Here at The Brick Factory we work with a variety of nonprofits, trade associations and advocacy groups. While each organization has their own unique set of challenges to undertake, its clear there are some recurring hurdles that we jump through on many of our projects.
We put together a quick list of five issues that seem to pop up pretty frequently:
1. Building for your internal organization
For most nonprofits their website is a tool for the public to interact with the organization. While this comes natural for some, it can be a huge problem for others. One of the largest struggles we face on a day to day basis is to work with clients to transform the intricacies and detail of an organization into information the general public can digest and understand. Its very easy to get locked into making a site that is a reflection of an organization’s internal structure. It comes natural, thats how most of an organizations staff probably perceives what they do. The trick is that the majority of the public probably isn’t looking for information on how your organization is broken up into different departments that handle x, y, and z – they’re trying to understand in broader strokes what you do and why they should care.
My advice would be to approach the redesign with your supporters in mind. What do they want to know about you? How would they want to interact with your organization? Taking a step back and approaching it from an external role can really improve your site design and strategy.
2. Locking into a proprietary content management system (CMS)
I know – surprise, surprise an open source digital agency touting Drupal and WordPress as content management systems. Well, there is a reason we chose to work on these two platforms – their flexible, cost efficient and well documented. With a proprietary CMS you run the risk of development constraints, higher cost, and significantly fewer support options. Not happy with your digital agency? Tough luck finding someone else that can or will work with a complicated custom CMS. Want to change to another platform? You’ll likely need to pony up a bit more cash to make it happen smoothly. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of good proprietary content management systems out there, just make to fully research all the options out there before committing to one.
3. No established web program goals
I can’t tell you how many times organizations have come to us without any established goals for their website. Seems simple right – collect email addresses, interact on social media, solicit donations, wash, rinse, repeat. Well its not quite that simple and it doesn’t happen with a snap of a finger or with the launch of a shiny, new website. It takes work, planning and time. Sorry to break it to you, you’re not going to raise millions of dollars online overnight, you’re not going to have a massive email list just by having a newsletter signup form. Don’t believe anyone who will tell you anything different, there isn’t a magic bullet for success on the internet (well, except pictures of cute animals).
Web strategy is like baseball, good teams know that you can’t come up to the plate and swing for the fences every at bat. Too often you’ll strike out and look silly. You need the singles, doubles, and triples to win games. While not as flashy, they’ll produce results just the same. Then, when the time is right, we try and hit one out of the park.
4. Too many cooks in the kitchen
This is a tough one. Internally, its hard to decide who has a voice and who doesn’t – we feel your pain. Unfortunately, if those tough decisions aren’t made upfront the rest of the process can be ten times more painful. There is nothing more draining to a site planning process than when mass approval is needed. A tear comes to my eye when I receive the dreaded ‘I’ll circulate this to my team’ email. We get it – its important to get feedback, just not on every single decision.
I think the best approach is to leave the details and as much of the planning as possible up to a small group. That small group should be chosen to best represent the rest of your organization and should have the full trust of your staff to make the right choices. Otherwise everyone will need their say and everyone will want to be the exception in what should be a fluid, overall web presence for your organization.
5. Not budgeting for continued maintenance and improvements
Websites are very easy to build and forget – unfortunately, thats a recipe for failure. Often its difficult to find the staff and financial resources to maintain your web presence. My advice would be to make it a priority and it will pay off. Settling for redesigning a website every few years and not touching anything in between will come back to bite you every time.
We see the launch of a new website as really the start of a project so we start the discussion of ongoing site maintenance at the beginning of every project. Don’t make the mistake of letting your website stagnate and become a brochure. The time and effort that you budget upfront will go a long way in making sure you will be successful in the long run.
Have some difficulties in redesigning your organization’s site that aren’t on the list? Let us know in the comments.