12 tips from our female founder for starting a new business or nonprofit

The first few years of any business is a constant learning experience. Each stage of growth will pose new problems and push you to change and adapt. In the beginning, the business’s growth will rely solely on you and your decision making. These are exciting days, but without a team, the early days of a business can also be some of the loneliest and most stressful. 

We sat down with AnnieCannons’ founder, Jessica Hubley, to learn how to traverse the early stages of a startup. Hubley has vast experience as an attorney and a nonprofit and for-profit entrepreneur. The tips below will help you navigate founding, hiring and building a startup. 


Founding a business is both exciting and scary. There’s a mountain of tasks to get done and every task will need your attention. Start by creating solid business foundations and working from there. 

  • File the paperwork. You’ll need to file paperwork to be recognized as a business. Forming a business entity changes your tax status and helps protect you from personal liability, among other benefits.. Find the state agency that handles business formations in your state to get more information on the different types of business entities and consult a lawyer to figure out which is right for you. 
  • Create a mission statement. You need to be crystal clear on the mission of your organization so that you’re able to repeat it over and over again to potential donors or investors. Your mission statement should be  a quick and easily digestible soundbite, no longer than one minute. It should encompass who you are, what you’re doing, and why it’s important. 
  • Ask for guidance. During this time you’ll be putting in long hours to see your organization grow. Reach out to mentors and other founders for advice and support, but be mindful of asking for people’s time for free and try to give something back for what you ask. You can learn a lot from those who’ve already been where you are, keeping in mind what the differences are between your circumstances and theirs. And by learning from other’s mistakes you’ll save time and money – two of your most precious resources.
  • Document your operations. Your operations set the groundwork for administrative processes, management, and workplace culture. Written operational guidelines mean you and your future team members will be able to follow specific procedures and processes when tasks come up.  This saves time, money and headaches. Start by creating step-by-step instructions for your most common work tasks as you hand them off to others, and be prepared to modify them according to what works well for others to achieve the same objectives. These tasks will likely need to be replicated and taught to new employees. Operations will be ever changing, so set a schedule to go in and make changes a few times a year. 


Hiring your first few employees is extremely exciting for a founder. You’ve grown your business to a point where you have enough work and capital to build a team. Now it’s time to learn how to hire the right people for the job at hand. 

  • Write a transparent job description. When you write a job description it should outline the hire’s role, responsibilities, and pay. Applicants should know exactly what they’re being hired to do and how they’ll be compensated in return. Some applicants won’t be willing to take the salary you’re able to offer so being transparent about the rate of pay will save you time and energy.
  • Hire learners and doers. In the early stages of an organization, you won’t have the capital to hire a senior-level employee. Most likely, your first hire will be a junior-level employee who’s eager to learn and execute their work. These employees will accept a lower salary in exchange for job development. 

When hiring your first employees you should look for learners and doers.

  • Learners are driven by a desire to advance their knowledge and excel at new skills. These people will go above and beyond to solve problems and find solutions. Learners are the people that make startups thrive because they will be the first to solve tough issues.
  • Doers don’t hesitate when asked to do something, they do it. These people don’t question if they can accomplish a task, they simply find the solution. Doers are integral to startups because their grit and tenacity get things done. 
  • Learn to manage. If you’re successful with your first hire, hopefully, you’ll be able to hire a couple more people and build a team. This can be a very difficult time for founders who find it hard to see things done differently than they did them. To grow, you’ll need to hand down specialized tasks to new hires and entrust and empower them to do the work. As a founder, you have to remember that employees will never do things the same way or be as invested in what you’ve built – even if they’re passionate about the organization and its mission. Resist the urge to micromanage and instead trust that your employee’s unique perspective will benefit the business. If you’re lucky, you’ll be hiring people who know even more about the task at hand than you do.
  • Outsource specialized roles. Most startups don’t have the resources to hire full-time marketing or finance employees. And that’s okay because these hyper skilled roles rarely require 40 hours of work a week when starting out. For tasks like this, consider hiring consultants. Consultants will have more experience in the specific field and free up your precious time. Ideally, you’ll find someone that’s taken by your mission and offers you a discounted rate!
  • Don’t put off letting go of a bad hire. Firing your first employee won’t be easy, but it’s important that you identify when it’s time to part and then do so quickly. Wasting time trying to put a square peg in a round hole will only cost you and the employee in the long run. Learn to understand when there’s room for growth or just an obvious disconnect between the employee and the organization.


At the beginning of a startup, you’re still building the product or service you want to offer the world. This is when you’ll start actualizing your big idea and building momentum with your audience. 

