Managing Your Website for Non-Profits

Non profit organizations are in a unique situation when it comes to creating and maintaining a website.  Many are staffed by volunteers or have a very limited staff which handles all aspects of the business, including the website.  Other people are usually pulled into the process, creating confusion and adding time and expense to the project.  Consider the following:

Who is Managing the Project?

Lounge Manager Matt

Who is Managing Your Non-Profit Site?. Photo courtesy of VirginMoney(CC Attribution)

Nearly every non-profit I have worked with has one person who gets the blame when something is wrong with the site, but a multitude of people who want input into the look, feel and content of the site.  Instead of designating a team of decision makers, non-profits tend to have a series of conversations like this:

Staff Person:  Here is the home page for our new site!

Board Member 1:  I don’t like it.  Move this, add this, change this.

—Changes are made—

Board Member 2:  I think this should change, and do this and fix that.

—Changes are made—

Board Member 3:  My daughter is in college and doesn’t like the site at all.  She thinks we should….

—Changes are made—

Board Member 1:  It is too busy.  We need to start over…

And on and on.  I call this the trickle effect.  It is designed to waste time and money.  Decide on one project manager and if consensus is needed, have a meeting with every single stakeholder present.  Work out a compromise.  Try not to base decisions on each person’s tastes or a viewpoint of your website audience that is incorrect.  Which brings us to the next topic:

Who is Your Audience?

Gas Co ball, Trocadero, July 1941

Your Non-Profit Audience. Photo courtesy of State Library of New South Wales collection(CC No Copyright)

Of the non-profits I have worked with, none had a concrete vision of who will be using their website.  Build one, or even a couple, of mock users complete with names and backstories.  When looking at your site or writing content, have those people constantly in mind. For example, for a non-profit homeless shelter:

Jane S. is a 40-60 year old professional woman.  She may belong to a church and has the money, but not the time, to donate to our cause.  She is more likely to come to our site on purpose to donate, especially for holidays or in memorial targeted donations.  She will not want to click around the site, finding out how she can help.

John D. is a homeless man looking for short-term shelter and in need of long-term counseling and assistance.  He may access our site through social workers and the library.  He is not particularly computer-savvy, but wants to know how we can help him.  

Having Jane and John as example users will help this non-profit decide the layout of their site (i.e. a donation button needs to be highly visible on each page) as well as guide content (services need to be described in simple terms, with easy instructions on how to access the services).

Your Non-Profit Will Change

Finally, realize that your site is not going to last forever – missions change, tastes change, technology changes.  Don’t strive for absolute perfection for a site that you will most likely change in 3-5 years.  I’ve had non-profits waste thousands of dollars on website designs, going through dozens of iterations before launching, only to go through the whole process again two years later when new board members came in and decided the site needed to be updated.  (Needless to say, I don’t donate to those non-profits).  


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