You're ready to create a website for your nonprofit organization, but you don't know where to start. You ask around and try to find references from other nonprofit leaders. You open an account on one of those website builders, but find it utterly confusing. You read article after article, telling you to "remember to" do different things. Everyone has an opinion and, apparently, everyone but you is a web designer.
Sound familiar? So many times, executive leaders try to delegate the process of building their nonprofit organization's web presence, thinking that the process and the importance of it equal to a business card. As the process begins, so many things go wrong, and the most valuable parts of your messaging are left out.
Important Thing #1: Strategic planning is your job, not a volunteer's assignment.
Most leaders, especially executive directors, delegate the planning of their website to a volunteer or staff member who has never had real experience growing a nonprofit website. The result is that the focus of the website is creating something that "impresses" the leadership and board of the organization instead of creating an online presentation that fires on all cylinders. The volunteer does they best he or she can to meet aesthetic requirements while working to include all the moving announcements and upcoming events on the hurried website's homepage. Ultimate, unless the leadership takes an active role to strategically plan that presentation, the website fails miserably to accomplish its nebulous goals.
Important Thing #2: The right domain name is critical.
Choosing a domain name for your website is important enough to warrant a short brainstorming and research session. Rarely is the perfect domain name, such as the exact name of your organization or cause, available. So, choosing a domain name that works for your nonprofit website takes time, list building, and research before making a final decision.
- Pick a name that is memorable over one that is short. Avoid initials unless your organization uses them enough to be something people will remember.
- We are often asked whether nonprofits should use .org or .com. We recommend registering both, with the primary being your .org address.
- Try to incorporate search terms such as your cause, city, or affiliations into your domain name.
- Avoid numbers, dashes, or abbreviations unless they are a distinct part of your brand.
Important Thing #3: Your website's structure encourages or discourages visitors.
Start your website plan by creating an outline of all your pages – known as a site map. This positions your website as first a magazine of sorts. Plan your inside pages first, dividing the website into different collections of pages which will serve as major areas of your website. Create pages that you intend to place more permanent information on, such as your nonprofit organization's mission, vision, history, and team. Also, plan areas pages that will contain constantly changing information, such as event calendars, blogs, and news feeds.
Important Thing #4: Your homepage Is the cover of the magazine.
Finally, plan your homepage. Like the cover of a magazine, it should contain a summary of the latest and newest information on the site. Items such as your next upcoming event and your last three news updates should be on the homepage. You should also have a prominently featured item which could be a static impact statement, or a rotating feature that leads people to an upcoming event or important point of information. The primary objective is to entice your visitors to click on things that take them deeper into the website. Follow each path and make sure that everything leads someone to an action.
Important Thing #5: Not everything needs to be updated... but some things do.
As I stated above, be sure that you plan for what actually needs to be updated on a regular basis and what needs to simply be reviewed periodically. When a website is designed correctly, redesigning it every few years will not necessitate rewriting your content. You'll simply need to review what is there and swap out the main design template and homepage. But, until then, you will want to keep the moving content fresh by updating the areas that are intended to contain timely, up-to-date information.
That being said - choose your battles. If the person who will be updating the website does not have much time to do so, start your website with as few sections as possible and only include a few critical areas that must be updated on a regular basis.
The planning phase of a website is an extremely imperative. It's the most critical step for nonprofit leadership to be involved in. It allows the vendor of your choosing to follow a well-thought-out framework which ensures that everything you need to say and do online is said and done.
Choosing a consultant during the planning process can also make a huge difference. Be sure to choose a web development professional with years of experience with helping nonprofit organizations and a team that can execute on any idea you can come up with.
Bonus Action Point: Create an outline of your dream nonprofit website in Word. Share it with your team and create a final draft. Then assess what it will take to reshape your current website into that structure.
Need help planning your nonprofit website? Download our Nonprofit Website Planning Guide.