5 Essential Tips for a Successful Nonprofit Website Redesign

Posted: May 9th, 2012

Leslie: Calling all nonprofits! Before contacting an agency or issuing an RFP, there are a few essential steps to take before you redesign your website. We asked Julia Rocchi, Associate Director and Managing Editor at the National Trust for Historic Preservation what they did to prepare for their own website redesign. Here’s what she had to say:

This may surprise you, but the most important part of a website redesign isn’t the color palette. It’s knowing your audience, articulating your goals, and laying the right groundwork for the entire redesign process.

This article focuses on what is arguably the hardest part of the redesign process: getting ready to do it. But if you take the right steps at the outset, you’ll significantly reduce your chances for confusion, delays, and general insanity later.

1. Identify your audience(s).

Do marketing research if/where possible. What are your audience(s) values? What gets them excited? What moves them to support your cause? What else do they support? Do certain categories or themes emerge that you can use to frame your approach?

Know your audience’s demographics: It’s helpful to know not only their age, gender, education level, etc., but also their behavioral demographics. Are they donors? Advocates? Members? Do they like reading, clicking, viewing, downloading? Are they computer-literate? Are they heavy mobile phone users? Which browsers do they use? If you are using Google Analytics on your current site, you can easily answer these questions.

Identify what actions they are taking. What are they currently coming to your site to do? Do they know everything about you already, something about you, or nothing about you?

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Be specific in your audience. You cannot be everything to everybody; there is no such thing as a ‘general audience.’ If you try to speak to everybody, then you end up speaking to nobody. The more details you have, the more you can visualize the real people using your website and better tailor the experience to their needs.

Compare the users you want to reach to the users you currently reach. Do they align? If not, what do you need to tweak – or outright change – to match them up?

2. Identify your goals and objectives – preferably measurable ones.

First, some definitions. Goals are long-term and a little fuzzy: “We want to build our cause into a movement.” That’s noble; keep striving for that.

Objectives are concrete, short- and medium-term guideposts for achieving the fuzzy goals. They must be measurable. For example: “We want to increase our membership 25% by the end of this fiscal year.” Good objectives have timelines, budgets, and people power behind them.

3. Identify a project manager and lay out a project plan.

Website redesigns tend to be complicated, complex, and long-term, with many moving pieces and contributors. Establishing a project manager ensures that at least one person has the global view and can see how everything is working together.

Identify all other roles and responsibilities as well, not just for the redesign process itself, but also for ongoing content management. Roles might include: Project Assistant, Quality Assurance/Tester, Content Migration, Content Development, Content Manager, Training, and/orLaunch Team.

When laying out your timelines, remember to include all dependencies, be they related to tech, content, or personnel. Also, always assume each step will take longer than you think it should. In fact, that’s a fundamental truth of website redesign: It WILL be delayed. But the more contingency planning you do, the better shape you’re in to weather schedule hiccups.

4. Get buy-in from the right people at the right time, and remember to report progress as you go.

Nothing halts a project in its tracks faster than an unhappy higher-up. Be aware of how your organization likes to operate. Is your senior leadership hands-off or highly involved? Who’s the final decision maker overall? Are there separate sign-offs needed for different components? What’s the usual turnaround time on approvals and answers? Factor all these different pieces into your project plan.

Also, consider inviting input from your current or potential users. After all, your audience is mostly likely an external one and you want to be sure that you’re developing a site that fits their needs.

Ask the project manager to give project updates at key intervals. This helps minimizes surprises . If in doubt, err on the side of over-communication.

5. Set your budget.

Ah yes, budget – a nonprofit’s favorite subject. As much as it might pain you to discuss it, a lot of decisions flow from the budget, including what design proposal you accept, how you determine the scope of work, etc. So be realistic about a) how much you have available and b) how much you need. Also, be prepared to adjust your scope of work accordingly. Having a little cushion available never hurts, as you will likely realize you need or want something additional that wasn’t in the original scope.

The good news is, if you’re realistic about your budget from the outset and have done your best to optimize the development and approval process, you can cut down on potential costly work and revisions later. Being organized and thoughtful from day one will make your bottom-line very happy.

Overall, be specific, be clear, be organized, be calm, and you greatly increase your chances for a successful and effective redesign. Good luck!

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By: Julia Rocchi