5 Things to Know Before Building Your Nonprofit Website
Strong websites for nonprofits can make all the difference when it comes to achieving your organization’s goals. Although it can be tempting to jump right in and get started, building a website is a huge task and there are some considerations to deal with before moving forward. Here are some must-do’s you can get started on today in order to make your website project a success!
- Website Preparation, Why is it Necessary?
- #1. Know Your Website’s Goals
- #2 Make Sure You Know Your Audience Inside and Out
- #3 Decide Whether to Outsource or Internalize
- #4 Prepare Your Staff
- #5 Adopt a Tool That is Right for the Job
Website Preparation, Why is it Necessary?
In today’s digital world, websites are of ever-increasing importance to a nonprofit organization. Users expect websites to not only look clean and professional, but have simple to navigate features, run smoothly, and engage interest with well-chosen images and content. A poorly designed website can absolutely be the difference between a potential donor or member converting or churning.
Thanks to available technology, the bar is set incredibly high for a good website. And what is more, building a website is often a bigger, more time-consuming project than people give it credit for. That is why there are some essential things that must be done before you create your organization’s website. But there is no need to worry or feel overwhelmed! Remember, if a task ever feels insurmountable, take it one step at a time.
So, let’s do just that!
#1. Know Your Website’s Goals
This piece of advice may seem fairly straightforward, but your website goals can differ slightly from the global goals of your organization. Remember that you are not asking yourself, "what is my organization trying to accomplish," but rather "why does my organization need a website?" You want to be both specific and practical when setting goals for your site.
Ellie is putting pen to paper on her website goals!
For example, let’s say that you run an animal shelter. One goal of your organization might be to provide veterinary care for the animals you accommodate. In order to achieve this organizational goal, fundraising is key. So the goal of your website could be more clearly stated as to inform and guide potential donors toward making donations.
Some other common goals for a nonprofit website can include things like:
Keeping your members informed about events and benefits
Giving access to resources and continuing education for both student and professional members
Inform decision-makers about what your organization does and how it impacts the greater good
Advocating for your cause
Once you have decided on a few goals for the site, you want to make sure that every decision you make going forward supports these goals. This will help keep you out of the weeds, or from becoming sidetracked.
#2 Make Sure You Know Your Audience Inside and Out
It may seem counterintuitive, but up to a certain point, the fewer people you target the more people you will serve. Traditional business and nonprofit web design is similar in this way. A website that tries to cater to everyone ends up being confusing and looking messy. Instead, lose some complexity and opt for a simple website and remember that who your visitors are will depend upon your goals. Some common audiences for nonprofit organizations include:
Current or potential volunteers
While these are great starting points, it is best to specify even further to find your niche. When you are creating the goal or goals for your website, you will want to have a very clear idea of who your website is meant to serve. For instance, if the intent for your website is to inform donors, then the donors are your target audience. However, if the goal of your website is to provide learning resources for your members, then perhaps your more junior or student members become your main target audience.
You can see that if you tried to make a website catering strongly to both of these groups without clear delineation, your website will come out looking unfocused. Clarity is your friend when it comes to website copy. Confused users will simply bail if they cannot really figure out what they are looking at, or find what they are looking for.
Create a specific list of the audiences that you want your website to serve, and rank them from most to least important. Then, as you create specific areas of the site, you know which group’s needs take priority.
Pro Tip: Of course, as a nonprofit your website may be trying to serve more than one audience. If this is the case, be careful to use separate website pages/sections in order to delineate your audiences. Even if not outright stated, you should make it very clear who each page or section is meant to serve. For example, "student page" that offers continuing education credits, or "donor page" that announces upcoming events and opportunities to give.
#3 Decide Whether to Outsource or Internalize
If your nonprofit organization has the funds but is short on time and staff capacity, outsourcing to a professional web designer is a terrific choice that can save a lot of hassle. Consultants can create a beautiful and functional site with whatever parameters you choose, and they will get it done more quickly than you could on your own.
Corinne is deciding on her course of action – to outsource or stay internal?
However, if your organization does not have that kind of funding but is good on time and staff capacity, internalizing the website build is also an excellent option, particularly with new, high-performing tools on the market every day. There are a lot of templates for nonprofits available on the market, and platforms that can support your needs. (We will come back to this part later.)
