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Jul 25th, 2019

A simple exercise to get the website your nonprofit wants

How to get started and lead your nonprofit through the web building process.

Edward Urgola
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If you don’t speak computer, creating and maintaining your online presence can be intimidating and expensive. With all the website building tools available, it’s easier than it was in the past to ‘go live’ overnight — but its not guaranteed you’ll get the website you want. At Catchafire, nonprofits frequently come to our marketplace and ask:

  • How much should it cost to create and maintain a website?
  • How do I know if I need a graphic designer or a UX designer?
  • How much does my “brand” really matter to my website?
  • We want to make major changes to our current site. Do I need to start new or rebuild what I currently have?

Whether you choose to outsource to an agency, hire a freelancer, or leverage a skills-based volunteer, here are a few useful and insightful tips (but not overly obvious ways) to get around technical jargon and headed in a direction with a website that works for you.

A content management system (CMS) is the right answer.

Let me make one decision for you- your nonprofit’s website needs to be in a content management system. A CMS is an automated tool that takes the complexity out of designing, building, and most importantly maintaining the website content without the need for technical support. In 2019, there is a swath of affordable website building sites that will give you the ability to host, upload, edit, and style content without having to know complicated coding like HTML and CSS. Tools like Wix, Squarespace and Wordpress are all examples of CMS services that can put you in the driver’s seat to control your website. General rule of thumb: There will likely come a time when you “graduate” and need a custom site. Until your nonprofit has multiple audiences who need to sign in and access special content, a CMS service can get the job done.

With that decision out of the way (insert sigh of relief), here’s a guide to defining what you really want your website to accomplish and ultimately, deciding what next steps you need to take to get the website you want.

You can’t do it all: Be a master of one (at least to start)

Your website is fundamental to your online presence. It’s where constituents learn about you, it might be where you direct supporters to make a donation, and it should inspire the general public to care about your cause.

Beyond that, it’s a manifestation of everything you are doing and it needs to repeatedly direct your readers to what you want them to do — donate, learn, apply, contact, etc. I recommend prioritizing 1–2 specific areas and staying laser focused on them throughout your website build. That way, you can ensure even the smallest choices roll up to your ultimate goal.

Try this simple exercise and ask yourself:

The right people for the right job

Before you jump into the work, take a moment to consider the different types of professional services involved in building, designing, and promoting websites. You can use this information to decide what external support you’d like to bring in:

  • Full stack developer: They are a hybrid of front end and back end work. They translate the design of a website into code so that it displays correctly and renders well on all types of devices and screen sizes. They also focus on how the site is built, from programming between the web browser to the server, and connecting back to the database storing information.
  • Graphic designer: This individual helps with brand identity and will be focused on the story you are wanting to tell on each page. They’ll create the digital elements for each page and will reinforce your mission.
  • Copywriter: This professional can help you fill out content throughout your website about who you are and what your organization does.
  • Digital marketer: This person is thinking about how email and social connect to your site. They are a utility player that will drive traffic.

Understanding that design might be a band-aid solution

Beautiful sites don’t necessarily mean great sites, so consider how you can best balance a visually appealing site with your core functionality needs.

Now that you have a stronger sense of what you want your site to accomplish and who you might need to get the job done, take a hard look at your current site. What is working and what isn’t working? Is your information structured correctly and readers are getting what they need quickly? Do you have the site you want, but no visitors?

Just ask these questions with your mission and goals in mind — with CMS services and skills-based volunteers on your side, the answer might be more straightforward than you think.

View our custom collections of Catchafire projects that will help you build (or rebuild) your website:

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