15 Tips Before Starting Your Nonprofit Website Redesign

The third installment of our Nonprofit Website Redesign series goes deep into the planning stage, where you start defining the specific requirements for your website. During this phase, you will write your website requirements, determine if your needs are advanced enough for a developer, and if so, how to pick the right development partner.

If you haven’t yet evaluated your need for a new website or gotten buy-in from all stakeholders, be sure to check out the first two parts of the series!  Or download the full guide here.

You are not ready for the Planning Stage if you: 

  • Can’t completely describe your mission in one line.
  • Don’t have any idea what you want visitors to take away from your site. 
  • Don’t have clear goals for the website.
  • Don’t yet know what actions you want users to take on the site.
  • Are on a super tight execution timeline but don’t have completed messaging or branding.
  • Have both a small budget and no idea where to start (BUT a small budget is okay if you have a very clear idea of what needs to be built).

If you are ready to design a plan for your new website, read on! Below you will find suggestions for brainstorming on the new needs of the website, choosing how much design assistance you need, and what things to look at when evaluating potential design partners. 

Gather your development requirements 

Before you start to look for a developer to build your site, you should come prepared with any and all specific requirements for your new website.  The first five tips focus on writing effective requirements:

  1. Pull together what pages you specifically want to change or add on your site, and what the sub-goal is of each page. 

  2. Determine if there are specific, new actions you would like your site visitors to take. Write them out step by step and include that in your planning documents for potential partners. To write these, start with the input the visitor or user gives you (for example, “clicks on the DONATE button”), and end with the output you want your site to give them (for example, “sends acknowledgment of processed donation”). Each of those series of steps are called a User Story.

  3. If your former website didn’t include any SEO research, or if there are new avenues to focus on, conduct SEO research to incorporate into the content of your new website. Create a list of keywords that relate well to your organization (not just “donate”!) for your copywriters, brand consultants, and/or web designers.  Improving this aspect of your website can help drive donations to your organization as well as add more value to your redesign. For a little refresher on what SEO is and why it is important, here is an SEO resource we found most useful.

  4. Aggregate other industry-related website examples that you’d like to use as models for your new website. For nonprofits, you can look at organizations that have similar donors or donor prospects as well as those that have similar missions. Take specific notes on what you like as a guide for your design team.

  5. Decide on a “go live” date. Don’t make it the same day as the ultimate due date. Have the site ready to launch a few weeks before the final deadline so you have ample time to test. Make sure you communicate these dates to designers and developers as you talk about engaging them to ensure they can meet your timelines.

Choose your software and determine if you need a developer

Here’s where you need to figure out exactly how your goals align with your budget, and what your nonprofit can afford.  This section of tips presents options for needs (and budgets) of all sizes.

  1. Evaluate your budget and customization needs to choose the software required to support your redesign, and determine what kind of development help you might need.

  2. If your nonprofit ends up paying for a WordPress or custom website, you’ll save your staff time even though you increase payments for the work. Depending on your budget and website and organization needs, it could be worth paying a firm like AnnieCannons to create another software that works in concert with your website to automate some of your staff work, like managing donations and other workflows. This way your staff is free to do other more high-value work and focus on their main job(s).

  3. When evaluating your budget and needs, you may find the redesign falling into one of three categories:
    1. Basic needs or low budget:
      • If you have plenty of time but little money, both Wix and Squarespace give the ability to make a visually pleasing website with a monthly fee of $30 – $100. Depending on your resources, you might be able to do this in-house without a developer. Keep in mind that Wix or Squarespace itself is software, so it may take time to learn how to use the platform effectively even if you don’t have to write any code. We’ve actually been hired to design and build Squarespace sites for clients that found they didn’t really have the time to figure it all out.

    2. Medium customization or mid-level budget:
      • If you have clear brand guidelines you want to stick to, and have development needs outside of a drag and drop setup, WordPress has the capacity to create a compelling web presence with a middle of the line budget. They have loads of templates and integrations to choose from, which can give you features like logins, online shops, or chat bots. You will have less room to customize and design these items according to your desired style, but you can get the functions themselves for less development cost than it would take to build them from scratch. However, a developer is required to build and launch a site like this, because soding is required to put all of these pieces together effectively.  Sometimes a web designer will know just enough code to work in WordPress, but most web designers do not write code.

    3. Extensive customization or need for custom apps and portals:
      • If you have a larger budget and a grand vision, a custom self-hosted website is your best option. The sky’s the limit with a custom website – including e-commerce tools that sync with internal tools, building custom experiences and mobile apps for your customers, complex databases or data visualization, adding interactive modules, etc. There is no way around hiring a developer for this level of site.  A great designer won’t generally focus on programming enough to also code this site or app for you. More importantly, you will need more than one kind of developer speciality if you a complex interaction with data:
What is a front-end developer?

A front-end developer writes code that renders in the browser and syncs with the back end

What is a back-end developer?

A back-end developer writes code that functions on the server and supplies data to the front-end

What is a dev ops engineer?

A dev ops engineer creates systems that manage new releases of code, including both the initial launch of your site or app and future updates.

Find a development partner

Finding a partner who understands your mission and will manage the project in a way that is consistent with your culture is imperative.  The last 8 tips illustrate the need for excellent communication and follow-up with your development team. 

  1. While getting a low-cost or free developer might be appealing, we find this strategy often cost more than they save; volunteers may leave projects incomplete, may not take the time to produce the kind of documentation necessary for maintenance, may not include the comments in the code itself that make it feasible for a new developer to pick up work easily, and/or don’t have the skills to complete all of the key pieces of a project from design to launch. Remember that volunteers usually have other jobs, and if they disappear it can be harder to make what they did helpful than would be to start from scratch.

  2. Whether you work with volunteers or hire a developer, your relationship will probably work best if at the beginning you clearly define your budget and timeline expectations to that partner and confirm clear understanding from their side before engaging them.

  3. Ask the developers if they have any templates they can leverage from a previous website design to help reduce costs.

  4. Discuss their execution pace as well as their style and tone of communication. Is this in line with your expectations and needs? Conversely, are their expectations in line with your team and any internal or external stakeholders are likely to communicate and complete action items?

  5. Discuss any ongoing expenses that they expect beyond their hourly fees. Nonprofits often forget, for example, that hosting a site is a separate cost that you pay as long as the site is live (usually annually or monthly, in advance).

  6. Make sure they can and will provide every skillset you need, which usually includes at least planning and product management, UX Design, Visual Design, Front-End Development, hosting setup and launch. Be sure you are getting all of these from somewhere.

  7. Ask for references before signing the dotted line. Talk to people in your industry at a similar size company with a similar size budget about their experiences, if possible.

It might seem like a long road, but spending time now to thoroughly prepare to communicate with your developer will pay off in the end. The more time you spend in the planning phase and the more questions you can answer ahead of time, the less time (and money!) will be spent on development.  If you are interested in everything you need to do for a website redesign from start to finish, download the full guide here

It can be a challenge to get everyone on board for redesigning a website, but a thoughtful strategy will definitely take you far. AnnieCannons specializes in building and redesigning nonprofit websites and would love to help!  Drop us a line anytime and we can walk you through how to get a new website up within your budget.

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