  • Create your minimum viable product (MVP).  An MVP is a concept from Lean Startup that stresses the impact of learning during new product development. You should focus on creating a first iteration of your product that allows a team to collect the maximum amount of learning with the least effort. It might not be your end dream product, but it will get you to your first launch faster so that you can learn and iterate.
  • Build traction. To get customers and funders you’ll need to build interest in what your organization is doing and get feedback. Actively share your MVP with friends and potential clients. Incorporate that feedback in your product and continue this cycle. This hopefully will create a flywheel effect of supporters who will share with their network and help you grow.

The beginning stages of building a business is scary, but with the right preparation and guidance, you’ll come out stronger on the other end. Watch all of our tips on our new webinar for hiring and scaling your startup

Diversify your company by NOT hiring diverse employees

Similar to gender and racial discrimination in our society, the challenge with corporate diversity is based in social structure. The entire history of corporations has set us up for failure when it comes to treating all employees with equal respect and dignity. It is problematic to incorporate diverse voices into decision-making, ensuring they are heard, in typical corporate structures. 

The odds are even worse against the marginalized. Equal chances to win the game can only be expected with fair rules that are applied to all players. Corporate inclusion and social inclusion both require the structure to be rebuilt to offer equal chances to all. That kind of change is not easy, even if it looks simple on paper. Fortunately, there is a solution for corporations that offers incremental, profitable change, avoiding significant restructuring from the get-go. 

Supporting the current structure with diversity

Implementing a diversity initiative from the top down, with diverse executives, board members or managers, is a great catalyst for change but with considerable friction. For a company that has operated a certain way for a long time, changes to the day to day operations can come at a glacial pace, with ground-shaking consequences. Working for change from the bottom up can be seen as quicker, profitable and with significantly reduced friction. 

While running a law firm part-time, I have made an interesting observation: the way I am treated as a consultant attorney (as a vendor rather than as an employee) is fundamentally different than the way I am treated as an employee. As a consultant, my time is far more valued, even if as an employee I have the titles of Executive General Counsel and Chief Privacy Officer. When dealing with the same individual in the same executive role, being my client versus being my boss results in two different levels of respect. As a consultant, I would never get asked to sort any mail, as my hours are much too expensive for that. However, as an employee I routinely got mail dumped on my desk. 

Rather than changing the corporate hierarchy completely, simply plugging in the diverse individual as a consultant reduces many of the friction points. This improves both the individual’s experience and the employer’s operations. 

Supplementing a corporation with diversity

Many American corporations are structured the same as they always have been, when managers and workers were predominantly white men with a wife at home looking after the children and the household. Work days began before school drop off and ended after children were picked up. Corporations didn’t need to consider any household needs because all family needs were of course provided for by the worker’s salary. 

With an office full of men, business hierarchy ended up looking a lot like the military. There was a man at the top of a pyramid, and layers of management reducing in power, with instructions and ideas passed down from the top. This worked for centuries of industry. Any practice in place for centuries will take quite some time to change, and any change will be difficult and resisted.

The greatest value of diversity is listening to the comments brought up by diverse individuals, and implementing their ideas. Corporate structure shows that if diverse people are brought in at the bottom or even the middle of the pyramid, acting on their ideas and goals is difficult. A corporation generally has not built their structure to hear those voices. And then consider how corporations have historically undervalued household work and child care – and that these diverse workers are handing them in addition to meeting employment objectives.

From the very start with AnnieCannons, we understood the challenges faced by our workforce of human trafficking-survivors-turned software developers. These women, predominantly women of color, were not going to thrive in jobs in the traditional corporate hierarchy of technology companies. Few had the typical college degrees, and many had arrest records from their time of exploitation. Even with the best programming skills in the world, they would be oppressed even more than other women in a traditional corporate structure. Rather than becoming part of the body of the corporation, they needed to become appendages, supplementing the company with their skills and diversity. 

Fortunately, we have been able to show those same corporations the value of our diversity-by-appendage model. Companies get the benefit of our programmers’ diverse ideas and perspectives as well as their technical skills – but not by hiring them. Instead, they hire us, AnnieCannons, as a consultant.

How to increase diversity by appendage

Naturally, and unapologetically, we ignored the standards for traditional corporate structure as we developed AnnieCannons. We focused instead on our programmers and their needs – what did the most marginalized individuals in our world need to thrive as software developers? We organized a business based on what workers need now, as opposed to what they needed in 1950 – just as an individual consultant of color does for herself.

We value the needs of our workers’ children just as much as our workers’ employment requirements, and invest in child care. We actively seek feedback from our workers before making big decisions. We give them the authority to structure their day and share their knowledge. We remove the typical old corporate obligation of “appropriate” clothing, interaction, and speech by focusing instead on their work quality. All these would be nearly impossible to accomplish in a corporation of over 100 employees, even over a decade – there are too many minds set in the old corporate ways. 

Regardless of a company’s individual hierarchy, when they hire us they gain the value of the diverse perspectives we’ve gathered. Whether we are building a simple website or a complex progressive web application, our programmers’ histories and ideas shine through. That is the quality of true diversity that spans gender, class, education, race, national origin, and family model.

