Building A Nonprofit Website Whitepaper

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What to know before you begin, this white paper outlines 10 steps before and after launch of a nonprofit website.

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Building A Nonprofit Website Whitepaper

  1. 1. Building a Nonprofit Website e IA White Paper by SW Creatives, LLC
  2. 2. Building a Nonprofit Website e 1If you were to polla hundred different nonprofit executives and ask them aboutthe process of creating a new nonprofit website, we suspect(from experience) that many of them would tell you that it’sas easy as finding a good creative team and writing a check…and that just as many others would say that it’s a long andcomplicated task that’s difficult to get right the first time.Which one of them is correct?In a certain sense, both of them are. Or, you could say that   Given that this is a process we’ve been through count-neither is. The fact of the matter is that getting a great less times, we’re going to offer you this report as a quickwebsite for your nonprofit organization—one that doesn’t roadmap to the terrain. Rather than trying to tell youjust look good, but helps your group to achieve its most everything you would have to know to build a win-important goals—isn’t all that difficult. At the same time, ning nonprofit website, which isn’t possible and alwayshowever, you can save yourself a lot of time and stress changes, we’re going to offer some tips and advice to help(not to mention more than a little bit of money) if you you get started and avoid the major pitfalls.understand the process from the beginning and know   As you read through, and later work with your creativewhat to look out for. team to build your nonprofit website, remember that the  That, in a nutshell, is the purpose of this paper. In this process can actually be a good exercise. Not only will itday and age, a nonprofit website could easily be your most help you raise more money, increase your public profile,important tool for marketing, fundraising, branding, and and possibly change the future of your nonprofit for themore. Given that, and the relatively hefty expenses that better in dozens of different ways, it can also be fun!can be involved in building a strong online presence, it’s With that being said, let’s take a look at what goes intoa decision you want to get right. That means knowing building a great nonprofit website…about the important steps and decisions ahead of time.A White Paper by SW Creatives, LLC
  3. 3. Building a Nonprofit Website e 2STEP ONESet Some Goals and Plans for Your New Nonprofit WebsiteIf you are going to build the nonprofit website you really registration list for your next event, draw in two dozenwant, much less the one your organization really needs, more volunteers every year, or do something completelyyou need to know why you’re doing it in the first place. In different isn’t important. What matters is that you haveother words, it helps to have a sense of what you really some kind of firm goal to work toward.want to achieve, besides simply “looking better” or “pro-   That isn’t to say that you’re going to reach all of thosemoting your nonprofit.” goals right away, of course. You may, but you also may  Those are admirable goals, but they aren’t concrete not. By having these stated, measurable ideas in place,enough. If you are using those kinds of notions as a start- however, you make it possible to refine your approaching point, try to replace them with something a bit more later so that you can eventually reach them and then setsolid. Ideally, you want to have some kind of firm, measur- new, more ambitious goals.able, and realistic targets that you are hoping your new   So, before you begin actually thinking about yournonprofit website is going to help you achieve. Whether nonprofit website, spend some time thinking about whatyou want to raise online donations by 20%, double your you’re hoping it’s really going to do for you.STEP TWOFind the Right Design TeamJust as you can’t begin building your nonprofit website of bottom-line impact you think they could have on thewithout some vision for the future of your organization, future of your nonprofit.neither can you get started without a creative talented   At SW Creatives, we employ a number of different tools,team behind you. To be sure, there are some nonprofits from the simple to the complex, in order to learn more notthat build their own websites, but unless you happen to just about the organizations we serve, but the users whobe (or know) a supremely talented web designer with non- will eventually come to their websites. Finding insightprofit experience, I advise you to stick to the professional through a study of audience demographics and psycho-ranks. The impact that the right, or wrong, website can graphics, SWOT analysis, and information architecturehave on your organization is just too profound. are all important steps that have to be taken before a  With that being said, how do you find the right creative nonprofit website can be built. You want an organizationteam to work with? It all comes down to looking closely that does the same for you.at a handful of different factors. For one thing, your web   And finally, you also want to make sure that personali-design team has to have some great creative chops. In ties and working styles match up the way they should.other words, they should be able to come up with a design Choosing a nonprofit web design team isn’t a popularitythat you can barely stand not to look at. contest, of course, but you do want a group of profession-  As important as the creative side of things is, however, als that you firmly feel is going to go above and beyonddon’t make it your only criteria. Go beyond samples and the call of duty to do their very best work for your organi-portfolios to look at things like testimonials, case stud- zation. That’s an important criterion… one that is impor-ies, strategic approach and, most importantly, what kind tant enough to keep looking around for until you find.A White Paper by SW Creatives, LLC
