Professional Web Design for Nonprofits
While many people have the technical skills to create web pages and upload them to a server, that doesn’t mean they have the necessary communications expertise to help you create a website that represents who you are as an organization.
With the proliferation of free website builders, ready-made templates, and easy-to-use Content Management Systems like WordPress and Joomla, even a novice can put a website together in a few hours. But developing a good website takes time, planning, an understanding of your communications goals, and the skills and creativity to bring them to life.
Too often, nonprofits leave their website development to the cheapest developers they can find — or worse, to anyone who can build a website. Don’t underestimate the skills it takes to create and maintain a good website, and the importance of this public face of your organization — a place clients, stakeholders, and the public at large should expect to find vital information. As such, you need to adequately staff, plan, and budget for its care and feeding.
Building a website has several components. These include, but are not limited to:
While you are responsible for providing all the content for your website, your web development team should be able to assist you with:
- editing your content so that it is written appropriately for the web;
- organizing your content so that it is logically and intuitively presented on the site; and
- reviewing your content to see if it falls in line with your communications goals.
Well-written content is the heart of your website and is often the most neglected part of nonprofit websites. Developers who simply copy-paste your content into a template without even reading it are doing you a disservice.
2. The design
To save costs, many developers use standard templates. This is a quick and cost-effective way to get your site up and running, particularly for cash-strapped nonprofits. However, all templates can and should be customized to your specific needs.
Your site should be designed in a style that matches the brand of your organization. This is more than simply inserting a logo at the top of the page and using your standard colors. Your brand reflects the personality of your organization. Are you a formal, professional structure, with an audience of researchers and academics? Are you a child-rights organization, or a grassroots environmental movement? The look-and-feel of your site should convey this so that your users get a sense of who you are within a few seconds of visiting your site.
At the same time, remember that no amount of good design can save poor content!
3. Technical skills
Your developers should have the technical skills to convert the design into a live website, insert the content, and teach you how to update regular content yourself. They should choose an appropriate CMS that matches your site requirements.
Most developers will have the technical skills you need, but do they also have the communications, information management, or graphic design skills? If not, who will fill these roles in the web development process?
When these areas are neglected, the result is, sadly, the average non-profit website. All too often, after carefully reading a website for 10 minutes I still have no idea what the organization does (keep in mind the average user will spend less than a minute on a website before giving up and moving on) . In many cases, I can’t even establish if the organization is still active, or if they closed several years ago since the latest news on their website is dated 2009!
How to choose a web developer
Once you’ve decided to (re)develop your website, your first hurdle is in choosing the right developer to partner with. This can be a difficult and confusing process, especially if you are not familiar with the intricacies of web development, browsers, search engine optimization, web accessibility etc. Remember that you don’t need to be an expert in these areas, you just need to hire someone who is!
Here are some basic points to consider:
- Find a developer who will provide a simple, free content management system (CMS) like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal. These will save you money long term, and enable you to easily update your site yourself.
- Always look at their portfolio to determine if you like their design style. If you don’t like what they’ve produced before, there is little chance you will like what they produce for you.
- Get several quotes and compare the quotes to the portfolios. You do get what you pay for!
- Look at other NGO sites you like and ask them for a recommendation, and an indication of what they budgeted for their website.
- Developers who have worked with NGOs before or at least have some understanding of the sector are always preferable. NGO websites have unique needs, and should not be developed in a generic corporate style.
- Ultimately, choose someone you trust, and who is interested in your work and your content. It is easy for a web developer to create a site and copy/paste your content into the framework. But someone who understands and cares about your content will work with you to make sure it is presented optimally on the web to help you further your cause.
So what should you do?
You don’t know how to make a website, and a web developer is not an expert in your sector of work. Sounds like the beginning of a beautiful collaboration!
Make sure you put the right people in place, and the web team has all the required to skills to develop an effective website.
Communicate regularly (but don’t micro-manage).
Ask questions, and don’t be in awe of the technology. The vast majority of the nonprofit website is straightforward.
Your most important contribution will be providing interesting content that highlights the goals and accomplishments of your organization. Your web team should be able to organize and display that content into a beautiful, accessible, intuitive website.
What is the status of your nonprofit website? Does it meet your communications goals?
I offer comprehensive website evaluations, with recommendations on what you can do to improve your site.