Millions of Dollars Left on the Table

Tonight’s star-studded telethon for Haiti was beautifully executed. Tasteful. Well paced. Moving. As I watched the online broadcast, flawlessly delivered via Akamai, it seemed practically perfect - until I tried to access the website being promoted on the screen and by the celebrity participants - hopeforhaitinow.org.

It wouldn’t load. I tried again. Same problem. For critical hours during the telethon being broadcast on dozens of TV channels, websites and radio stations, the website would not load and/or wouldn’t accept donations.

Joe Rospars, the Obama campaign New Media Director tweeted it took him 2 hours to make a successful online donation. April Pederson of Democracy in Action, a leading provider of non-profit online services, tweeted she was feeling, “helpless” that there was nothing she could do to fix the site. Sam Graham Felson, who has been working with organizations that would benefit from the telethon including Partners in Health and the Red Cross begged his followers to contact the organizers and have them redirect the URL to PIH.org or the RedCross.org when they couldn’t access hopeforhaitinow.org.

Via e-mails, IMs and tweets the political web community watched, in agony, as the hours ticked by and millions of dollars in donations that might have been made online were, as Erin Hill of ActBlue put it, “left on the table”.

It can be assumed that the average viewer, someone inspired by word and song, wouldn’t spend two hours to try to complete making their donation. And that fact, and the millions of dollars not raised, left on the table, and lost is what made this a far greater travesty than an inappropriate outburst mid-show.

In the past few years we’ve seen the communications landscape dramatically change. Consumers - of goods and of information - expect, and demand, the ability to give and receive money and information online.

By not planning for this, by allowing their website to fail, the organizers of tonight’s incredible program failed as well.

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.