Planning Your Nonprofit Website

WordPress is great because it makes getting started on your website quick and easy—maybe a little too easy.

Before you get started on your website, make sure you’ve done the planning and preparation necessary to make sure your project goes smoothly and results in the best-possible site for your organization.

Once you’ve done everything below—even if only briefly—you’ll be able to focus on building your site rather than decision making as you go.

Identify Your Nonprofit’s Goals

Building a website requires you to make dozens of decisions, big and small. To get the best website possible, start by answering “why does my organization need a website?” Your answers might include:

  • So our potential donors can evaluate our organization.
  • So our visitors know about upcoming events.
  • So students can access our resources.

Every decision you make should support those goals. Better yet, if you find yourself facing internal disagreements over designs or features, ask “does this support our agreed upon goals?” This steers conversations away from personal taste and preference and back toward building a website that allows you to achieve your mission.

Know Your Audience

A website built for everyone serves no one well! Just like setting goals, identifying and prioritizing your audiences allows you to make smart decisions when it comes time to design and build your website.

While setting your goals, list the audiences you hope your website will serve. Nonprofits often have a wide variety of users so this can take a while and be hard. Common audiences include:

  • Clients / Constituents / Users
  • Donors (individual donors and/or institutional supporters)
  • Potential and/or Current Volunteers
  • Parents
  • Students

Be as specific as you can and then prioritize them in order of most- to least-important. Later, when you’re facing questions like “how do I order the menu?” or “what do I put on the homepage?”, you know whose needs take priority.

Bonus: Top Tasks

Once you’ve got a list of your types of users, consider what each type of user primarily needs to accomplish? A donor needs to find the donate button. A researcher needs to search your resources. A parent needs to know your emergency contact information.

Once you’ve completed your site, asking people whether they can easily accomplish these tasks is the best way to tell if your site is  succeeding.

Want an easy way to organize all this information? Check out the worksheet from usability.gov below in the Further Reading section.

Get Your Organization Ready

In my experience, the best nonprofit website projects have broad buy-in and narrow decision-making.

Consider Staff Capacity

Nonprofit staff are always stretched thin, so try to be realistic about your available human resources. It will take significant time to find a design, write content, and set up the site. Make sure everyone is prepared to help with their portion of the site, and consider if you can launch a partial site and continue building it over time.

If your staff are too busy, strongly consider working with someone to help you with design, content writing, content entry, or whatever else you need help with.

Appoint an Internal Project Manager

When the rubber hits the road and you actually start building your website, you need someone who’s in charge of making sure things get done. It’s not uncommon to have many people involved in website-building tasks, but you need one person whose job it is to coordinate work and enforce deadlines.

This person should also be empowered to make decisions on the project so the project doesn’t get held up. They should also be given the time and space required to work on the website. Make it ok for them to say, “I’ll get back to you because I’m working on the website right now.”

Manage Staff Feedback

Like I said, you want broad buy-in from your organization but you want to avoid the dreaded “design by committee.” Create clear and limited times for staff to give input and feedback on the process so they feel involved—and provide genuinely useful information—but don’t slow down or sidetrack the project. Ways to do this include:

  • Giving staff a survey at the beginning of the project to assess what they like and dislike about your existing site and what they hope to see in the new site.
  • Sending out updates without requests for feedback. (“Here’s what we’re working on right now. We want everyone to be up on our progress.”)
  • Asking very specific questions. “We’re trying to figure out whether ‘Resources’ or ‘Publications’ better describes our documents to scientists.” “Do you think a donor will feel intruded upon if we ask for their zip code?”

Important Caveat: You Are Not Your User!

When you’re collecting ideas from staff and in the thick of your project, it’s easy to forget why you’re building a website and who you’re building it for. Remember that your users—particularly ones unfamiliar with your organization—need the most basic information explained clearly and simply. Make sure to avoid these common pitfalls:

  • Forgetting to explain what your organization does clearly on the home page and About page. (You’d be surprised how many people make this mistake.)
  • Organizing your navigation menu based on your internal organization structure.
  • Using jargon and acronyms.

Further Reading