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How a brand new website changed the game for North Idaho AIDS group

Stacie Lechot just discovered the web is the new Yellow Pages.

About a week after getting a new, improved website for the nonprofit group, North Idaho AIDS Coalition, a caller found her on the web and left a message that he wanted to donate $5,000.

“It wouldn’t have happened if we still had our old website,” said Lechot, executive director of NIAC, the only North Idaho agency devoted to advocacy and support for HIV patients and their families.

The benefactor was the New York-based group Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Its executive director, Tom Viola, decided the group would donate $5,000 to honor  a well-respected volunteer from Idaho who now works as a stage manager in New York City.

Viola said he started searching for any groups that came up with the keywords Idaho and “AIDS services.”

The top result was the Coeur d’Alene-based NIAC, which has been in existence since 1989 and relies on a combination of government grants, contracts and contributions.

Two weeks earlier, before hiring a Spokane design team to redesign the site, that search would not have found it, said Lechot.

Viola first called and left a phone message, telling NIAC he wanted to send them the money. Lechot said she was sure there was a catch. “I thought it had to be connected to some kind of ad,” she said.

Viola called again, and made clear that there were no strings; Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS was sending the group a check for the money.

“When I got that message, we all did our happy dance around here,” Lechot said.

Lechot said she and others had been pushing to change the website over the past few years. It was dated and limited in giving visitors quick access to resources and services; one service it offers is free HIV tests. Last year NIAC provided 50 free tests, Lechot said.

After getting approval, Lechot contacted a handful of area web design firms. She saw an ad from Spokane’s 2X Sales Results Group and asked for a bid. She hired the company after getting a quick reply and a detailed proposal.

Jerry Thrasher, the owner of 2X Sales, redesigned the site to help search engines locate the nonprofit much more easily. “Before, the only way you would have found (NIAC) was if you typed in their full name,” Thrasher said.

Thrasher used a number of search engine optimization steps that are common for businesses and nonprofits, including building the site in the Wordpress platform.

The money from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS doesn’t have to be used on any specific program. Lechot said it will go into the group’s roughly $130,000 annual fund and will be used for operations.

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The Spokesman-Review business team follows economic development in Spokane and the Inland Northwest.