Close up birds-eye-view of a red bus

How to Reduce Your Nonprofit Website’s Bus Factor

Ever heard of the “bus factor”? It’s a really useful concept, but a bit morbid too, so brace yourself.

Why bring it up? It’s one of those terms you didn’t know you needed a word for until you knew it! I’ll let Wikipedia be the messenger you can blame:

The bus factor is a measurement of the risk resulting from information and capabilities not being shared among team members, from the phrase “in case they get hit by a bus”.

When it comes to your website, what’s your nonprofit’s bus factor? (The bus factor is useful for thinking about more than websites too!) Do you know what would happen if the person who built your website disappeared? We know buses aren’t going anywhere, so it’s important to take action to limit your risk.

The Three Website Roles To Consider

Broadly, there are three important types of tasks in a website’s life cycle:

  1. Building it
  2. Maintaining it and fixing problems
  3. Managing and posting new content.

Task 1 is finite, but tasks 2 and 3 are equally or more important and never end! There are entire pages devoted to keeping your website healthy after the launch and posts about spring cleaning your website and new year’s small projects. That means the day-to-day tasks are probably the most important to worry about.

While it’s inevitable that you will rely on a few people for website maintenance and management, collecting some basic information and gaining even a bit more experience with the website will enable your nonprofit to recover faster if one or more people are unexpectedly unavailable.

Managing Your Website Risk

How many people work on your site right now in any capacity? The more people you have, the lower your bus factor.

If you heavily rely on just one person, think about identifying a person to serve as a backup and have them get some training and do small website tasks every once in a while. (Hopefully your website person is allowed to take vacations!) Even a little experience will go a long way in desperate times.

Have your backup person learn how to:

  • Post a news/blog post
  • Add a new event to your event calendar
  • Edit a basic page of the site

Beyond that, know the basic details of the website infrastructure and products that power your website:

Those companies are paid to support components of your site and they may be able to help you in tough times. That’s why you pay them, so make sure you know how to take advantage of them!

Finally, do yourself a favor and avoid sharing user accounts. This makes it harder to audit site actions or remove access when someone leaves the organization. It’s a sad truth that even when a person isn’t hit by a bus, staff or consultant turnover isn’t always a happy situation. Ensuring that you have your own access to your website is critical to managing turnover and removing access from others quickly in emergencies.

Embrace Knowledge Sharing!

People can sometimes be protective of “their websites”, but taking a long-term view is both healthy for your organization as a whole and can even be exciting! It feels empowering to learn a new skill, and as they say, “many hands make light work.” You may actually find that splitting responsibility for the website not only limits your bus factor but also leads to a more vibrant, actively managed site!

And so you don’t leave in a bad mood, sometimes the “bus factor” is called a “lottery factor”. If you win the lottery will you be excited about doing website updates? Didn’t think so 😜

Until then, go find one new person to learn a bit about your website. You won’t regret it!

Photo Credit: Igor Ovsyannykov

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