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!

Two Upcoming Website Planning Webinars

The most important step when building a new website is planning it.

To help you prepare to build your next website, join me—Mark Root-Wiley author of Nonprofit WP—at one of two upcoming online presentations!


“Website Basics for Small Nonprofits” Webinar

When: 12pm PDT, Wednesday, September 5, 2018
Cost: Free!
Presented by: Washington Nonprofits

This hour-long webinar covers:

  • Questions to ask yourself before you start building your website
  • Specific priorities to focus on in the first phase of work leading up to the website launch
  • Expert tips and best practices
  • Time for Q&A

This webinar is geared toward smaller organization, especially those hoping to build their websites themselves.

One of the best things about WordPress is that it allows you to take full control of your site’s information. This presentation will help you include must-have content on your website and give you ideas for future improvements to the site after launch.


“Anatomy of a Website Redesign” Online Course

When: 11am PDT, Wednesday, October 10, 2018
Cost: $125 for NTEN members/ $250 for General Public
Presented by: Nonprofit Technology Network

This course covers the entire website redesign process, whether done in-house or by a large agency.

Using the project phases as a framework, the webinar component covers:

  • An overview of each phase
  • Concrete and recommendations for how to manage and progress through each phase
  • Tips to avoid common pitfalls that could derail the project
  • Time for Q&A

Participants of the webinar come from all sizes of organizations and leave with a clear understanding of the redesign process and the preparation required to begin it.

Course participants complete readings ahead of the 90-minute webinar and receive personalized feedback on their brief homework. Due to the work required, this course qualifies for credits toward NTEN’s professional certificate, Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE), and Certified Association Executive (CAE).

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!