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A New Era for Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society

How does a nonprofit organization reimagine and reinvent itself for a new era? For the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, this meant investing in their history through their website and emphasizing relationships with their donors using Give.
Historical Society Charlottesville Virginia, Black and white street image

How does a nonprofit organization reimagine and reinvent itself for a new era? For the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, this meant investing in their history through their website and emphasizing relationships with their donors using Give.

This Give Story details how one historical society is redefining its image with a renewed focus on community and historical education. They’re using a new WordPress site to share their mission, story, and purpose with the world.

The Tragic Events of Charlottesville, Virginia 2017

In August 2017, hundreds of white nationalists gathered to protest Charlottesville City Council’s decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee that represents the U.S. Confederacy. The resulting violence and chaos made international headlines.

“Those tragic events have been seared into our memories, especially those of us who live here.”
– Coy Barefoot, Current Executive Director of The Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society

New leadership at the Historical Society has been making big strides toward assisting in helping the community move past the events of that day. It starts with more community involvement and education. Coy Barefoot, the Executive Director spearheading the Society’s changes, said,

“If there is any community in the world right now that needs a strong civic organization that works to try and bring people together, it’s Charlottesville, Virginia.”
– Barefoot

Mission Oriented: Learning Through the Lens of History

Charlottesville Virignia Holsinger-midway

Recently the Historical Society made a change in leadership, which was meant to help the organization create a new public image. In March, the Board hired Coy Barefoot, a local author, journalist, TV host, and radio host.

“In addition to hiring Barefoot, the Board has recently appointed three new Directors: Ms. Sheila M. Ford, Dr. Shelley Murphy, and Professor Ervin L. Jordan, Jr.”
March 2018 Press Release

The Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society Board has been “tasked with re-imagining and re-inventing the organization for a new era.”

“Part of that work this year has been designing and building an all-new website, one that would capture our new suite of programs and projects: our new exhibits, speaker series, classes, and more.”
– Barefoot

The need for the new website goes deeper than a cosmetic makeover. A new website meant a reflection of the adjustment toward a mission-oriented cause. It allowed the Historical Society to rewrite its story to reflect the values and mission they represent in this new era.

“Our mission is to use history as a tool to create experiences that can inform, enlighten, inspire, and bring people together, offering the opportunity for new relationships and new understandings.”
– Barefoot

Their new website and Executive Director both reflect the deep changes that the Historical Society hoped to display to the world: A need for all stories to be told and heard. Barefoot said,

“Our work is guided by an understanding that history is not the past. History is a constellation of interconnected stories that we tell ABOUT the past. And depending on whoever gets to tell that story— who gets to put up statues and who doesn’t— that will shape the history that we leave for those who come after us. We believe everyone has an important and unique story to share. Our job is not to give voice, but to listen.”
– Barefoot

This ideology is reflected in the new offerings available at the society. NBC29 News, a local news station, recently reported about changes to the Historical Society’s educational programs and cultural exhibits. The additions include free programs such as

  • A traveling Community Series that takes place in various locations throughout the Charlottesville area.
  • Personal enrichment classes.
  • Historic tours, including a tour of some of the oldest trees in Virginia and one of the Downtown landscape.
  • New exhibits in the museum and local businesses.

The Society’s new website needed to reflect all these changes and provide the public with the information they wanted.

Building a New Website for a New Era

An organization’s website is the foundation of their public image. How you represent yourself online is determined by your website design and content. An expert in public perception, the Historical Society’s new Executive Director made a new website one of his first priorities. Not only did this site need to reflect the changes made to the Historical Society overall, it needed to implement a donor-focused design.

Faced with a limited budget and enough website building experience, Barefoot decided to build the website himself using WordPress. He knew what he wanted, he just needed to find a way to build it.

“I’m no pro at this, believe me, just had no choice but to do it myself. I didn’t hesitate to reach out for help when I needed it.”
– Barefoot

Barefoot chose to use Divi and implement some “fantastic templates” from Divi Den as his base. There were times when he did get stuck and used the Divi support team to help complete his project.

“The support I got from the teams at Divi and Divi Den were amazing, first-rate all the way.”
– Barefoot

The website now clearly shows the strengths of using Divi when it comes to creating a network of programs, articles, information, and other necessities for a historical society, like online donations.

It starts with a strong hero image.

Charlottesville Historical Society Hero image

The hero image leads the visitor to their mission, well-placed and represented as an engaging video entitled, “History is Not the Past.”

A video of this nature is particularly important for an organization seeking to reinvent itself. Video is not only one of the most engaged-with pieces of media on the internet, it also allows the organization to fully harness the power of storytelling. The video created by the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society tells you about their mission and invites you in to share the experience.

The website then leads you into a full-screen menu including photos. This visual guide points to a few key areas on the website that are important for both the cause and the transparency of the organization.

key website areas

After that, the site displays a strong call to action with a moving slider filled with more direct key website areas.

CTA Slider

Lastly, the Historical Society’s information on its exhibits, classes, and programs is displayed briefly in a tabbed section.

The organization of the website reflects the restructuring of the organization as a whole. The new website allows the Historical Society to tell stories of the past, what they are doing to educate the public and get more involved in the community, and how to get involved in a variety of ways.

Robust Online Giving With Give

The next problem to tackle was funding. The new robust and versatile structure to their programs came with new financial needs. Barefoot wondered how they might support raising the funds they needed with their new website and accomplish all of these things:

  • Allow people to sign up for memberships in the Historical Society (a “friends of the museum” organization).
  • Give on a recurring basis.
  • Give a one-time donation.
  • Sign up for personal enrichment classes.

“Would this mean three different plugins? Could I find ONE plugin that was this versatile to do it all?”
– Barefoot

Barefoot chose Give for the Historical Society. When asked why Give was the best choice, he said:

“I reached out to the team, by phone and email, told them exactly what I needed on our new site, and they walked me through it all. My questions never went unanswered, and the support I’ve gotten has been the very best. Give was the complete solution to precisely what we needed for our new website. Give can do it all.”
– Barefoot

When it came time to build his donation pages, Barefoot used a strong header image and a written appeal for giving. Each donation form is fully displayed in the middle and the Historical Society’s values, mission, and vision are restated at the bottom of the page.

Charlottesville, Virginia: A Changing Society

Overall, reinventing the website for the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society was a piece of a plan for much larger restructuring and repurposing of the organization. At a time when the town needed more ways to come together, the Historical Society stepped in to fill the gap with storytelling.

One of the most important pieces for any organization is to tell their story to the world. The new website for the Historical Society does just that. It also invites the public to join their cause and makes everyone feel included in the sharing of history.

“This is an exciting time of opportunities and challenging changes, not just for our organization or for our community here in Charlottesville, but for the nation and the world. The Charlottesville Center for History and Culture: Home of the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society is committed to this important work: to embrace our shared past – the good, the bad, and the ugly— to own it all, to explore, to learn, to share, and to understand. We are thankful to all our supporters and everyone at Give who helps to make our work possible.”
– Barefoot

For more information about the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society or to see their redesign, visit their website.

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