When, why, and how to interview staff and board for a nonprofit website redesign

One of the most useful resources on this site for anyone building a nonprofit website is the redesign questions for staff and board members. The people on your board and staff hold critical knowledge around the organization’s values, work, and history. Collecting information from these “internal stakeholder” is helpful in so many ways:

  • Understanding the expectations people have for the new website and setting new shared expectations
  • Understanding the history of past website projects and other projects that may influence the website
  • Learning what the organization needs from the site to make it more effective
  • Preparing everyone in the organization for the new website

Every nonprofit staff person is a wealth of institutional and experiential knowledge! Your coworkers may rely on your website for important back-office functions or they might interact daily with the people your organization serves online. Hearing these things early in the planning stage will improve the result of any website redesign project!

Website Redesign Questions to Ask Nonprofit Staff

A useful guide for stakeholder interviews

The Nielsen Norman Group has a great guide for conducting these interviews—or emails or surveys or coffee dates!—called “Stakeholder Interviews 101”. It’s worth a read in full!

Stakeholder interviews help us gather any information that may help shape the design process, define success metrics, and ultimately meet stakeholder expectations. They save us time and resources by minimizing redundant work and lay the foundation for successful relationships with stakeholders.

“Stakeholder Interviews 101”

It’s best to collect information from staff and board members as early in the process as possible. That’s both when it’s most valuable in setting high-level goals for the project and also making sure everyone understands the purpose and constraints of the new website project.

By doing these interviews early, you can focus the conversations more on organization needs, goals for the future, measures of success, and lessons from past projects. This is the type of feedback that only internal stakeholders can provide.

What stakeholder interviews most useful for

Internal stakeholders shouldn’t be collectively deciding things like how best to organize a website or what information or features are “obvious”, “intuitive”, or “don’t make sense”. That’s because a nonprofit’s website is not for staff or the board, it’s for the people the nonprofit serves or engaged with outside the organization. As the saying goes: “you are not your user”.

The benefit of doing them early in the engagement process is two-fold: the stakeholder feels heard and you gather insight when it’s most helpful.

“Stakeholder Interviews 101”

The Nielsen Norman Group highlights these purposes when listing four purposes for stakeholder interviews:

  1. “Gather context and history.”
  2. “Identify business goals.”
  3. “Align on a shared vision.”
  4. “Increase buy-in and communication.”

Put another way, the purpose of talking to staff about a website redesign isn’t to decide the color of the donate button. Instead, it’s to learn about the role of individual donors when it comes to the website and how effective or ineffective past online giving efforts have been.

Once all the feedback is collected, it’s the job of the web team to take the information gathered, distill it to key themes and lessons, and combine that with information from external stakeholders. That’s the ✨ magic formula ✨ for making a website that serves its visitors in a way that makes an organization more effective.

Ask Nonprofit WP: How do I help my different website audiences with a single site?

I’m wondering if you can help me think through the plan for getting the nonprofit I work for (as marketing/comm manager) a website focused on funneling our different audiences towards specific actions (a site focused on better user experience to build an engaged community), making sure our site is well-supported and healthy, and setting up a good foundation for any future web dev needs.

It sounds like what you’re looking for help with is possibly the #1 challenge of many nonprofit sites. They don’t simply have a “customer” to cater to but instead a wide array of stakeholders with different backgrounds and relations to the organization.

I hope that if you work through the processes and technical recommendations for planning your nonprofit site and recommended plugins and themes, you won’t be led astray toward overly complex systems and harder-to-support themes and plugins. The biggest piece of advice I can give you for tech is to keep it simple, probably simpler than you’d even like. Your visitors want your site to be as simple as possible so long as it meets their core needs.

Keep It Simple!

When trying to do really complicated things (like custom layouts not provided by your theme or rube-goldberg-esque data processes on the site), that’s where I see things go wrong. If you can settle for a site that 100% works and is 75% of what you were hoping for, then I think you’ve succeeded. That last 25% (and especially the last 10%) is just really hard to get without a lot of professional help.

