Building a non-profit website is difficult for many organizations. Whether you’re working with a non-profit as a volunteer or are a staff member or non-profit director, it can be difficult to find the resources necessary to develop a great website. At the same time, building a non-profit website that is effective, looks good, and provides visitors with relevant features is absolutely essential if you want your non-profit to be successful.
Tip #1 for Building a Non-Profit Website: Work With Established Web Designers Only
Something we have seen far too many times is non-profits who choose to work with less established web designers, such as students or volunteers, and who end up getting taken for a ride. In fact, most of the referrals we get for non-profits are from organizations who have had a bad experience with another web designer.
Why is this? As non-profits often suffer from a lack of resources, especially when first starting out, it can be tempting to work with someone who offers web design for a reduced rate. Many organizations will take help from anyone willing to offer it, so the same should be true for web design, shouldn’t it?
The truth is: you may find yourself dealing with a lot more issues, and may even incur additional costs, when working with less experienced web designers. Many of our non-profit clients have horror stories about working with web designers who demanded to be paid up front and then never finished the job, who tried to abscond with their data over a bill dispute, and who locked them out of their own website unless they paid exorbitant maintenance fees, just to name a few.
The sad truth is, some web designers see non-profits as easy prey. Don’t sign on for a real nightmare by working with someone who isn’t going to be professional. Find a web designer you can trust and who will work within your budget. It’s better to have a simple, but well-designed, website than to have a less effective website that has more pages but isn’t effective.
Tip #2 for Building a Non-Profit Website: Figure Out Maintenance Up Front
Another issue many non-profits face is maintenance. While it’s always a good idea to talk about maintenance costs with your web designer before you agree to work with them, it can be easy for non-profit professionals to think, “well, I’ll just save money by maintaining the site myself.” In principle, this is not wrong. You can save money by doing your own website maintenance.
Something else many non-profits suffer from, however, is a lack of human resources. You need to ask yourself if you have enough regular staff members who are going to stick around and are willing to familiarize themselves with the ins and outs of your new website. Or: can you, yourself, dedicate sufficient time each week to website maintenance tasks?
If not, you might want to negotiate a maintenance package with your designer. Or, at the very least, pay for a training session on how to maintain your new website and take notes you can use later. In short: don’t be afraid to ask for help if you get overwhelmed with maintenance tasks. A website that isn’t being maintained is only going to break down over time.
Tip #3 for Building a Non-Profit Website: Focus on Building Community
As far as the overall purpose of your website, you want to think about building a community of followers. Small businesses are different than non-profits in that they are often marketing products and services through their websites. Non-profits provide services at reduced cost or at no cost, and also have to attract volunteers and donors to continue to provide these services to their clients. Because of this, the focus of any non-profit website should be building a community of people who care about your cause and are willing to contribute to your mission.
You want your website to showcase the types of events, fundraising efforts, and programming that your organization is engaged in. You want to be welcoming, but also to demonstrate the passion you have for your cause. Most of all, you need to signal to website visitors what needs you have and provide them with easy ways to contribute to your organization.
Non-Profit Web Design Is a Balancing Act
Like all organizations, non-profits have resource limitations. Given that you essentially provide services for free, you can’t always plan on using your website to sell products or services. Instead, you need to attract donors and volunteers who will support your organization over the long haul.
At the same time, you don’t want to compromise on the design of your website. Think of your website as an investment in the community you’re trying to build, just like your physical building. Without the right foundation, your organization’s online presence could become shaky, or could even crumble, blunting your efforts to serve those less fortunate.