The diversity appendage and traditional corporations are striving for the same outcome, to establish a more diverse voice within a company. As typically-structured companies see benefits (and profits!) from implementing diversity appendages, change can happen. They will see internal friction from increased diversity decrease and doors slowly opening to diverse hiring across all layers of the hierarchy. 

Meanwhile, female and minority workers enjoy a tailored work environment that is set up for their success. For example, with an A/B comparison of what workers with children can accomplish when provided with child care, and the recruiting value of such a benefit, it becomes easier to convince a board to embrace such a significant expense. Success with these initiatives will direct the development of evolved technology companies that equally serve workers and clients of all races and genders.

Wrapping it up

Rather than inject millions into a recruiting budget that will hire women and people of color into a corporate structure that isn’t set up for their success, consider hiring consultants to bring their expertise – and their diversity – to your products and services. This can be a way to hear a unique perspective and voice without causing undue friction to a long-established team. Utilizing a diversity appendage can quickly elevate and empower diverse candidates, and likely lessen friction if a consultant does end up an employee. Even better, their input will help executives establish a plan to successfully change the corporate structure and to truly diversify their entire hierarchy.

With such corporate growth, change can occur at all levels, hearing equally from all voices without fear or judgement. And then our world becomes a better, more inclusive, more collaborative place.

Announcing our partnership with Family Coppola to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day!

In 1837, a British mathematician developed the first computer program – Her name was Ada Lovelace. Today, we celebrate Ada Lovelace’s contribution by celebrating her legacy, and the achievements of other women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), on the 2nd Tuesday of October each year. Ada Lovelace Day aims to increase the profile of women in STEM and, in doing so, create new role models who will encourage more girls into STEM careers and support women already working in STEM. 

This year, we’re proud to announce that AnnieCannons is partnering with Family Coppola and its award-winning Great Women Spirits’ Ada Lovelace Gin.  AnnieCannons will be the recipient of the “Cocktails for a Cause: Shake it for Ada” initiative from October 8th through November 30th. This initiative will provide AnnieCannons with the proceeds of any specialty cocktails purchased at one of the participating bars or restaurants. There’s two ways to support this program:

We’re proud to partner with Great Women Spirits to celebrate the contribution of women in STEM, both past and present, and to spread the word about our transformational mission together by celebrating the great Ada Lovelace. 

Our organization is named for Annie Jump Cannon, the leader of the first known lab of female astronomers, and this initiative’s emphasis on women’s achievement is at the core of the holistic programs that we use to help our beneficiaries independently support themselves and their families.

As always, we’d greatly appreciate your support. On this Ada Lovelace Day, please consider donating to the survivors in our program who are learning to code.

Meet Decisioness: AnnieCannons’ app to help you vote smarter

The day after the 2016 election was one of the hardest days ever in an AnnieCannons’ class. That day, through many tears, we learned that our students hadn’t seen anyone on the ballot they felt confident would represent what they needed. Together, we realized that there is a way to get candidates that reflect our shared ideals visibility – to all eligible voters – without the candidate having to spend a ton of money. We also realized that survivors’ ideals were not as different from those with more money or privilege than most people think. Decisioness was born.

Some of the ideals our students cared about will be familiar: abortion access and action on climate change. Others seemed like common issues Americans face, but don’t get as much media attention: stopping out of control spam calls, the lack of real penalties for sexual assault, or the lack of effective privacy protection. On the whole, we know that everyday ways that major corporations take advantage of Americans, including survivors, get too little attention from the politicians those corporations fund.

To effectively fight exploitation, we need to get dark money out of politics and give voters access to candidates that will actually take the action our country needs – regardless of how much money they spend, or their party.

While changing our elections might seem like a pipedream, it isn’t. Fortunately, at AC, we know how to make change most people see as impossible. So, we’re building an app called Decisioness that allows voters to identify the ideals and policies they support, and see which candidates on their ballot support the same ideals and policies – using only their email and zip code. You can click below to watch a quick video about how the app works.

Thanks to seed supporter Anne Devereux-Mills, we’ve been able to build a prototype and design the entire candidate matching experience with pro bono help from the epic UX team at DesignMap. 

Now, we’d love your support to build out the platform that changes elections to better serve the marginalized, including candidate matching, strong security, and crowdsourced ideals and policies. We need $150,000 to launch the app to help Americans vote smarter for the upcoming primaries, general 2020 election, and beyond. You can help us get there with as little as $20 to help a wide range of candidates across the country increase their visibility without corporate donations. You can donate here.

Thanks for being a part of the change our world needs!

Jessica Hubley



#WinningWhileFemale: How to run a company that works for women

We are starting a new content series called #WinningWhileFemale to share a fresh perspective for female founders and business owners on conquering bias and seeing their companies succeed. We thought it would be helpful to share some techniques for a better way to operate that we’ve thought deeply about with the broader female boss lady community.

