How to create a nonprofit website that works
A thoughtful, beautiful website can separate your nonprofit from a sea of sameness, furthering your mission and inspiring members of key audiences to take action.
On paper, this sounds great. In practice, a ton of work goes into creating a new website.
Through this Belief, we’ll cover the items you can begin working on as you plan for your nonprofit’s shiny, new website.
Do your research
When you imagine your new website, what does it look like? What does it sound like? How does it make visitors feel?
A clear picture may not always come into focus, so it’s useful to compile a list of websites you love and take notes on what it is you love about them. It’s equally valuable to make a list of websites you hate and outline what parts of those websites feel underwhelming.
Research should also include discussions with key audiences, like donors, volunteers and those you serve. The most valuable insights come from pointed questions about how they can best utilize your organization’s website. It may not be easy to schedule these conversations, but it’s worth the effort – your future website will thank you.
Create your site map
Your website should tell your organization’s story in a clear and meaningful way. This story starts with the pages you decide to include, and those pages should be outlined in a site map.
For starters, look at the pages your peers use to communicate their mission, demonstrate their impact and encourage visitors to take action. At the same time, identify how your website’s pages (both their names and the content of each) will most clearly tell your organization’s story.
If you’re redesigning an existing website, make sure you take stock of all current pages to make sure nothing important is lost in translation. A tool like Screaming Frog can quickly spit out a list of every page on your current site.
Write the messaging
Now that you’ve got the pages determined, it’s time for everyone’s favorite part: copywriting! Yes, this portion is arduous, but as the subject-matter expert, you will most often be the ones writing the messaging.
Our recommendation is to create a Google Doc that serves as your copy deck. This way, you can assign the writing duties for each page to the right people and avoid issues with version control.
Take stock of your visual identity
Before a single page is designed, you’ll need to make sure the components of your visual identity are clearly organized. If you’ve already got a brand guidelines document, you should be good to go. If you don’t, create a document that at a minimum includes information on your color palettes and fonts, along with links to download your logo files.
That said, we always tell nonprofits that a website redesign is the perfect moment to consider rethinking your visual identity. If there are things about it you don’t like – whether it’s something small like a font choice or something major like a graphic that no longer represents your organization’s mission – it’s worth discussing brand modifications before the website process kicks off.
Finalize your functionality
Go ahead and put your tech hat on. Don’t worry, this won’t hurt too much.
On a macro level, you’ll want to determine your new website’s content management system (CMS). At Great Believer, WordPress is our CMS of choice. We love how it lets us to turn custom designs into an easy-to-manage interface. That said, there are other CMS’s out there (e.g. Drupal, Webflow, Squarespace and Wix). If you’re curious what your peers use for their CMS, use this BuiltWith Chrome extension when viewing their sites to see what’s under the hood.
On a micro level, you’ll want to make sure you’re comfortable with the different platforms your organization is using for donations, email sign-ups and more, as those platforms will be connected to your new website. You’ll also want to consider other functionality, like whether you’d like your website to translate text into different languages and feature social media feeds.
Do it yourself or hire a design agency
The other steps of the website process – such as wireframes, web design and web development – require more hands-on expertise. If you have that background, great! Go for it. If not, this is the time to consider hiring a design agency to take things from here.
If you’re interested in going the design agency route, drop us a line so we can talk it out.