Signs that your Nonprofit Needs a New Website

By Richard Hamel

This morning I came across a clever online (top-ten list) article by Philanthropy Journal regarding when it might be time to redesign an organization’s website and, moreover, how best to approach the organization’s leadership that the time is now. I thought I’d comment on the individual points – plus add an additional key item – before sharing this list with doWW viewers.

As the author of the article pointed out, and I certainly agree, the website is the most cost-effective communication tool a nonprofit has. I’ll add that since few supporters and, perhaps, clients can afford the time to come visit the organization in person, the website really needs to keep the “front lobby up,” as it were. It needs to meet and greet the person like a well informed and caring reception staff. Moreover, the website not only needs to reflect the organizations services, programs and wants, it needs to reflect the organizations vitality and ability to engage the visitor.

Remember, a website is not a digital version of a static brochure, but an interactive venue – a social network between the public and the organization.

That said, now the list:

10. Your website and social media don’t speak the same language and can’t get along.
In other words, the ability to “share” with your social network (e.g.: Facebook, LinkedIn, an email) an article you find interesting is becoming one of the best means of steering traffic to your website. And, of course, traffic equals participation and potential support. Share the wealth of information!

9. Your website assumes that visitors are willing to wait several minutes for everything to load, and doesn’t care that its programming and graphics files are the cause. (Your web statistics indicate that 95 percent of your visitors don’t get past the homepage.)
Skip the bandwidth-heavy flash intro, optimize the graphics to the appropriate file size, and get to the heart of the matter. Also, always keep in mind that the Home page is prime real estate; don’t overwhelm viewers with too much information. Yet, make sure that they can get to where they need to go in no more then 2 clicks.

8. You have absolutely no idea how to log in to make changes and your volunteer website administrator stopped returning your calls six months ago.
Since the website is the organization’s main communication tool to the public, maintenance and content development must be performed with the same regularity as an organization’s scheduled staff meeting. If you rely on a good-hearted volunteer to maintain the site, he/she will have to have not only some basic webmaster skills, but the ability (and this is important) to showcase the organization in the best light possible. They also need to be as reliable as any paid employee or outsourced webmaster. Also, be sure to keep accurate records on how to login to the site and how to make basic alterations should your volunteer (or staff member) disappear.

Finally, keep in mind that just because your website was built as a Content Management System (CMS) which permits client-side alterations, that does not necessarily mean that the person tasked with updating the website will be able to understand CMS procedures and will be able to budget the necessary time to stay on top of the website maintenance.

7. Your nonprofit’s website looks exactly like your brochure, with no more and no less information and photographs.
As stated earlier, the website is not a digital brochure. It is a venue where the public can interact with the organization. It is your communication nerve center.

6. Everything is a downloadable PDF file.
Having someone download a document will tire your visitor faster than a weekend budget meeting. Your important content must be viewable onscreen with minimal loading time.

5. Your homepage reminds you of when you were studying for yours SATs – too much text and information than is possible to digest.
Engage your viewers! Make them want to return! How? It is done by judicially selecting just the right amount of content with appealing graphics and images, and then laying it out in the most user-friendly format possible (think magazine structure). Lead them to additional content from excerpts, and don’t overwhelm them. Finally, offer them the option to comment on an article and share the information with others.

4. It takes visitors, and you, at least three attempts to successfully click your intended selection on a complicated drop-down menu. (Keep trying – you’ll catch that link!)
Not only does your navigation/menu selector have to function properly, it needs to be set up logically and intuitively.

3. An over-zealous intern or volunteer installed a fancy flash introduction that makes your website look like it is for a video game rather than a nonprofit – and that decreases your traffic by 40 percent to 60 percent.
Before you move with your website design, you must go through some sort of branding/market identification process. Serving the needs of the underserved is not the same as selling surfer shorts or plumbing services. Make sure your style, approach and content reflects this critical fact.

2. You completely redesigned your logo and look three years ago, but your website still has the logo and look designed 15 years ago. Again, your website is not an afterthought. It needs to reflect where the organization is NOW. And having an old logo, or a past event, still on the Home page is a major faux pas.

(That said, the creation of a logo is a specialization. It requires skills that are not usually available to even the best graphic designer. Logo creation is the key part of the organizational identity process.)

1. You are being charged by the hour for a web programmer to make all of your changes and updates even though there are free open-source templates with content-management systems built-in. Periodic content updates and new articles do not necessarily require the skills of a webmaster. Keep him/her for the design, structural and back-end work. But if the task of keeping the website current is “falling through the cracks,” some sort of outsourced website maintenance schedule may serve the needs of the organization best.

1+ Your website is almost invisible in the search engines.
If one cannot locate your website because of poor or non-existing search engine optimization (SEO) practices, then you are not marketing. (Your Internet outreach is now Intra-net.) Few things are as important in the development of a website as getting the SEO down right on every page.


For more information on website development practices, options and ideas, visit Your Website at doww.