Our first topic: It is proven that women work in a different style than men do. Yet many female founders blindly follow processes that men designed (often, a long time ago)? What if we design a workplace that works better for all of us, men included?

Here are 13 tips and ideas that come from what we’ve built at AnnieCannons to run a  better, more inclusive operation that allows team members from all backgrounds and circumstances contribute successfully to our success. 

Assume Family Schedules 

Don’t schedule meetings during school pick up or drop off.  These are crucial times for those trying to work and raise a family. Anytime before 9 am or between 2:45 – 3:45 will usually  prevent a parent from bringing their child home from school, and force them to do extra work to make accommodations. 

You can also  avoid scheduling important meetings after 5pm so that parents can spend some evening time with their kids before bedtime. If there is something urgent, see if they might be able to sync late in the evening after they put their kids down. Many moms already work after the kids are in bed, so be sure you acknowledge the value of what they contribute as much as if it were at 5:30 PM.

If you have an offsite or celebrations, put these during normal work hours. For those who have families or other obligations, it’s hard to attend after hours or weekend work functions. Nights and weekends can then be available for them to spend with families. 

Actively Solicit Feedback in Every Meeting

Remember that most women and minorities have spent a lifetime being conditioned to think, unfairly, that their opinions don’t matter. Let’s break that cycle. Instead of expecting your team to pipe up with their opinions by interrupting or speaking over others, assume that people are not yet sharing their good ideas.  Often it’s simply a matter of not knowing the right time to share. You can fix this by doing two things: (1) identify a particular pause or moment(s) in your discussion as the time when you want your team to share feedback and questions and (2) specifically call on those at the meeting who are not speaking to ask if they have anything to add.

By actively asking and giving feedback, both you and your employees can grow. You will infuse more value from diverse opinions and thoughts into your outcomes.  Plus, your team will appreciate that you create a space for them to be heard. 

Create Purposeful Space 

Let your team know that they matter as people, early and often. 

For example, we create a bi-monthly meeting for the whole team to share how they are feeling in an open, non-judgemental setting. We specifically ask for both the good and the bad. This gives employees time to air their issues so they don’t build over time. 

Similarly,  every other week we create a purposeful space reserved for group strategic planning. This ensures that everyone’s ideas are being considered in our overall strategy, creating a well-rounded approach.

Start Big Block of Cheese Day

On the show The West Wing, President Bartlet would have something called the Big Block of Cheese Day. Though fictional, Big Block of Cheese Day is a day reserved for the general public to ask you anything. During this time, anyone can come in with their crazy ideas without judgment. You can do this by creating a six-hour block that you’re available for questions from your staff, customers or fans. Use a video streaming service to make it accessible for anyone. We’re doing this in the next month!  Want to come to ours? Email info@anniecannons.com. 

Allow People to Define Themselves

When a new student or employee starts, we respect their identity as they see it and we require everyone on the team to respect it, too.. Whether it’s gender identity, appearance, or values, everyone at AnnieCannons get the space to be who they are, according to them. It turns out to be easy to use the words that make someone feel welcome, included, and respected with a very small amount of effort.

Blindly Evaluate

Remember that we all have biases, even when we don’t intend to.  And we don’t always notice when those biases color our feedback. We can still correct for them, though!

When reviewing employees’ programming work, we use a blind evaluation system wherever possible, including on top of a review by a supervisor who knows the worker. This allows for feedback that is free of bias. This way the members of your team who come from different backgrounds than the person reviewing their work can add value in unexpected ways. A blind reviewer can’t set expectations to measure against – they just have to look at the quality of work on its face – it’s why everyone from undergraduate admissions offices to law school professors have found that outcomes for women and minorities improve with blind grading.    

Provide Childcare 

The patriarchy has created a system that assumes men will be the breadwinner, and that the cost of childcare is baked into what they are paid. Yet many working moms don’t have the resources to pay for separate childcare, and bright women often don’t return to the workforce as soon as they’d like because, ironically, they can’t afford a nanny. 

Providing childcare on site is a win-win for the employer and the employee. Accessible childcare means the employee is able to execute her job and knowing her child is safe nearby. It means no lost time for her coordinating a nanny, and no need to decide between her family priorities and her work priorities. This also makes the employee more loyal to the employer — they see that the employer cares about their family, and because their kids have a relationship with the childcare, too. You could be the only place a talented person can work and still eat lunch with their kids everyday.

Oftentimes employees will take a lower base pay because of childcare provided (note to nonprofits and startups!), so this can help with recruiting, too. We provide a babysitter for our students at our offices, so they can learn and code without the stress of trying to find and pay for childcare.