The same really goes for content too. Use fewer pages than you think you need. Keep your menu short. Avoid jargon. Those will all help your audiences find what they need fastest and with the least stress. I often recommend reviewing the menus of similar organizations that you think work well and using those as a starting point. If at all possible, follow that up by testing your menu with a few stakeholders. 5 minutes of watching someone use your website is incredibly eye opening (you can’t understand it until you see it!).

Find Help

I don’t know where you’re located, but I’d try to do some networking at meetups and WordCamps to find people to help you. Lots of people go to those looking for help, and I know I’m always happy to help people try to find someone when they show up.

If you’re a small organization, this one hour webinar I presented for Washington Nonprofits offers lots of great tips for getting started with a new website. For larger organizations planning to hire a web consultant or agency, sign up for my twice-a-year Anatomy of a Website Redesign course from NTEN.

If you’ve had successes building a simple DIY site for your nonprofit, share your best advice in the comments to help your fellow nonprofits!

Website Redesign Questions to Ask Nonprofit Staff

When you’re in the planning stage of a website redesign project, it’s important to involve lots of people from your organization. Every nonprofit staff person is a wealth of institutional and experiential knowledge! Your coworkers may rely on your website for important back-office functions or they might interact daily with the people your organization serves online. Hearing these things early in the planning stage will improve the result of any website redesign project!

Collecting feedback from staff serves two key purposes:

  1. Compile information from different perspectives across the full spectrum of your organization.
  2. Generate buy-in for the project by making sure people feel heard and know their needs will be addressed.

These questions will help get that information and start moving your website redesign forward.

[Important Caveat! It’s common for organizations to only collect feedback and ideas for staff and other internal stakeholders. That’s a mistake! It’s critical to learn from real users of your website since you’re building the website for them. As the classic saying goes: “You [and your colleagues] are not your user.” That’s all just a topic for another day…]

The Questions

Once staff have answered these questions, you’ll have

  • valuable information rooted in your organization’s back-office needs,
  • anecdotal stories about the people who use your website, and
  • useful examples successful and ineffective peer websites.

(Most of these questions work with board members too with only minimal modification!)

Your goal is to focus on both the work your organization does and the big-picture needs for the website. Avoid getting too specific with discussions on how things look or exactly how a feature will work during this early planning stage.

  1. Why do we need a website?
  2. How would your job be harder if we didn’t have a website? What are the key ways it supports your day-to-day work?
  3. What questions do you get asked by email, phone, or in person most often? Who are the people asking these questions? Can the website answer (or begin to answer) any of those questions?
  4. What are three websites you wish our site were like? What are the specific ways our site should be similar and different?
  5. What are three websites our site should not be like? What key problems with these sites do we need to avoid?
  6. What are the good things about our website that we should be sure not to lose?
  7. What are the worst parts of our website? How would fixing those things make your job easier?
  8. What decisions made about the last website lead to the need to replace it now? How can we avoid making the same mistakes?

Collecting the Feedback

Once you pick which questions you’ll be asking, you can collect this information in different ways. The right choice for your organization will depend on the number of staff and how you normally communicate with your colleagues. Gather ideas using:

  • Online or paper surveys
  • Emails
  • Interviews
  • Phone calls
  • Video chats
  • Lunch or coffee dates

Finding the right format can be tough, but it’s worth putting a bit of effort into. Find a way to help people feel comfortable and give them the space required to focus on thinking about these questions. If you’re an organization with lots of one-liner emails, that’s not the right format for this activity!

This isn’t the time for focus groups. Make sure you collect this information individually to avoid “groupthink” or arguments over “what the website should do.” It’s much too early to make decisions about the design, features, or content about the new website.

Next Steps

Once you’ve collected everyone’s input, standardize and analyze your findings. Put it all in one place and share your big picture take-aways with everyone. Your goal is to make sure you accurately heard what people said. Sharing this information with everyone is a good transparent practice that helps people understand the wide range of needs and ideas for the future site.

The information you collect, synthesize, and report will be a valuable resource for whoever builds your site (even if that’s you). Immersing yourself in your organization’s needs—not just your ideas about websites—puts you in a perfect place to get started on a your next website that will help you improve people’s lives!