Let’s be real. Sometimes an organization has neither time, staff, or extra funds to expand on a large project like website building. In this case, you might consider a hybrid of internalization and outsourcing. That is, you can outsource certain aspects of the site while handling some pieces within the organization itself. For example, if your team is better at creating the content and visuals, you can then outsource the technical creation.
Find out what talents already exist within your association. This can make it easier to figure out just which aspects of the site need to be outsourced. If you have someone on staff who has a strong knowledge of web design, then delegate this piece to them, while you outsource content writing. Or vice-versa.
If things begin to seem a bit overwhelming because you lack the resources to work quickly, consider launching a landing page, or simply 2-3 pages to get your website up and running. You can always continue building it over time.
#4 Prepare Your Staff
Before undertaking a project as massive as building a website, you need to consider your staff capacity. If you are able to afford the cost and labor, it is worth appointing a project manager with decision-making authority to lead the project and keep things moving on the proposed timeline. Ideally, this person will have a background in nonprofit website development and be well versed in how to plan website structure and general nonprofit website best practices. However, whether they are or not, be sure to also give them sufficient time and space to commit to working on the website team project. If they have other efforts in flight, these should be of lesser importance and able to be put on hold if necessary.
You also want to ensure that your staff is prepared for what is coming. They should be fully educated on the size of the project and the projected timeline. Anyone working at a nonprofit knows that labor is often stretched thin, so everyone should be ready to assist on the sections of the website that pertain to their department.
You may choose to create a survey to find out what ideas your staff may have. Give them the opportunity to answer the question, "what should a nonprofit website include?" They should share the things that they do not like about the current website, as well as suggestions for the new website. Do this before getting started. After you gather the data, keep staff in the loop by offering periodic updates, but make sure not to be making major design changes in the late stages of the project. While those giving feedback likely believe they are helping, these changes can add extra (and unnecessary) complexity which makes them unhelpful.
Unfortunately, nonprofit websites are undervalued and overlooked far too often and this can have detrimental consequences for the success of the project. By making sure that everyone understands just what is expected in terms of labor and time, you can head off a lot of potential negativity and pushback down the road.
#5 Adopt a Tool That is Right for the Job
After researching how to choose a domain name, gathering all of the information, setting goals, and preparing staff, you need to move forward and create your nonprofit website. Look into a free website builder for nonprofits or choose a DIY website building tool that suits your organization and your website goals. There are both free websites for nonprofits as well as a ton of platform options out there, from Squarespace and Weebly to Wix and WordPress. Carefully consider which features you need, and then shop around to find the best pricing and match for your organization.
Matt is exploring the best tools for his nonprofit website.
The right tool for the job should have:
Flexibility and functionality, perhaps through plugins
Online payment capabilities, to accept payment from members, non-members, or donors
Administrative controls so that you can update your website on a regular basis
Dynamic controls so that you can update data on your website automatically; these should integrate with your database at some level
Customizable templates that allow you to design your site to match your organizational aesthetic, but are simple to use
Program management software to help track metrics based on your needs
Fundraising capabilities to simplify donor giving
A nonprofit CMS (content management system)
Pro Tip: Looking for a simple, all in one solution? Well, we at Springly have a website builder that allows users to easily create and customize their website. Either bring your ideas to life from scratch or begin with a template to start.
Which platform you choose will depend on your nonprofit's specific needs, as well as determining what cost your budget can support. Just be sure that you keep in mind that you want to leave room for growth in all things. If there is a feature that you do not feel is currently needed, give some thought to whether it may be useful in the future.
Building a new nonprofit website can be daunting, but it can also be exciting. This new site will be a way for you to better serve your members, streamline your processes, enhance your visibility with potential members, gain advertising revenue opportunities, sell products and services, and to connect your members with the organizations they serve. It can also make your life a whole lot easier in the long term!
Do not allow yourself to become overwhelmed, but simply follow these steps before you begin the process. By having all of your ducks in a row before building your site, you will avoid many of the common pitfalls and have the full support of your staff for the project. Your nonprofit deserves the best website possible to carry out its mission, and that objective is well within your grasp.
Springly is trusted by over 20,000 nonprofits to help them run their organizations on a daily basis. Try it, test it, love it with a 14-day free trial!