Get Dogs in The Workplace

There is research that pets in the workplace improve office morale, increase productivity, and decrease stress. Of course, this doesn’t apply if you have team members who are allergic. It is totally reasonable to require that pets come to the office only if they can behave. . But love our pets in the office! 

Extend Maternity & Paternity Leave

You can make a decision to invest early in sustaining policies that further equality, and maternity and paternity leave is one of these. Historically, maternity leave was something women couldn’t avoid taking, and men rarely took a lesser paternity leave so they seemed more “committed” to work – but it’s obvious that means that mothers who take leave are deemed less committed by comparison, even though they are not less committed than their male counterparts. 

There are two things you can do: make parental leave mandatory for everyone, and make it last longer.

If everyone takes leave, no one is seen as less committed for doing it. This shifts the perception that mothers are the primary caretaker and allows for a well-rounded approach. Unfortunately, in the nonprofit world, you’ll have to double fundraise to pay people to be on maternity leave. This is why creating a childcare system is so beneficial for startups and nonprofits that can’t afford employees to be gone for so long. 

Do your best to offer at least 3 months of leave (this is when babies are first even able to see colors and shapes well, as opposed to just recognizing the comfort of their mother). 

Some employers lean on short term disability insurance to give the employee a percentage of salary that extend paid leave.

If you are considering creating a better leave policy, Optimizely created a great parental leave primer and calculator here.

Improve Your Performance Reviews

Performance reviews always end up more subjective than you’d expect. Look at your performance review system to look for cues of subjectivity, and take out opinion-based feedback wherever possible. Think about what matters to your business and create questions that stem from that, not anything like “likeability”. 

Remember that ongoing feedback doesn’t have to be negative. We use an app called Disco to celebrate people who are bringing our values to life in a way that improves our culture.

Create an Owner for Admin Work

In all but the earliest startups, where founders do admin work and all other work, admin work should not be spread amongst all employees (like cleaning and taking out trash).  If it is everyone’s work, it is no one’s work, and often women and minorities are asked to take on more than their fair share. 

Admin work should have an owner, and should be acknowledged as something that adds value to the company just like any other work. This might be one admin role or or a specific task assigned to an employee. 

Emphasize a Winning Team 

If you’re going to have people compete, don’t make it at the individual level. Instead, make it about the team that performed the best and how they did so. You’ll get so many more learnings and good behaviors if you encourage collaboration instead of 1:1 competition. Also, consider aggregating the best from all the solutions presented for a particular problem into a single winning solution. This allows everyone to be a part of the final product and learn from it, but more importantly it gives you the absolute best your whole team has to offer.

We want to hear from more female founders and business owners. What creative ways do you build a better, safer workplace for women and men alike?

Our 6 Favorite Nonprofit Website Examples

A lot of nonprofits miss the mark when creating their website. With so many organizations for donors to give to, it’s important that your website makes a lasting impression. We’ve curated a list of our favorite nonprofit website examples that evoke powerful emotions through the use of strong mission statements and impactful web design and experience. 

Check out our favorite non-profit websites below: 

New Story

New Story fights homelessness by printing 3D homes for people living with inadequate shelter. 

When you log onto New Story’s website there’s no denying what they do. That’s because they don’t waste any time explaining it with a concise mission statement. People have short attention spans so it’s important to summarize what you do before they get distracted. New Story does this while still allowing users to click ‘About Us’ for the full story. 

Charity: Water

Charity: Water provides clean drinking water to people in developing nations. 

Charity: Water evokes powerful emotions by using high-quality photographs of the people they’re helping. Throughout the entire website, you’ll see images of freshwater and smiling faces. Showing the work that you do makes potential donors confident in the money they give you. Charity: Water adds another level of trust by explaining how their donations are tracked. 

Vital Voices

Vital Voices invests in women through investment, mentorship, and other advocacy programs. 

We love that Vital Voices makes it easy to donate by placing their donate button at the top right of the webpage. This donate button follows the user with what’s called a sticky navigation. This allows the user to click donate at any point in their buyer’s journey. Vital Voices understands that you should eliminate any opportunity that could lead the potential donor away from the website.  

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

St. Jude is a research hospital looking to treat and defeat childhood cancer and other life-threatening children’s diseases. 

St. Jude is unwaveringly consistent in its messaging. This is because they’re confident in their mission statement and apply it in every aspect of their organization. Browsing their website you’ll see that their primary ‘why’ remains prevalent across all of the pages of their website. We do recommend, however, that you use a color other than red for calls to action.

Polaris Project

Polaris uses data to disrupt human trafficking. 

Very few donors will donate the first time they go to your website. Polaris Project understands this and uses its email list to creating relationships with future donors. Through your email list, you can encourage these future donors to visit your website and donate in the future. Polaris Project understands that you should nurture relationships with individuals before asking for money – a long term donor is much more valuable than a small one-time gift. 

Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood provides affordable reproductive healthcare. 

