A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

5 Common Mistakes Nonprofits Make When Redesigning a Website

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.

The New USATODAY.com

Re-imagined is a term usually reserved for remakes of curious 1960’s movies and second acts of flamboyantly-colored Dodge automobiles. Re-imagined is a histrionic way of asking us to give something a second pass. Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes was re-imagined with a bewildered Mark Wahlberg in place of Charlton Heston and the result was a very long first date for me that turned out very badly indeed. Dodge re-imagined their Charger as a heavy, brutish road predator that the police now use exclusively, it appears, to harass yours truly for excessive speed (court dates pending).


USATODAY.com has alerted us to their redesign with a slog of banners and videos and social networking efforts containing the buzz-word reimagine, which according to my spell check, isn’t a word. I don’t concern myself with that any more than might I watch a video explaining a website redesign to me. Let’s just dive in, rather, and see what all the ruckus is about.


I have entered the site, moving quickly past the new logo (which may require some discussion as well) in default view (versus cover view) and the initial pass is pretty impressive. I’m used to the big picture/story, top-heavy layout for a news site and I think that style makes sense, but I think this new idea might work out just fine. The big story, in this case Mitt Romney’s head, is high and tight and yet still unobtrusive because I have an additional 10 (and with a click, 20) headlines at eye level as well. There are a lot of choices above the fold and new visitors may find this experience a bit like fighting through a low end diner menu, but I’m willing to put up with stock info, unending layout options and other goofy add-ons to get through the experience (and this required blog post).
You can customize your experience here at USA Today. I get that.


One of the options I might actually use is the cover view tab that allows for that top heavy view I’m used to. The photography is outstanding, as expected, and for certain stories the photography would be the draw. Below the fold are Today’s Lead Stories, presented either visually in a grid or as more traditional headlines. Right Now is a rather urgent title of the more frequently updated content that runs the entire sidebar. The bottom of a page is a truest test of a complete web design, I think, and USAToday.com finishes off their effort pretty well. Besides unobtrusive and attractive icons for feedback, applications, staff index, etc., the site index link brings up a full footer that completes the page design beautifully and usefully.


The sub levels are not in any way watered down designs of the home, but content-packed homepages themselves. There is no real hierarchy in the site. Part of what makes this redesign attractive to me is the amount of real content on every page above the fold. Deep vertical scrolling has been acceptable in news sites for a while and will continue to be but having as much new content where I can see it immediately has been done with great care on this site and never overwhelms the user.

USA Today never capitalized on what their paper’s core strengths were, in my opinion, but I feel like they have taken a significant step here. This is a big news site now and a good upgrade for the online news experience. For USA Today, it’s huge and positions them at or near the top of the current crop news site designs.

10 Great Nonprofit Websites

As a firm one of our focuses is on building websites for charities and non-profits.  In an effort to find some inspiration, we recently looked through the sites of   Forbes list of 200 Largest U.S. Charities. We picked our favorites based on web design and how well we think they communicated the mission of their nonprofit organization. It was interesting to see the difference between the marketing needs of humanitarian groups and those of other charity groups. World Wildlife Fund, for example, used powerful photography to solicit sympathies, where the Metropolitan Museum of Art utilized a streamlined art showcase to represent the sophisticated museum style.

Following you will find ten great sites we came across.

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee

Placing the photo near the action toolbar on the right is a smart way to draw attention to where nonprofits want it most. They also do a great job of making the donation tab stand out.


American Museum of Natural History

Vibrant photography in the slider beautifully shows the museum’s various concentrations.


American Red Cross

One large emotional photo and a call to help makes this site appealing and direct.


Art Institute Chicago

Using the artwork as a background for the entire site and the stacking of the toolbar tabs gives this a very contemporary feel — a feel true to the museum itself.


Food for the Hungry

Their black and white design is crisp, and their use of relevant photography that matches the color of their logo is a nice touch.


Direct Relief

The site has little going on besides a vivid, compelling image and a donate button, which is not a bad thing at all.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This is another example of an art museum doing a great job of incorporating elements of the museum’s style into its site.


Robin Hood

The grey and white with lime green accents looks good, but it also suggests a break from the norm, much like the organization’s mission statement.


Teach for America

They present easy navigation and great photography.



World Wildlife Fund

They not only had high quality photography, but their choice of images was especially powerful. The picture itself is a call to action.



Barack and Beyoncé

Snap7Over on the Huffington Post a few weeks ago Patrick Ruffini declared 2012 the Groupon Election.  Patrick’s basic premise is that due to campaigns’ increasingly sophisticated use of analytics, email asks and online promotions have come to resemble those run by companies such as Groupon.   The long winded campaign updates of 2008 have been replaced by  the “flash sales at the campaign store, sweepstakes, and urgent deadlines”  of 2012.  I think Patrick is dead on, and would encourage you to read his full piece

The slew of sweepstakes being run by the Obama campaign are the most obvious example of the trend Patrick identifies.  The concept is pretty simple.  Supporters are asked either to give for the chance to win a meeting with Obama and/or a celebrity supporter.  A deadline is set.  Emails are sent out.  A winner is announced.  Money is counted.

This tactic is obviously working, as the Obama campaign keeps going back to this particular well.  So far sweepstakes have been run with Bill Clinton,  George Clooney, Sarah Jessica Parker, Beyoncé Knowles and Jay-Z.  In addition to the celebrity-oriented stuff, the campaign has also run periodic chances to win a dinner with President Obama himself.  The Romney campaign is using the exact same tactic. Just today they launched an “On Board with Mitt” sweepstakes where supporters can enter to win a flight on the campaign plane. 

I’ve catalogued the various sweepstakes I’m aware of at the end of this email.  I’m positive I’ve missed some.

I have mixed feelings about the “Groupon Election” and these various sweepstakes.

As someone who works in the online communication field, I find what the campaigns are doing in 2012 exciting and smart. These promotions work, and I would be stupid not to incorporate some “Groupon Election” tactics into my own work.

As a citizen that is increasingly frustrated by politics and politicians, I find the development a bit depressing.  The appeals I’m getting in my inbox from all sides feel increasingly superficial and small. 

I think all the 2012 political campaigns could learn a bit from charity: water, whose September Campaign manages to use the same basic tactics while not neglecting a key ingredient: inspiration.


Five Great Donation Page Designs

If you ask most non-profits, charities and political campaigns what the number one priority for their online program is, the majority of them will tell you it is to raise money online.  Yet at the same time, most of these same organizations will admit to spending very little time thinking through the layout and design of their online donation pages.  Despite being one of the most important pages on any website, the design of the donation page is usually treated as an afterthought.

There are many reasons for this.  Many groups use pre-built forms provided by third-party donations platforms, so opportunities for customization are limited.  Organizations that do have the resources to develop custom designs often exhaust their energy on sexier design challenges such as the homepage.  The donation form is treated as something that can be sort of thrown in at the end as opposed to something that needs to be planned and designed.

As a result you see lots of huge organizations with boring, utilitarian donation pages like this and this and this.

I think this is an opportunity missed.

A compelling, easy-to-use donation page can dramatically increase your conversion rate, and this can have a big impact on your bottom line.    Just do the match.

Say you are raising $10,000 a month online, with 20% of the people who visit your donation page making a donation.  If you can up your conversion rate to 30% and the average donation stays the same, you’ll raise $15,000 a month instead of $10,000.  It can add up.

In an effort to provide some inspiration, following are five well designed donation pages that I would guess enjoy very good conversion rates.