Thursday, March 10, 2011

How To Manage Your Small Nonprofit Website

Image via ProceedInnovative.com
One of your first acquisitions - maybe before you get your 501(c)(3) even - is a website. It's possible that some people may think that in these days of social media networks, a website is less important than before. *BZZZ* Wrong. It's still the place people will go to find out more about your organization and its mission. Social networks are all about what's happening now while your website should be about your immediate past accomplishments, history, details. They are both forms of engagement, though the former is more dynamic than the latter.

This morning I read an interesting post from Big Duck about how they managed a website makeover. They had a lot of content and a lot of resources and much of that part of the post won't appear to apply to very small or micro nonprofits, but there was some good information in there for you, too!

Making Sure Your Website Has Clear and Compelling Content

I hear or read the phrase "clear and compelling content" a lot, but most times there's no definition for what it means. So I'm defining it here as:

  • stuff on your website that doesn't make people wonder what you're talking about, and
  • stuff that causes an emotional reaction (i.e., helps people feel connected to the cause and your agency), and
  • stuff that, all together, compels people to want to help further the mission
Big Duck obviously understands that, because they worked very hard to ensure there was flow between the pages; yes, another word to be defined. Flow on a website means (to me):

  • the pages follow a consistent design plan - if you can't afford your own hosted website, you're probably using something like WordPress.com, which means a template and so design flow is built in for you*
  • the tone and style of the writing on each page is consistent (if you don't know what tone and style are, Google them); if you're informal and playful on one page and serious and formal on another, your visitors could get confused about who you are
Managing the Process of Updating Content

The other thing I thought would be useful is how Big Duck managed their site remodel. You can take what they did and use it as part of your process for keeping your website up-to-date while maintaining flow and consistency:

  • Know what your strategy is e.g., cleaner look, better links, etc.
  • Define clearly (and in detail) what is going to change on each page
  • Assign tasks with timeline attached (even if the only person doing the work is you)
  • Create structure for the changes - specific places for drafts with the versions clearly indicated so you don't mistake yesterday morning's version of the Press page for this morning's version
  • Use check-lists to make sure you do all the little things, remembering that changes on one page may ripple through the entire site
  • An archive where you keep the things that you don't think you need anymore, just in case you need them after all
  • A back-up (not stored in the same place), just in case you need to put things back the way they were
  • A reader not involved in the process to go through the site when it's updated, click on links and provide feedback about whether or not you met your strategic goals, how easy it is to navigate
And, for heaven's sake, don't neglect opportunities to connect the site in every way possible to what you're doing using social media networks!

If you're a small or micro nonprofit which has gone through the process of a website re-do, I'd love to hear your advice - what you learned both good and bad about it.

Social Media Tool of the Week: Charity How-To

This site has some great free webinars that can give you insight into how to use Facebook or mobile apps to the advantage of your small nonprofit, and you don't have to extract the information because it's already oriented towards you. Check it out here.

* Note: I'm not in favor of new small nonprofits going out and getting a site designed for them. For one thing, sites need to change and what you think you need at the beginning will not be what you discover you need at the end of your first year. If you've contracted with a developer, you'll have to go back many, many times, which could cost you. If you've got a volunteer helping you, you may burn him  or her out or end up waiting until they have time to get to your requests, or both. Since both your time and scope are going to be limited as you get your nonprofit established, you're better off using one of the free and easy-to-use site building resources on the internet such as WordPress.com or Webs.com or any number of others.

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