  4. 4. Building a Nonprofit Website e 3STEP THREEHave Your Creative Team Audit Your Current SiteYou won’t actually have to remind your web design team   The point of all of this peeking under the hood is partlyto do this (or at least you had better not!), but I include to avoid throwing out the good with the bad. What’s thethis step because it’s one that a lot of clients undervalue, point of “starting over” with your nonprofit website if youif they realize they need it at all. After all, you have cho- already have certain elements or messages that are work-sen a creative team, looked at their samples, and probably ing well?even written a check…isn’t it time to get to work?   It’s also designed to help you, and your creative team,  It is, but maybe not the work you’re thinking of. Before understand your web users (the men and women who willa single sketch or pixel is drawn, your nonprofit web actually interact with your site) as thoroughly as possible.design team is going to want to know a few things like The knowledge you gain about them will be the basis forwhat’s great about your current website, what features the structure of your new site, the content you put into it,you would love to change, and how other nonprofits in and even your strategy for promoting it.your sector are using websites to accomplish their goals.   Whether your nonprofit website is in great shape orThey’ll also want to look at things like visitor traffic pat- needs to be built from scratch, performing an audit andterns, search engine positioning, the state of your social finding out is a critical step in the design process.profiles, and other details.STEP FOURGather the Text and Content for Your New Nonprofit WebsiteMost likely, you will have already discussed issues of results (in the form of new donations and other bottom-website content with your creative team long before line kinds of measurements).you reach this stage. Still, it’s imperative that you know   Regardless of which road you take, however, depend-exactly who will be writing the pages for your new web- ability and scheduling need to be key factors. It would besite, and supplying things like images and logos, as well as fair to estimate that there are thousands of nonprofit webtheir respective deadlines for these activities. pages and marketing pieces that are ready to be launched  Obviously, there are pros and cons to having different right now, at this very second, if only someone had theparties handle the messaging on your nonprofit website. time to write, edit, and proofread the appropriate pagesDoing it yourself can save money and put the copy in the of text. Given that delays in writing are one of the mosthands of someone who knows your organization inti- prevalent reasons for missing the scheduled launch of amately. Hiring a professional copywriter who specializes new nonprofit website, make realistic project timing anin writing for the web or content strategy, on the other important consideration in your decision.hand, costs more but usually leads to better long-termA White Paper by SW Creatives, LLC
  5. 5. Building a Nonprofit Website e 4STEP FIVEDevelop the Strategic Plan for Your New Nonprofit WebsiteWould you trust a builder who planned on putting to- a bit premature to think about this before you even havegether your dream home without a set of blueprints or a page to look at, much less a completed site, but figuringarchitectural drawings? Of course not, you’d take your out how you will promote your new website later can leadmoney and run quickly in the other direction. Apply that to better design decisions now. Otherwise, you could endsame level of thinking to your new nonprofit website. up with pages that aren’t a good fit for the course you  As important as a site map—an outline of all the pages mean to pursue.that will be in your website—is to the process, it’s really   This, too, is another step that clients sometimes like toonly an initial step. How people will navigate through hurry through as they rush toward the launch of theiryour site has to be thought through, along with the vari- new site. Resist the urge, though, as a few days spent onous calls to action. Your nonprofit website plan should creating a good plan will almost always pay you backalso include a lot of detail-oriented elements, and espe- later. At the end, you won’t just have a theoretical plan forcially things like a schedule for completion, a final budget building a new website, but a clear information architec-(if the scope or direction of the project has changed since ture that will serve as a roadmap—often in the form of ayour first meeting, which isn’t unusual), a list of different wireframe, interactive prototype or some other easy-to-tasks and team member responsibilities, etc. At this stage follow tool—that show you where the major elements ofin the game, it’s all about putting together a solid plan for your nonprofit site are going to be and how the contentwhat you will end up with later. strategy fits into the site.  Another element that should be present in your plan isa strategy for marketing your new website. It might seemSTEP SIXChoose a Layout for Your New WebsiteWith some key decisions made, and a firm direction in the form of first impressions that are hard to express, soplace (perhaps with a wireframe or grayscale prototype don’t feel compelled to answer or give feedback imme-guiding the progress), your design team will likely not diately; it’s perfectly all right to take a day or two andtake long to show you some “mockup” versions of your consider your options.new website for you to critique and choose from. In most   Although there isn’t usually a lot for nonprofit clientscases, these won’t be working web pages, but simply to do at this stage, it can be a very exciting time. That’simages of what your new pages would look like, so you because this is the stage where the website starts to “comecan get a sense of the creative direction they’re taking. to life.” Enjoy that feeling, but don’t get too excited that  When you consider these, remember that it isn’t just you miss key details, or too nervous to share your opinion.about colors and photos, although these will typically be   One more helpful hint is to decide ahead of time whichthe first elements that jump out and catch your atten- members of your organization will be responsible fortion. Instead, you should also pay attention to the tone making the final decisions. Once a nonprofit websiteand feel of the layouts, as well as the branding effect reaches the creative stage, it isn’t unusual for a lot ofand emotions that they convey. Much of this comes in varying opinions to come out. Knowing who you wantA White Paper by SW Creatives, LLC
