front of your readers and not buried in a subpage.

Looking for ideas on how to create social proof on your website? Check out this 14-minute episode of the “Hit Publish” podcast by BBC radio comedy writer Amy Harrison.

Have you created social proof on your nonprofit’s website? Share you ideas and examples in the comments below.

Photo credit: Flickr user Gary Knight