Many nonprofits make the mistake of only asking for one time donations. Planned Parenthood understands that recurring donations lead to recurrent action. After donating, Planned Parenthood explains where your money is going, making the donor feel like their donation makes an impact. 

Each of the organizations above has created a website that exemplifies its mission and maximizes donations in a creative way. For tips on how your organization can increase donations, check out our 10 Website Design Tips to Supercharge Donations

10 Website Design Tips to Supercharge Your Nonprofit’s Donations

There are quite a few best practices for nonprofits to follow when optimizing their websites for donations. We’ve summarized 10 of our top tips based on our experience working with 50+ nonprofits. Read below for inspiration, or watch the video with the full 20 tips here!

1. Grab people’s attention with a powerful mission statement 

Most people lose interest within the first 10 seconds of looking at a web page. Create a powerful mission statement that summarizes your organization’s Why. Your mission statement should be front in center, no more than a sentence of text, and viewable without needing the user to scroll.

2. Use high-quality compelling photography

Your nonprofit’s website should use recent, high resolution, and professional photographs. Stock photos are good, but original photos are more likely to make users connect with your work. Don’t be afraid to use an iPhone to take photos in the field. If you don’t have a moral obligation to protect the privacy of the people you’re helping, users like photos of people.

3. Create a mobile-optimized website

Most users will access your website from a smartphone. It’s important that your mobile website is aesthetically pleasing and loads quickly. On a mobile website, you have less space to show users what’s important about your organization. Make sure every bit of this space is being utilized with concise copy and design.

4. Place ‘Donate’ button at the top right corner

You should make it easy for users to donate. Place the donate button in the top right corner of your website, where it will receive the highest eye traffic. Choose one of your brightest brand colors to make the button stand out.  More here on the psychology and a/b test results for various button colors.

5. Donate button should “follow” the user as they navigate the site

Users should be able to hit the donate button anywhere on the website. Create sticky navigation that follows users throughout their entire journey. Something as simple as going back to the homepage to find your donate button can deter donors. 

6. Optimize for grants, the mission should match your application

Grantors, foundations, corporations, and corporate social responsibility groups will be viewing your website. It’s important that the messaging on your website matches any current or future grant applications. If the messaging differs they might find your application disingenuous and not push the grant forward. Avoid this by using the same language online and offline.

7. Stop the clutter – make your design clear and concise

A lot of nonprofits make the mistake of trying to describe every single thing that they do on their website. Too much information can cause confusion. And if your user becomes confused they’re more likely to leave your website and not become a donor. Keep your website clean to ensure your users have a positive experience.

8. Promote a newsletter to then promote more donations

Most of the people coming to your website for the first time aren’t going to donate on the first touch. Create an email newsletter to nurture relationships and encourage donations. If you don’t have the bandwidth to create a newsletter, you can still start creating an email database. That way when you do have the resources, you’ll already have an email list to start with.

9. Decrease the number of fields on your donation form

We all want more information about our donors, but asking noncritical information can cause users to leave before completing their donation. If you want additional information, prompt those questions after their donation has gone through. 

10. Nurture like an eCommerce brand

Nonprofits can learn a lot from other industries, particularly consumer brands. Consumer brands put a huge emphasis on fostering relationships with their customers and squeezing every possible dollar out of the conversion funnel. There are a few emails you should try that eCommerce companies use frequently:

  • Abandoned Cart – If a user started to donate but left before submitting, email them! Tell them why you need their money and what you’ll do with it.
  • Welcome – If you get a new email address from an event, newsletter sign up, or donation, welcome them to your organization via a triggered email. Tell them what you do, and how to engage when they are ready.
  • Back from the Dead Campaign – Do you have emails in your database who haven’t donated or engaged with your organization in a while? Send a campaign with a specific offer or opportunity that might engage them.  And personalize it by making it known that you see they haven’t engaged in a while. People will more likely than not feel some guilt and take that action you want them to do.

Watch our webinar for all twenty tips to supercharge nonprofit donations where we dive into optimizing donation forms, building advocacy programs, and more ways to increase your nonprofit donations. 

The 3 Phases of a Nonprofit Website Redesign Development Project (done right)

Design Process

If you are building a custom website with a developer, you typically will go through a discovery and design process before you get to coding.  At AnnieCannons, we have a standard 3 phase process that helps us deeply understand what you are trying to achieve, how the user should engage with the website, and what technical requirements you are expecting. This process establishes the most efficient development work scope by prioritizing clarity early on and transparency throughout your process.

Below is a glimpse into the phases and types of questions you should prepare for when working on a new website redesign.


The discovery phase resolves critical questions necessary for design. Discovery is intended to identify the key assets and design constraints in building the platform. Some sample questions we cover and deliver in this step are:

  • What is the overarching goal for the project?              
  • Who are the target users? What are their demographics and interests?
  • What is the key action or actions site visitors should be able to take?
  • What assets, research, and other information do you already have that can improve or streamline the design process?

