Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A deliberate fundraising effort to obtain oft-elusive money for communications and marketing projects ultimately led to the successful launch of a brand new, mission-critical website at The Barker Adoption Foundation in September 2015 --www.barkeradoptionfoundation.org.  The new website comes at a pivotal time in the world of adoption, and will allow Barker to better reach all of its stakeholders with its ethical adoption services. 

The Internet is often the first place a woman or her partner will turn for more information and support on handling an unplanned pregnancy.  Unfortunately, they were not finding The Barker Adoption Foundation as they searched online because we had an outdated website, lack of search engine optimization, and a very low-profile on social media.  A complete overhaul of the site was urgently needed to continue serving the community.

It is a reality in the fundraising world that it is difficult to find financial support for marketing and communications-focused projects.  However, we were fortunate to find savvy funders that understood if we did not update our website, it would be impossible to get out our message of ethical adoption services to all in the adoption circle, including birth and expectant parents, adoptees and adoptive parents. 

The Internet and Adoption in the U.S.

The number of U.S.-born children placed for adoption has been decreasing for nearly 30 years[1] and the number of international adoptions dropped nearly 50% just since 2004.[2]  Despite these declines in adoptions, many would-be-parents still maintain a strong desire to build their family through adoption.  Unfortunately, there are also opportunistic, for-profit adoption providers cropping up around the country to exploit this dynamic and preying upon expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents at an incredibly vulnerable time.

In the 2013 report Untangling the Web[3], Adam Pertman, Executive Director of the Donaldson Adoption Institute, stated, "Anybody can hang up a shingle on the Internet, you just need to know how to build a website… and many of these online adoption facilitators have no legal license and no state oversight. Yet like a Wal-Mart crowding out mom-and-pops, many have huge advertising budgets that place them at the top of an online search. And their ads make promises no traditional adoption agency can.”

Barker knew we could not compete head-to-head with the vast marketing machines of the for-profit agencies, nor did we want to directly compete.  However, in order to reach the Washington, D.C., area with trusted, ethical adoption services – and educate prospective parents and the community about the risks of adoption businesses – we needed to immediately get to work on upgrading the website and creating a more robust social media presence. 

Securing Funding

 The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation has been a long-time supporter of The Barker Adoption Foundation, and has funded general operating expenses for several years in a row.  We went to Cafritz with the story of how the adoption landscape is changing and the urgent need for us to update our web presence and better market our ethical adoption services.  Based on our proposal, Cafritz generously doubled its grant to Barker in 2014 and 2015, allowing us to go ahead with plans for the website update.

 Thanks to a member of Barker’s highly-engaged Board of Trustees, Barker secured a meeting with The Meyer Foundation in Washington, D.C. in early 2014.  When the situation was presented to Meyer, they grasped the need and funded Barker’s website update proposal.

We also won a “Creating Change” grant from Discovery Communications.  Their talented staff generously donated time and effort to help us create animated graphics for Barker videos.  The animated graphics were added to videos of, for example,birth mothers sharing their experiences of working with Barker, and adoptive parents sharing their journey.  These personal testimonials, professional graphics and presentation are a key component of the new website.

Building the Site

Barker is a classic non-profit organization in that all staff members are already doing the jobs of several people.  We did not have the in-house bandwidth nor expertise to closely manage the website redesign.  Barker reached to a seasoned contract marketing professional, Susan Campbell, who has worked with many local non-profits and understood the specific challenges Barker faced.

Susan helped Barker interview many potential website developers, and we ultimately selected  Confluence Corp., a DC-based company that works exclusively with non-profits. Barker staff helped determine the "look and feel" of the site, developed program-specific content, and were trained on how to maintain the site. However, hiring the external marketing-specific support was critical to the timely completion of the website redesign.  If the staff had tried to roll the overall project management into their already full-time duties of finding homes for children, it would have taken twice as long and cost twice as much.  Most of the Barker staff are trained as very talented social workers, so it was imperative to have the marketing consultant working on behalf of Barker in dealing with the web developer, video contractors, and graphic designers.  The final product is proof that a professional was at the helm.

As intended, the website portrays a very  personal view of working with Barker, highlighting the passion and commitment of staff and the community of parents and families.  Very few stock images were used, again contributing to the very intimate feel of the site.  Collateral materials have been created to complement the look and feel of the site, as well.


The new site went live in September 2015, just in time to be communicated with our Annual Giving campaign.   Corollary benefits of the site redesign include: a new Barker channel on You Tube; a complete in-house library of family photos that are approved for use; and a Barker blog.  Already, “Phase II” activities are being placed on a wish list…


[1] Adoption Experiences of Women and Men and Demand for Children to Adopt by Women 18 – 44 Years of Age in the United States, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics.  August 2008.

[2] International Adoptions in Decline as Number of Orphans Grows, CNN.com. September 17, 2013.

[3] Untangling the Web II:  A Research-based Roadmap for Reform, The Donaldson Adoption Institute.  December 2013.

Heather Mayes Gleason