Sun Valley Culinary Institute

Project Overview

The Sun Valley Culinary Institute, a new 501C3 in the Wood River Valley, required an online presence. The website – the centerpiece – needed to appeal to multiple audiences and offer various touch points with these audiences.

Site Audiences

The site must appeal to donors. The lifeblood of the organization, especially in the early days, will be through donations. The org does have several other revenue streams, which will pick up in the coming years, but for the early iteration, donations are critical.

The second big audience is prospective students for the culinary program. The Sun Valley Culinary Institute is gearing up for aspiring chefs to roll in for 2020 / 2021. From a content perspective, their sell is easy: they have an appealing “Student P&L” showing that, through a combination of hands-on work and classroom learning, they’ll more than break even in their time with the program.

Additionally, the institute has a beautiful space – The Cornerstone Building on Main Street in Ketchum – which hosts both community classes and events. The community classes portion will be managed by the institute. The event space is bookable on-demand and on a first come, first serve basis.

In essence, this site must appeal to many audiences. Certain messages are better for some audiences than others, so it’ll be important to correctly “funnel” audiences through the site.

A New 501C3

SVCI is new with lofty ambitions. All new entities undergo a fairly rapid degree of maturation. As they mature, they learn. As they learn, messaging changes, content changes, companies hone in on their true target audiences and learn better ways of attracting their attention.

SVCI has several services that they’re offering, all of which will undergo some degree of change in the coming year. The site they need must be flexible and scalable to match the pace of their learnings. With this in mind, the site must have the following qualities:

  1. Easy to edit
  2. It must have a high-level framework that makes sense, but it must be flexible enough to add and remove content.
  3. It must have outlets for interested parties to “subscribe” to SVCI. On the other end, SVCI must know what a given “interested party” is subscribing to. Are they interested in SVCI-produced classes? Are they interested in applying to the Culinary Institute? Are they interested in donating?

From a website perspective, the site must be flexible and scalable to accommodate changes in the organization as it grows.

A final note before I talk about my approach: Working with SVCI has been a great experience. I mention above that the goals of the organization are ambitious. Given the star-studded team I had to work with, I believe they will build what they set out to.

My Approach

Landing Page

In 2018, the organization started to gain footing. They hadn’t yet received their 501C3 status, but the ideas were flowing and they word had to get out. I quickly built a scrolling landing page teasing out high-level content for each of their target audiences. We also had three forms that captured interest for donations, the culinary institute and a general newsletter respectively.

The idea here: build a placeholder site so that anyone interested can:

  1. Gain a little information about what’s to come.
  2. Know the organization is legit (it has a site, and it works).
  3. Subscribe. If not specifically for donations or the culinary institute, at least there was a general “net” to capture interest for the newsletter.

Ultimately, this landing page and subsequent forms helped buy the SVCI time to flesh out a more concrete online presence.

Full Site Launch (2020) and Rebrand

Between the initial launch of the landing page in late 2018, and late 2019, the organization had undergone a branding exercise and secured an iconic space in downtown Ketchum (the Cornerstone). Also, the SVCI team and I had outlined the bones of a site that would ultimately cater to all mentioned audiences. All that was left was to build it, and quickly.

I had about one month to produce the current version of sunvalleyculinary.org. Pressure was stemming from the team putting new branding on the Cornerstone building, and word was getting around: this organization is legit. The landing page, with old branding, would no longer cut it.

I stood up the site with the following “stack” of tools:

  1. WordPress
  2. Divi Theme and Divi Builder
  3. Flywheel hosting
  4. Google Forms (yes you read that correctly)
  5. Eventbrite as a base for events
  6. Paypal for donations

Funnels, Funnels, everywhere

For each audience, I built a site based on what website folks call a funnel. From landing to conversion, what’s the journey that a target audience takes? That journey is a website funnel.

The funny thing about building initial sites: it’s very hard to know the ideal funnel. While we put our best foot forward, the only way to truly know is through analytics and persistence.

Early on, it’s best to 1) have a proposed funnel, 2) have analytics to track if the funnel is working, and 3) have outlets for users to subscribe so that you don’t have a “leaky funnel” and end up with interested parties leaving the site without a way to keep tabs on the company.

The funnels were basic for this launch. Donors, for instance, ideally land on the home page, click through to “About”, click through to “Donate” then either subscribe to the newsletter or actually donate. Most, if not all, donors at this stage will have a personal relationship with the organization, so the website isn’t going to be the sole resource that sells them. They’re likely visiting the site to donate, so the CTA is quite clear on the site. Basically, I try and put up as few barriers as possible for them.

If you put various hats on in the website journey, you can probably guess our ideal funnel for each audience. Nothing fancy. Nothing too complicated. Just putting our best foot forward.

With good site analytics (we use Google Analytics) and with the stellar SVCI team learning throughout their journey, we’ll be able to hone in on more and better content that will sell these respective audiences. For now, we simply want to capture the interest and do our best to record the journey in the meantime.

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