Keep in mind that a “developer” writes code – they don’t plan organizational initiatives.  If you’re working with AnnieCannons, a Product Manager guides you through this process. If you’re working with a “web developer” and not quite sure what the website developer is going to build, it’s important to nail that first. Answer these questions for yourself first if you don’t have a business-minded team at your side, and gather all the asset you already have into one place. . Going in with undefined expectations is a great way for both sides to be disappointed. 


The design phase creates the visual treatment for an interactive and engaging platform. This step plans out the visual treatments, animations, layout, interactions, and content of the site. Some sample questions we cover and deliver in this step are:

  • What is the”user story”, the path a user follows through their experience? Once they land on the home page, what are they looking to do? What do you want them to do? Visually, how can you get them to take that path?
  • What actions can users take on the site? As a nonprofit, are you more interested in getting direct donations, collecting email addresses for email campaigns, or something else? 
  • What is the back-end result of these user actions? Once the user does something, what does it look like? How do you want them to feel? 
  • What do the target users think of our provisional designs and concepts? Share your design concepts to a core group of people who are your ideal website visitors and get their opinion. Is it visually appealing? Difficult to navigate? Off-putting? 

Keeping your website clean and modern is always a good idea. Being able to update content to keep it up to date is essential. Plan and test your visual elements now to prevent wasted time and money later. 

If you’re working with AnnieCannons, we’ll get your clear approval on the exact look and feel of your site before writing any code. If you’re working with a solo web developer, make sure you don’t get charged for “design as you develop’ work – that’s sort of like building the car while you drive it.


In the development phase, we build, host, and launch the new platform. Development makes those pretty visual designs into an interactive reality available to users over the internet. Some sample questions we cover and deliver in this step are: 

  • How do we execute the functions and user stories reflected by the designs?  How do they all work together in practice?
  • How do the browser, database, hosting, and any content management systems work together?
  • What analytics, records, logs, and other data do we create and store?
  • Where will you host the site, and do you need more than basic hosting (for example, security to process payments)?

It may not be imperative for you as the nonprofit to understand how all of those things work (except for budgeting annual costs like hosting), but it is important to know that there is more to a website than just what it looks like on the surface. Your design team plays an important role in not only getting your website built but also in making sure it functions properly on the back end. 

Additional Resources:

10 Essential Tips to Lower Your Development Costs for Your New App

So you have a big idea for a technology or service that is going to change the world. You want to build this big idea, but also keep development costs as low as possible until you can prove the business model or concept.

Here are 10 things to keep in mind before you bring in a technology partner that will help you keep costs low and innovation high.

  1. Validate your idea.

Make sure you have a valid business idea first before you invest money. 

It should go without saying, but many times someone has a great idea and runs ahead with it before seeing if is something people want. Do some user research and consider what kind of problem it will solve or how it will add to your customers’ lives. If possible, do the thing you want software to do manually to make sure people actually want it as much as you think they do.

Offer the thing you want to commercialize for free with a Craigslist ad or social media post, for example. Does anyone respond to it? 

2. Scale something you already do.

Do you already offer the service that you want the app to do, and already have people who want it? Draw a literal picture of the process you are following, step by step, listing all the things that are involved. This can serve as your prototype “user flows.”  When you look at this map, pick the part of it that can be automated, then get quotes for automating that part.  

If you can’t map what you’re doing start to finish, you probably need to go back to tip #1 and validate your idea.

3. Create a one-sentence goal statement.

Rather than start out to design something with tons of bells and whistles, narrow down what you want the app to do to a one-sentence goal statement. What is the one thing that this app needs to do to unlock value for the user? Have you proven that your users agree with that goal and understand it the same way you do?

Everyone wants to build a billion dollar idea, but the best way to NOT get there is to try to build a billion dollar concept with a tight budget. Starting with the essentials means you won’t blow your budget on features until you know people want them.

4. Develop an MVP with your users.

Take your one-sentence goal statement and develop an MVP. A minimum viable product (MVP) is all about testing your idea and discovering what essential things will meet your goal and add value for your user. Ask your designer to develop only the core needs to solve a specific problem. Then test the designs as a clickable prototype on early adopters and get their input, if possible.

This will keep you from putting any more dollars down against programming something that no one wants. 

5. Mobile app or responsive site?

Which device types do you expect to use for your mobile app? The most popular platforms out there right now are iOS and Android on mobile and MacOS and Windows for desktop. Each has its own design and technical requirements that cost development budget to do well. Do you want a native mobile app that’s custom-branded? What would the benefits of that be, as opposed to using a responsive website for the first launch that could make the same code work across multiple device types? 

It might be faster, easier and cheaper to launch with a responsive website, then build your mobile app after launching the MVP and raising enough capital to complete your big idea.

