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Website basics for nonprofits

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Hannah Brazee Gregory

When it comes to your organization’s online presence, the bottom line is websites and other online marketing tools continue to be the most cost-effective way to get out your message and increase the credibility of your organization. A good website can also actually increase the capacity of your organization. How should a nonprofit organization approach the development of a website? Plan your site the same way you plan programs and services. Treat your site like a program of your organization, setting priorities and making decisions just like you do in other facets of your organizational development. You can do it. Maybe not the actual designing and html coding, but you can plan and outline a new website for your organization. If you’ve designed campaigns and programs, you already have many of the skills you need to evaluate your website. The keys are:

  • Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because you’re not a techie you can’t make good decisions about your site.
  • Don’t think that you’ve added value to your site simply because you’ve managed to get something online. You wouldn’t apply that kind of thinking to your other work, so don’t let yourself off easy with your online efforts.

So, how do you begin? Put yourself in their shoes – the people visiting your site, or those you wish were visiting your site. Imagine scenarios where someone might use your services.

  • What are they doing when they think to go to your website?
  • How do they first find it?
  • What do they do when they get there?

Think of as many scenarios as you can, involving as many different types of users as you can, and you will start to get ideas about how to make your site more helpful to your users. The next step is to determine, from this list of scenarios, what you can and what you can’t do. This is the hardest part in the website planning process and is determined by the capacity of your organization and any budget you may have for your website. If you have limited capacity for the website and little or no budget to hire outside help, then consider doing less than you have in the past, but do it better. Are you trying to do too much with your site? If your current website is never up to date or has sections or pages with empty areas, then the answer probably is yes. When planning a new site, think about what is really manageable on a daily or weekly basis. One or two pages of up-to-date, well-written and organized information is much more useful than 20 pages of outdated information or forms that you never have time to fix. If you think your organization is up for the challenge, consider doing more with your website. For example, are there any services or programs you could offer online? Is there information that your receptionist is always relaying to the public but is not on your site? If your organization is a source of expert information on a particular topic, consider making your site a resource. But don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start with one new feature or information section on your site and go from there. Recommended features of all nonprofit websites that are often forgotten:

  • A news section. Tip: Use a web-optimized news-release service, such as PR Web or a blogger service with RSS feeds. This way, you do not have to create a new page on your site for every release or upload an attachment. With these, all you need to do is link to the archived release. And if the release is hosted elsewhere it adds to its credibility.
  • A way to capture information and grow mailing lists. At bare minimum, capture email addresses. Tip: Use an email marketing service to help you capture and maintain your lists, and make sure you are following rules and regulations.

Hannah Brazee Gregory is a nonprofit marketing communications expert and founder/managing director of Shoestring Creative Group. Hannah can be reached at contactus@shoestringgroup.com or 888.835.6236.  

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