4-page Case Study
Posted: 4/6/2011
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Conservation International Nonprofit Uses Web to Deliver Conservation Message While Protecting Limited Budget

Conservation International, which helps societies to value and protect nature for the well-being of people everywhere, needed to improve its website to better connect with a global audience and drive fundraising. Also, its website was difficult for a small team to update, customize, and manage. Conservation International then used Microsoft SharePoint Server as the foundation for a new site that uses rich multimedia—including video, audio, and photography—to showcase its initiatives. Conservation International deployed its flagship website in two months. While previously the nonprofit could not afford to deploy individualized websites to support its field offices and global partnerships, it can now deploy adjunct sites in just two days, at a very low cost. Also, content owners can update sites easily, in multiple languages, in a fraction of the time it used to take—without technical assistance.

Founded in 1987, Conservation International operates on a simple premise: people need nature to thrive. To this end, the nonprofit works with communities, governments, and corporations around the world to balance conservation and economic development. Conservation International’s key initiatives include climate and food security, fresh water, human health and the environment, cultural services, and biodiversity. Approximately 900 employees working from more than 25 international offices support these initiatives through science-, policy-, and field-based programs geared toward protecting natural resources and the ecosystems that ultimately support human health and well-being.

Conservation International is supported by financial contributions from individuals, corporations, foundations, governments, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These donations fund global outreach, field programs, management and operations, and scientific research. Conservation International relies on its website as the primary means of engaging and educating potential contributors as well as the press, prospective employees, partners, scientists, and others, about the work it does. “Our website is very important and strategic,” says Julie Blackwell, Senior Director of Online Engagement and Marketing at Conservation International. “It is the face of our brand, and since we don’t do a lot of other marketing, we rely on the website to reach our supporters and show them who we are and what we do.”

The nonprofit strives to keep its operations lean and its overhead low to maximize funding for research, field work, and key programs. The segment of its staff responsible for the website is small; a dedicated web team of four people in Washington, D.C. operate the Conservation International flagship site. This team also provides support to the international offices as they develop and maintain their own websites. The team also provides support for other sites that feature the nonprofit’s endeavors with partners such as the Global Conservation Fund. And although its staff is small, its website is not. The flagship site includes nearly 6,000 pages of web content, and receives, on average, approximately 15,000 page views each day. Peak traffic during a widely covered environmental crisis, such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, could be as high as 60,000 views a day.

The web team was particularly challenged because the flagship website was complicated to update, customize, and manage. Content owners had to be familiar with hypertext markup language (HTML) or extensible markup language (XML) to be able to edit pages or create links among pages on the previous site, and, even then, they often had to ask the web team for help. “Many of our users come from nontechnical backgrounds,” says Alex Dinnouti, Director of Web Applications at Conservation International. “Users around the world needed to be able to edit the site, and we didn’t have the resources to train them all.” Also, individual sites that supported international field offices were built on different website technologies.

* With SharePoint Server, we’re able to reach more people more quickly—and at a lower cost—and really focus them on the important environmental issues. *

Julie Blackwell
Senior Director of Online Engagement and Marketing, Conservation International

Conservation International also found the previous web platform limiting in that it could not easily integrate rich media such as videos, webcasts, audio files, and high-resolution photography into the site. “We work in the field all over the world, in some really incredible places. We capture beautiful video and have incredible stories to tell. That content is the face of our brand, and we didn’t have the means to share as much of it with our audience as we wanted,” says Blackwell. Nor could Conservation International offer social media such as blogs and really simple syndication (RSS) from its site, both of which would allow users to subscribe to website content in much the same way they would a newspaper or magazine. “We needed the flexibility to build some engaging, differentiated experiences via the website that would help generate revenue,” says Blackwell.

Not least of all, it was crucial for the organization to be able to deliver information very quickly, to keep pace with the media as it issues round-the-clock updates on current events such as environmental crises and global summits. Unfortunately, the highly manual nature of the Conservation International web content management process inhibited speed. “We have to be able to respond to the issues quickly. It's really important that we reach and educate as many people as we can and encourage them to take action,” says Blackwell.

Christine Potochny, Web Director at Conservation International, concurs. “We needed to get content out quickly, without hassles, and with a limited staff. If we wanted to continue to be a thought leader in global conservation, we needed to be publishing our stories rapidly. This is a dynamic time, and we needed a dynamic website that offers speed and ease of content deployment.”

Conservation International decided to build a new website based on Microsoft SharePoint Server. It felt that it could take advantage of the solution’s web content management features, multimedia support, multilingual site support, and interoperability with complementary technologies to quickly build the dynamic website it needed. “We saw that SharePoint Server could help us create a rich, visual, narrative experience,” says Blackwell. Conservation International turned to Portal Solutions, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner with deep expertise in implementing SharePoint Server–based solutions to develop and deploy its new website.

