You know nonprofit organizations need websites just as small businesses do, but you may be surprised to learn nonprofit sites can be more complex and challenging to plan and build. Unlike most business sites, nonprofit websites need to appeal to multiple and diverse audiences: customers (the users of your services), prospects, donors or funders, employees, and sometimes influential audiences such as government officials. Each audience is different and each has its own interests and needs. And in comparison to most companies, your new website budget is likely to be severely limited in terms of both available staff time and money. Let's look at steps you can take to minimize your risks of a very visible failure, and maximize the probability your nonprofit website project will be a stunning success.
Start with Questions
Abraham Lincoln reportedly said: "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." Substitute the word website for tree and planning for axe and the ratio holds true. Before you do anything else, you and your team want to make the time to ask yourself some questions about where you are now, what works and what doesn't, and how a new webste can help advance your mission.
What does your website do?
What is the primary function of your website, that is, what do you want to accomplish most of all with your website? Many organizations start with information: descriptions of programs or services, location, and how to contact someone. But there is so much more your website can accomplish.
Is your website the digital hub of your organization?
Think about all the things you look up online yourself. Location, phone number, hours, events, etc. By incorporating a few additional features, your website can becomes the hub of your organization’s communications. Maybe you have a newsletter and want to add subscribers. Think about adding an event calendar if your organization is active in the community. Incorporate events or conference information, news, and your social media accounts.
How will you keep things fresh?
When you have your website, you want visitors. You will want to use your social media and other outlets to bring visitors to your website. Put news on your site and link to it through social media. Add stories, reports, event photos. Just like you list your website on your stationery, think about how your other communications will relate to the content on your website.
Page builder or strategist?
You’re ready for a new or updated site, but do you need a programmer first or a strategist? Successful websites are more than just pages and coding, and more than search engine optimization (SEO). A good website reflects your nonprofit’s personality and mission. It engages your audiences while providing information. Do you have a plan, site map (navigation), and the content needed to build your site? Who will do the copywriting and editing?
Page builders or programmers are definitely needed to optimize and build sites, but so are designers, writers, and someone to develop the strategy.
Search Engine Optimization or People Optimization?
There is a lot of talk about SEO (search engine optimization) and keywords, and many businesses that specialize in SEO and Google ranking. However, if the keywords and search terms don’t resonate with your audience then page rank is of little value.
A more encompassing approach is people optimization. That is writing your website in language that is familiar and used by your audience. Google search has worked hard in recent years to increase the quality of search results, and they can tell when a page or site is stuffed with keywords but doesn’t deliver useful content. Do you know what it will take to write and organize your website in a way that is comfortable for the users? You don’t want to try to stuff keywords into a page that doesn’t deliver.
Your website needs to align with your mission, but how about your website contractor and hosting company? Many business relationships are based on more than price. Quality, reliability, and mission alignment are important factors as well. Would it matter to you, your funders, or your customers if your website is built locally? How about how employees are treated — the workplace quality and livable wages? Do you want hosting from a company using renewable energy?
Requests for proposals
Outline all of your website needs and wants to develop a request for proposal (RFP). The RFP will ensure you are getting comparable bids on a defined scope of work. (Also known as comparing apples to apples.) This is particularly important in the tech world where you may not be comfortable with certain specifications and jargon.
Here are sample categories and requirements for a scope of work or project description:
- New website design
- Use existing content (copy and images)
- Information structure (navigation or site map) to be developed
- Content management system (CMS)
- Open source framework (WordPress, Joomla, Drupal)
- Include Google Analytics
- Integrate Social Media
- Website hosting service to be provided
- User Training
Lastly, develop a timeline and stick to it. Projects thatkeep a timeline are projects that are efficient and stay on budget. Put in your RFP the expected contract issuance date and desired completion date, and ask for a project timeline as part of the response with proposal. Be sure you can meet your responsibilities for deliverables such as access to existing website, analytics, and delivery of content. If you have a large site, or need a particular section sooner, consider building your new site in phases.