Top 10 Tips For Building a *GREAT* Nonprofit Website


I’m giving you “define goals and audiences” as a freebie. That’s step 0. Here are the 10 other most important tips that I’ve learned from working with nonprofits to build websites.


1. Assign the right project leader

Choose a project leader whose job description matches the overall goals of the site. For example, if the site is linked to an advocacy campaign, choose a project manager who works on the advocacy team.

Choose someone with a good amount of social capital within your organization. The project leader will steer important discussions, build consensus among many interested parties and aim to complete the project on-time and on-budget. Choose someone that has a good reputation among the staff and project team.

Empower the project leader to make and enforce important decisions.


2. Choose a vendor that works and communicates the way your nonprofit does

Consider whether your organization prefers to make decisions and offer feedback in person at meetings, via video chat, via phone or via email. Consider whether your organization feels more comfortable working with a local, national or international vendor. Consider whether your organization works mostly during the business day or whether you collaborate around the clock via online tools.

Ask potential vendors to identify the person who will serve as your main point of contact. Is that person truly knowledgeable about web technology?

Choose a vendor who can describe web technology options in a way that is easy for you and your project team to understand. For example, ask potential vendors to explain what a CMS is and why you should consider using one for your website project.


3. Focus on mission critical features

Limit the number of overall site features to just those that accomplish the site’s specific goals.

Be realistic about your staff’s capacity. For example, don’t ask your vendor to build an events calendar if your staff doesn’t have time to collect and post community events on your website.

Additional features may be added as you learn what users want from the site and as your organization evolves.


4. Organize your website so someone who is new to your organization or issue can figure out *what you do* and *how they can help*

Choose categories for your site navigation that make sense to a brand new website visitor who knows nothing about the issues.

Consider organizing the site according to what a visitor can do: “Learn about autism”, “Volunteer” and “Sign up for updates”.

Choose people-friendly titles. An organization may use terms such as “strategic initiatives” but a website visitor might be looking for “programs helping hungry children.”


5. Give your designer feedback they can use

For elements that you dislike, ask your graphic designer why s/he chose that approach. You can then engage in a discussion about why this element may or may not be right for your site.

If you don’t believe an element is effectively accomplishing its goal, try to find an example of a successful approach. For example, if you don’t believe the “Donate” button is right for your site, show your graphic designer another “Donate” button that compelled you to take action.

Don’t ask a stranger to review the design. Without your organization’s own content, the design is not ready for review by a wide audience.


6. Get the holy trinity of web technology: Accessible, Responsive, Search Engine Friendly

It sounds expensive to want a site that is accessible (to people with disabilities), responsive (to people on mobile devices) and search engine optimized – but your web developer can use many of the same strategies to accomplish all three goals.

Feel confident in your request that your site be Accessible, Responsive AND Search Engine Friendly. And no, you don’t have to pay more.


7. Create authentic content and create it on time

The most popular reason that nonprofit website launches are pushed back is because the content is not ready. Start your content development as soon as you and your vendor have complete the site map.

If you’re running out of ideas for fresh, authentic content, invite staff, board, volunteers and donors to contribute their stories about why they choose to invest in your organization.


8. Test the site with target audience members

Studies show that testing a site with as few as five to ten users can help your organization identify 80 percent of the site’s problems.

Ask members of target audiences to test drive your site by giving them discrete tasks to accomplish. For example, if your site has a goal of generating more letters to state legislators, test how long it takes a new visitor to find your site’s “email your legislator” tool.

If you have no budget for testing, but you do have some time, your project team may be able to implement a few user test on your own. Email your current subscribers and invite them to stop by your office one evening to help the organization by testing the new website in-person.

If you have no budget and no time for testing, email a select group of trusted supporters (such as active volunteers) with a limited number of questions that they can answer as they test the new site from their home or work computers.


9. Plan for the future… with features

Consider the version at launch to be “version one” of your website. Plan to create subsequent versions with improved features.

Keep notes about ideas for future features. Host ongoing website trainings for staff and use the gatherings as informal user groups where you can generate ideas for new site features or identify bugs.

Review your analytics regularly to identify what content users want but are not finding.


10. Serve up a documentation sandwich

Start and end your website project with extensive documentation.

At the start of the project, document goals and audiences, project brief, technical and design requirements, existing analytics and discovery conversations. These documents will help you or future website project leaders understand why the site is built the way it is and understand when those decisions should be modified.

At the conclusion of the project, document custom programming, how the site’s backup system works, ideas for future features and the budget and plan for ongoing maintenance and training.


yesenia sotelo

About Yesenia Sotelo

Yesenia Sotelo is a digital skills teacher and web developer.

She elevates ambitious nonprofit professionals by teaching them how to use the technology tools of modern marketing.

Yesenia can teach you how to use website analytics or improve your online marketing results.

Her SmartCause Method for building websites is especially designed for the way nonprofits collaborate, make decisions and grow.

She won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) for her work teaching digital skills to nonprofit professionals.