  6. 6. Building a Nonprofit Website e 5feedback from, and especially which team members have ers at your creative agency are going to get together toveto power, can be important to keeping your project integrate the layouts, content, and functionality decisionsmoving along. that have already been made and put them together in  Another important thing to note at this stage is that a way that seems transparent and seamless. In otherthere will be a lot happening behind the scenes. That’s words, they’ll turn your website into a living and breath-because a lot of work goes into taking an image-only ver- ing thing. You might only see a handful of design con-sion of your website and turning it into something that cepts or test pages during this time, but it’s when all thecan actually function online. The designers and develop- magic is happening!STEP SEVENLaunch Your New WebsiteWith the layout completed and the content for your new e-mail blasts, and new blog posts that are ready to go…website ready to go, it’s time to actually put your new and ready to bring you new visitors.site online and have it go live! This can feel like a really   Surprising as it may seem, a lot of the hard work forbig moment, and it is. The only thing that can dampen promoting your new nonprofit website happens wellthe excitement, in the coming days, is a lack of visitors before it ever goes live. The more time you have taken(or interest in general) in your new-and-improved non- to plan and prepare in advance, the more visitors you’reprofit website. going to be able to bring in from search engines, social  That’s why the planning stage I mentioned before is so media sites, and elsewhere—and the larger bottom-lineimportant. Coinciding with the launch of your new non- effect your new nonprofit website is going to have duringprofit website, there should be tools like press releases, the first months it goes online.STEP EIGHTAdd More Content to Your Website and Social ProfilesHere is a secret that those of us in the web design indus- and social media updates internally, or you have farmedtry know all too well: No website, nonprofit or otherwise, it to your creative team, what’s most important is thatis ever really finished…at a certain point they are simply it keeps happening. You need your nonprofit website toready to go online. be a moving target, if only because it’s so much easier to  What happens after that is just as important. That’s attract attention when you update your pages regularly.because, over time, your site should be growing, getting   At our firm, we rely largely on predetermined editorialbetter, and attracting more visitors. If it isn’t doing any of schedules to keep our website (and our clients’ nonprofitthose things—if it simply “sits online”—then you aren’t websites) growing and extending our reach. You shouldmaking the most of your investment, or the opportunity definitely be doing the same for your organization, usingthat a nonprofit website truly represents. the plan you developed when you first set out your goals  Whether you are generating new content like blog posts for your new online presence.A White Paper by SW Creatives, LLC
  7. 7. Building a Nonprofit Website e 6STEP NINEPay Attention to the Metrics from Your Nonprofit WebsiteOne of the most valuable things you can get from visitors behavior, not opinions. The more you study the behaviorto your nonprofit website, besides donations, is their of your visitors and potential donors, the more you under-feedback. The more that visitors and potential donors stand them and their motivations.tell you about what they like, what they don’t like, which   The things that a good metrics package can tell you arepieces of content feel engaging to them, and so on, the almost endless: Are you getting increasing numbers ofmore you can refine your site to their tastes and use it to visitors, and from new sources? How are visitors interact-meet your goals. ing with your nonprofit website? Which pages, articles,  Unfortunately, most people aren’t going to stop and and topics are of most interest, and which ones lead totake the time to tell you exactly what they thought about new donations? These are the kinds of things you’ll wantyour nonprofit website…that is, unless you know how to to find out from studying the metrics you get from yourlisten to them. nonprofit website.  A good metrics package—software that watches and   Your creative team will undoubtedly help you to findmeasures the way users interact with your nonprofit the metrics package that’s right for your nonprofit web-website—can tell you more about its effectiveness than a site. It’s up to you, however, to work with them and usethousand surveys ever could. That’s because it’s based on the data you get to reach your online and off-line goals.STEP 10Make Adjustments and Grow Your Nonprofit WebsiteOne of the very few things you can be sure about, when   Astute nonprofit executives, or ones who’ve beenit comes to your nonprofit website, is that it will change through this process once or twice before, have noticedover time. As you have probably noticed by now, your that there are two things that are common to every onework is only beginning once your new site goes online. of these steps: first, that each of them gets much easier  That isn’t bad news, however. Smart nonprofits make if you have the right focus and vision for your organiza-adjustments over time—especially to content and social tion; and second, that they become a lot easier—and moreprofile—to ensure that things are going the way they effective—if you have the right creative team working onshould, and that their most important marketing tool is your side.doing its job. After the time and money that you’ll have to   At SW Creatives, our passion is for helping nonprofitsinvest to get the website you need, it only makes sense to to generate websites, marketing materials, and other proj-get the most from it. ects to reach their full potential. If you’re looking for a  Besides, your website isn’t the only thing that will partner who has years of experience in this field, and onechange over time. Perhaps your mission will be different who wants to see your mission succeed as badly as youin a few years, or your staff, or even the size and structure do, let’s get together to schedule a meeting and talk aboutof your nonprofit organization. No matter what changes, your next website…though, keeping an up-to-date nonprofit website shouldbe part of your group’s branding and marketing strategy. www.swcreatives.com » hello@swcreatives.com301.891.0111 » 11002 Veirs Mill Road, Suite 700 » Silver Spring, MD 20902 » copyright 2012

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