Out-of-the-Box Tools
Conservation International and Portal Solutions took advantage of many out-of-the-box SharePoint Server features. For instance, developers customized SharePoint Server master pages, page layouts, and cascading style sheets to create a template that includes Conservation International site design and style guidelines, such as official logos and color schemes. With this template, content owners can automatically modify or create new web pages to publish feature articles, promote key initiatives, or broadcast information about current events (see Figure 1). A standardized navigation system is built into the templates, so content owners can edit directly within the context of a page, using rich, web-based editing tools.

Figure 1. Conservation International web page
Figure 1. Conservation International web page
Conservation International and Portal Solutions also created a subsite template, which Potochny calls ”a website in a box,” that can be easily deployed by the web team to support new websites for its international offices and partnership efforts. By using the template, a content owner at a field office can quickly create a local website to convey information about environmental issues and conservation efforts in their area of the world. Setting up the site is easy to do, because permanent site elements, such as logos and navigation, are stored in a SharePoint list, in versions of each language that the site supports, such as Bahasa, Japanese, or Peruvian Spanish. The content owners then populate the site with content that is tailored to their region. “The content owner can focus on the actual content rather than the structure of the page," explains Potochny. Users can embed video, audio, and photographs into their pages from a centralized multimedia library. “Content owners just have to select the files they want from a list,” she says.

The organization uses an out-of-the-box SharePoint Server workflow to initiate site updates and ensure that content is published in a consistent manner. When a content owner at headquarters or at a field office edits site content, the changes are routed to a group of approvers in the Washington, D.C., office who must endorse the new content before it is published.

Portal Solutions also helped Conservation International simplify its process for creating email marketing campaigns by connecting the Conservation International SharePoint Server–based web content management environment to the nonprofit’s email marketing solution from Convio.

Unique Web Experiences
With the new website, Conservation International can also build highly customized experiences for its audience. For instance, Portal Solutions helped the nonprofit integrate the “Save a Mile of Ocean” interactive experience that visitors can explore to learn about the health of our oceans, into the website (see Figure 2). The interactive experience shows how dollars donated equate to miles of ocean saved and encourages visitors to donate. Other interactive experiences available on the website include a similar experience for saving the forests, a species extinction clock, and a carbon calculator, which Portal Solutions also helped Conservation International integrate into the website.

Figure 2. An interactive web experience integrated into the SharePoint Server environment
Figure 2. An interactive web experience integrated into the SharePoint Server
Dinnouti says, “We are able to display JavaScript through SharePoint Server and also consume XML and the huge image, video, and sound files in our SharePoint library.” The website can be viewed by a global audience, on a range of web browsers, as well as on mobile devices. Developers used the Microsoft Visual Studio development system and Microsoft SharePoint Designer to customize the website.

Social Networking Features
Conservation International also encourages people to share information from its website (such as conservation and fundraising efforts) through popular social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Digg. The web team used configurable SharePoint Web Parts to connect to these third-party social networking sites and to deliver its own RSS feeds and blog. Conservation International is also considering using SharePoint Server wiki functionality so that site visitors can contribute to online, community-oriented discussions.

Portal Solutions helped Conservation International migrate content from its previous sites to the new, SharePoint Server-based sites using a third-party content migration tool from Metalogix, also a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner. To date, in addition to its flagship site, Conservation International has launched more than seven international and featured partnership websites on the SharePoint Server platform. It has also deployed a SharePoint Server-based intranet to its Washington, D.C., office and to more than 55 field offices around the globe.

By using Microsoft SharePoint Server, Conservation International created a website that communicates its message of global conservation; publicizes its research, field work, and outreach efforts; and engages prospective donors. The nonprofit built the new site quickly and can deploy adjunct websites to support its international offices and partnership ventures in a cost-efficient manner. The solution allows users to update content on their own, without help from IT staff, in a fraction of the time it used to take.

Simplifies Web Content Management
The SharePoint Server–based web content management system offers Conservation International flexibility and control. The web team uses prebuilt templates to lock down certain elements of the site such as logos and navigation, ensuring that content owners abide by brand guidelines. “At the same time, we can easily incorporate other technologies—such as custom-built web parts, JavaScript, RSS feeds, or embedded video—that add richness to the site. Unlike some web content management systems that have a very rigid structure, SharePoint Server gives us lots of flexibility,” says Potochny.