6. Get your funding approved.

Ideally, you’ll have funding for your app before you start looking at development. Also, get sign-off from anyone who needs to approve the spending, long before you need them to.

In practice, especially for founders from marginalized backgrounds, your financial backers may want to see a lot of progress before agreeing to fund you. As you try your idea manually and test concepts with your users, keep detailed records of any feedback you receive. If possible, include how they come to you – if you have an idea that people seek out after hearing about it, even if it’s not an app yet, that can help you raise money.

Whatever you do, though, don’t start building on the budget you *think* you’ll raise. The budget you actually have should be seen as the cap on your development cost. You will probably need to sacrifice some features to make that budget work.

7. Create a user flow diagram. 

By now, you should have your user process not only documented, but highly refined. Document what you’ve learned from talking to the types of people you want to use your product (NOT just your friend, who will tell you friendly lies about how cool your idea is).

Now, turn your process diagram into “User flows.” Include each step in the process that is going to be automated in this flow, and keep your notes on what’s still manual. Split the flow up by not just the screens the user sees, but also any actions they take on each page or section. What paths do you expect people to follow throughout their experience? Identify any challenges they may encounter or steps that feel incomplete this way, so you can come up with solutions ahead of time. 

8. Create detailed user personas.

What is your target user’s demographics? What are their struggles? How is your app going to help them and meet their needs? Will they be tech-savvy enough to use your app? What devices are they actually using, and how does your MVP solve their problems? Design for the least tech-savvy person you know and see how intuitive it actually is. 

9. Have a style guide ready. 

This includes logos, colors, fonts, and anything else that is part of branding for your company. An individual developer shouldn’t waste time creating these for you, as it’s not their specialty if they’re actually good at building apps. Since you know your users best, you know what visual styles will speak to them. It’s preferable to have a style guide ready for your developer to expedite the process and avoid repeating work. 

One thing to note: brand identity work isn’t cheap, either. If you don’t have at least a few thousand dollars to do this right, you can skip it – but ask yourself seriously whether you really have the budget for an app.  

10. Map out the data and technology flow. 

Draw more, but now include what happens behind the screens the user sees. List any technology you already have that needs to integrate with your app upfront. Some examples include CRM software, social media sharing, a data warehouse, and credit card processing. Every digital space your app will touch needs to be considered in the planning phase of development if you want to minimize unexpected costs.

Not mentioning these requirements upfront can cause a developer to have to rebuild once they learn about them. The more detailed documentation you share with your developer at the planning phase, the better they understand your needs up front. This will ultimately lead to a better plan and more efficient project.

We hope these tips help you bring your big idea to market faster and with less wasted capital! 

If you are in need of a development partner, we’d love to chat

Nonprofit Website Redesign Launch Checklist for 2019 [Infographic]

As a nonprofit ourselves, we know it is hard and stressful to launch a new website redesign. Use this checklist to ensure your website redesign is ready for prime time!


  • Your mission statement is clear and located on the header of the home page.  No scroll needed to find it.
  • You highlight the impact donors will have to your organization and how you will use their donation.
  • Secondary audiences like volunteers or candidates should be able to easily navigate to the pages they are looking for.
  • You’ve broken down your programs and services. If there are more than 2, you’ve listed them as individual pages to avoid clutter.
  • Your nonprofit website should look clean and modern. This means lots of space between images and text. Refrain from an overload of boxed content and images.
  • Content is simple and easy to understand.


  • The donation button is above the fold on the home page, and on the navigation of every page across your site.
  • There is an option to request a monthly donation on your donation form.
  • Your forms are short, and don’t have unnecessary fields. (The more you ask the less likely it is they will fill it out.


  • Every page has a unique title, a meta description, and is optimized for keyword usage.
  • Optimize your images with descriptive “alt” tags, and are high resolution.
  • There is a sitemap for your website, allowing Google to easily crawl and index it.
  • Your site meets accessibility guidelines


  • You have social icons that go to the correct pages.
  • Blogs are easily shared, and share links populate with the right image and content.
  • Your legal bases are covered. Did you add your privacy policy and terms and conditions? Are you compliant with GDPR? Do you need a cookie warning?
  • Your site is typo free with no broken links
  • Your website is mobile responsive.


  • Combine the announcement with a donation campaign.
  • Announce your new site via email and across social media to your followers and past donors.
  • Show off the new you in meetings and conferences.
  • Encourage your board members and advocates to help spread the word. Send them an email with potential social and email copy they can use.
  • Set up a monthly sync with key stakeholders to review the website performance and new content ideas.

We hope you find this checklist helpful! We offer website redesign services for a wide range of budgets and organizations of all sizes. If you would like help on your next redesign, contact us at info@anniecannons.org. We build mobile and web apps, too! Visit our portfolio at anniecannons.org/portfolio.

Here’s the full checklist:

full nonprofit website redesign checklist.