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

6 Achievable Nonprofit Website Tasks for the New Year (Start With One!)

The new year is a great time to evaluate the state of your website and figure out how to make it better. But we all know that plenty of resolutions don’t get the followup they need. So instead of a New Year’s website resolution, pick one or two of these tasks and get started right now!

Since the goal is to get you moving forward on a concrete task, you don’t even need to read this whole post! Just pick the task that sounds the most interesting or useful and get to work!

Do a Content Audit

A content audit is the process of reviewing your entire site and assessing each piece of content individually to make sure it still serves your site visitors. It’s common to combine a content audit with a website redesign, but I think they work better separately. More-frequent content audits mean future website redesigns go more smoothly and your website will be consistently higher-quality for your visitors!

Whether it’s in a custom spreadsheet you set up or with a plugin like Content Audit, this is one of the best tasks you can do on your site.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Go through your site’s Pages one by one.
  2. For each page, mark or list it as a meaningful status you can act on. I like to use the statuses Good, Minor Revisions, Major Revisions, Archive, and Merge with…. Then I’ll make a short note for each page about what should change.
  3. If more than one person writes content for the site, also assign the Page to the person who will work on any revisions.

Once you’ve gone through the entire site, you will have learned a lot about the state of your site. Schedule the time to work on these pages throughout January and finish before February.

Quick Audit

If this sounds like too much, use your Jetpack Statistics or Google Analytics to identify your top 5, 10, or 20 pages. Then follow the steps above for that more limited set of pages.

Similarly, if you’ve managed to audit your whole site but aren’t sure where to start, let the site visitor stats determine which small part of the revision process to start on. Improving one high-traffic page is much more valuable that improving multiple low-traffic ones.

Clean Up Your Plugins & Themes

This one’s a little bit faster than the content audit.

Plugin Cleanup

While there’s no such thing as too many plugins, you never want to have plugins or themes that you’re not using installed on your site. These can slow down your site, clutter the admin, leave open a security hole, or force you to make unnecessary updates.

First, go to the Plugins page of the admin, and review each one. Do you know what it’s used for? Do you still need it? You may need to do a bit of research and contact your web developer or other staff, but figure out which plugins you don’t need and remove them from the site.

Once done, you’ll get a good reminder of how your site works and you’ll probably get some ideas for future projects (see below!).

[Fun fact: I just did this for With a bit of work to tweak a few things with my theme, I removed three plugins!]

Theme Cleanup

For themes, you really only need the theme your site is using. Delete all other themes from the Appearance > Themes screen in the admin. That’s it! 🙂

EXCEPTION: Child Themes

If your site is built using a “child theme”, then you’ll need two themes on your site, the active child theme and it’s parent theme. You can tell if you have a child theme by opening up your active theme details in Appearance > Themes and then looking for this:

Notice: "This is a child theme of Twenty Fifteen."
The notice in the Theme Details panel saying whether it is a child theme of a parent.

If you see that notice, delete all themes except the active [child] theme and its parent theme.

Streamline Your Forms

Do you want more people to fill in forms on your site? Do you want to get better information from them? Streamlining your forms will probably lead to both outcomes over time!

If you’re using one of our recommended WordPress forms plugins, you’ll be able to easily improve the forms used to collect information from visitors.

Here’s what to do for each form:

  1. Review your 5 most recent submissions and ask yourself these questions:
    1. What questions don’t receive enough or accurate information?
      1. Do certain optional fields get consistently skipped?
    2. Most important: Can I tell someone how I use every piece of information I collect?
  2. Once you’re more familiar with the reality of your form submissions, do the following for the form:
    1. Make as few fields required as possible. These are the fields you couldn’t do without. An easy example: The email field for an email newsletter form. It won’t work without it!
    2. Remove as many optional fields as possible. For example: Do you really need that person’s ZIP code?
    3. Remove as many options from checkboxes, radio buttons, and select menus as possible.
    4. Clarify each field name and, if needed, description. If you’re not getting good data, you’re probably mis-labeling your field or not being specific enough. Consider providing an example answer or sentence starter for free-form questions.
    5. Rearrange form fields to increase commitment to finishing. For example: If working on a donation form, have people select their donation amount first. This builds momentum and gets questions that require active thinking out of the way earlier, letting users finish a form more or less on autopilot.

A streamlined form will be less-confusing for visitors and faster to fill out. That will increase the likelihood of people filling out your form and of you getting good data when they do!

Further reading on streamlining form design: Design Better Forms
Further reading with real-life example: KISSing Your Web Forms

Establish a Relationship with a Consultant

Even if you didn’t use a consultant to build your site, it’s good to know who you’ll turn to when—not if—you face a website emergency or project outside your own technical abilities. A few phone calls, a visit to a meetup, or a strategic referral from a colleague is usually all it takes.

Once you’ve found someone willing to work with you, find a way to bring them on board with a small project. Maybe that’s signing up for their annual maintenance plan, doing a small project together (see below!), or having them performing a site audit with strategic recommendations for future improvements.

When your donation form or email newsletter signup form isn’t working, you don’t want to panic and working with the first person you can find. (“Well our Development Director’s nephew is great with an iPad!”)

Even if you have a consultant already, you need to make sure they’ll make time to help you when you need it most. Take a moment to get back in touch and thank them for their support.

Put in a bit of time and money now, and you will feel immense relief at the moment you need it most!

Do a Small Project

Too often, website work is an all-or-nothing endeavor for organizations. You get your budget together, you sink a huge amount of effort into planning, and then you make one big push to get the new site live.

But if your site is a year old or more, I bet there’s a pain point you’ve identified or a “Phase II” project that’s yet to happen. If we’re being honest, there was probably something not quite right immediately after launch too.

Take some time to think about one incremental improvement to your site that will make it better. A smart project here and there can extend the life of your site and make it more useful to your visitors.

With the year starting, plan now for a great new addition to your site and figure out what it will take—time-, budget-, and planning-wise—to get it up and running.

Make a Blogging Content Calendar for the Year

Content calendars are a great may to make sure your blog stays updated all year. They’re usually built around major events, donation drives, programmatic campaigns, and unscheduled important news as it arises. (If you don’t have many obvious events, maybe you work in some blogging seasons too!)

There are lots of great templates out there, or you can get fancy and use a plugin like Edit Flow to manage it right in your WordPress dashboard. Find a good format for you—I think it’s hard to beat a good spreadsheet!—and get to planning!

  1. Start by making a list of key events and dates you’ll need to post on and leading up to.
  2. Then make a list of less time-sensitive topics you can blog about to fill in the gaps. One easy idea: Do a fun social media roundup with the best posts about your cause from you and your supporters!
  3. Finally, get these all down into a spreadsheet with due dates, staff writing assignments, and any other notes you’ll need to start writing immediately when a blog post deadline looms.

Now you’re ready to blog up a storm in 2017! 📝🌩☺

Content calendars help you think ahead leading to better-written posts and an easier time getting usable web content from your colleagues!

Remember Why You Picked WordPress. Incremental Changes to Your Website Are Good!

The whole point of using WordPress is to allow you and fellow staff members or volunteers to easily update your website. If you’ve already done the work to get a site up, take full advantage of that flexibility and control! This month, focus on a single task like the ones suggested here and just get it done. You should feel good about giving your visitors a better experience and simultaneously supporting your organization’s work more.

I always tell my clients that websites are never done. They’re more like a garden that needs tending. So put your digital green thumb to use, and make your site even better to support your organization and achieve your mission!

Looking for More

If you want more ideas, check out similar suggestions from our Spring Cleaning and Spring Cleaning Followup!

Let me know what task you chose and how it went!