The web team gives content owners around the world the authority to update existing site content or create new pages using the prebuilt templates. Logos, navigation, and other standard page elements are built in and available in a variety of languages, and the environment provides inline editing tools and a centralized library of compelling multimedia files. All of this makes it easy for users to manipulate website content. “It was a surprise to me that such a complex, dynamic, powerful web content management system could support nontechnical users so easily,” says Potochny.

“SharePoint Server provides powerful web content management tools that help Conservation International simplify its publishing process. It’s a great platform for creating and deploying public websites,” says Robert Garrett, Technical Managing Director at Portal Solutions.

Dinnouti adds, “Our job is to help the content owners communicate the message of Conservation International. With SharePoint Server, we can do just that. No longer do they have to possess knowledge of HTML or other web technologies to successfully edit the site.”

Significantly Speeds Content Delivery
In the previous environment, content owners could spend up to three hours updating a web page, and they often had to ask for IT assistance. “With SharePoint Server, users can update the home page in less than 30 seconds. They can deploy a handful of new articles, complete with photos and captions, just by clicking the titles of the articles they want to publish,” explains Potochny. With this capability, Conservation International is able to react quickly, distribute news constantly, and keep pace with a 24-hour news cycle. “Say we discover a new species on an expedition, or need to post updates about an environmental crisis. SharePoint Server helps us stay on the leading edge of environmental communication.”

* With SharePoint Server, users can update the home page in less than 30 seconds. *

Christine Potochny
Web Director, Conservation International

Potochny and her team frequently use their “website in a box” concept to help international field offices launch new sites quickly. “We can deploy these sites in two days,” she says. “Once we get the site running, all the field office has to do is add the content.” Content owners can choose from existing content, including translated articles, images, video, and audio, in the centralized multimedia library. “It takes them about a week to fully populate the site,” says Potochny.

Helps Stretch Limited Nonprofit Resources
Conservation International deployed its flagship site in two months. “On another platform, it would have taken up to six months and more resources to deploy this site,” says Dinnouti.

Also, it costs Conservation International very little to deploy new adjunct websites on SharePoint Server. “Before, the offices had to find local resources to design and build a website for them, and then our web team had to provide the support,” says Potochny. Previously, it would have cost the organization approximately U.S.$20,000 to build each new international website, not including support costs. With SharePoint Server, Conservation International spent only $40,000 to build seven international and partner sites—a cost savings of approximately $100,000. “Now we can give our international field offices and partners a web presence at a very low cost.”

Conservation International has realized additional savings through minimized custom development, streamlined support, and simpler management. “The total cost of ownership for SharePoint Server is very low,” says Potochny. “It has met 95 percent of our expectations through out-of-the-box functionality, and we can quickly deploy many websites in a number of different languages. Site maintenance is simple, so we don’t need dedicated staff members just to support the websites. For a nonprofit, this is huge.”

Dinnouti adds, “We have a very small team developing and maintaining the SharePoint Server environment. Our previous platform required at least 50 percent more staff resources. Now we also deliver our public websites and our intranet from a single platform, so we can capitalize on our existing technical knowledge.”

Bolsters Brand and Fundraising Reach
Conservation International is using the SharePoint Server–based site to successfully communicate its brand and broadcast information about its worldwide conservation initiatives. “SharePoint Server has allowed us to build a compelling experience that is really groundbreaking for us,” says Blackwell. “The new website has made a huge impact on our constituents. But the most exciting thing is that there is still so much more we plan to accomplish and now we have SharePoint Server in place to help us get our message out. With SharePoint Server, we’re able to reach more people more quickly—and at a lower cost—and really focus them on important environmental issues.”

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Solution Overview

Organization Size: 900 employees

Organization Profile

Through science, policy, and field work, and in collaboration with many partners, Conservation International advances the protection of nature to benefit mankind. The Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit has 900 employees and more than 25 offices.

Business Situation

Conservation International needed to improve its website to better connect with its audience and drive fundraising. The old site was difficult to update and required too much support.


Conservation International used Microsoft SharePoint Server to build a website that conveys the nonprofit’s message through rich, engaging, and interactive web-based experiences.


  • Simplifies web content management
  • Speeds content delivery
  • Helps stretch limited resources
  • Bolsters brand and fundraising

Software and Services
  • Microsoft Sharepoint Server
  • Microsoft Sharepoint Designer
  • Microsoft Visual Studio
  • Microsoft Sharepoint 2010 For Internet Sites Enterprise

Vertical Industries

United States

Business Need
  • Business Productivity
  • Collaboration
  • Cost Containment
  • Environmental Sustainability

IT Issue
  • Digital Content Management
  • Personal Productivity


Portal Solutions