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.

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.

How Our Current Immigration Laws are Hurting Trafficking Survivors

Despite acts of Congress to establish two different visas that assist and protect survivors of human trafficking, the process remains lengthy and difficult to maneuver without legal help. Additionally, restrictions during the application process make it challenging for those who are waiting on their application to go through, which is currently taking 2 years or more. Although there are many ways a survivor could be independently economically productive, paying taxes,  while in the application process, the limitations actually make it more likely that they will fall survivor to further trafficking or abuse. 

AnnieCannons is committed to assisting survivors of human trafficking and getting them safely out of the cycle of abuse and trafficking by delivering economic opportunities in software. Sadly, many survivors who can master AnnieCannons’ coding program and who qualify for a visa from the U.S. are not allowed to work – as contractors or employees – during the long wait for their application to be approved. 

So, as we stand ready to deliver economic power to talented survivors eager to earn a good living, we’re forced to hold off. These brilliant graduates are stuck in limbo, unable to be paid and unable to secure housing at all, or to remain in shelters during the entire application process. Allowing survivors to work and provide for themselves while going through the visa application process would go far to providing a solution to one of the biggest roadblocks to their economic independence, their freedom, and a long-awaited break in the cycle of exploitation. 

How The Visa Process is Supposed to Work

What is a U Visa?

A U Visa is available to survivors of serious crimes against them, under which human trafficking falls. These visas were created so that foreign survivors of crimes in the U.S. could remain in the country to assist in prosecuting criminal offenders. It is a way to help ensure that offenders who prey on foreign visitors aren’t more likely to get away with it simply due to the survivor being forced to return home. The survivor must cooperate with law enforcement in order to qualify for the visa. 

What is a T Visa?

A T Visa gives temporary nonimmigrant status to survivors of human trafficking who are willing to help law enforcement officials investigate crimes of human trafficking. The survivor must have traveled to the U.S. because they were forced, abducted, or deceived by the perpetrator of human trafficking. Luckily, the law does not require cooperation with police to obtain a T visa if the survivor is under 18 or if the survivor is unable to cooperate with an investigation because of physical or emotional trauma. 

In order to qualify for a T visa, you must be present in the U.S. as a result of human trafficking. This differs from the qualification criteria for applicants for a U visa, who may have visited the U.S. on vacation (or for another purpose) and then been subjected to human trafficking or another qualifying crime. This means that in most cases, to be eligible for a T visa, the survivor would not have been present in the U.S. if it were not for the actions of someone who forced them to be here. T visa applicants will need to show that their removal from the U.S. would cause “extreme hardship involving unusual and extreme harm.” This can be difficult to prove. 

Leaving Survivors On the Street

Not long ago, it took only a few months for a T visa application to be processed. Once a T visa (or U visa) is granted, the visa holder can legally work and hold a U.S. bank account. However, during the application process, the survivor may not work in any capacity, nor do they qualify to have a bank account. This means that they cannot work to support themselves, and they cannot be easily supported by others back home. When the process took only a few months, it was more feasible (though still not easy) to qualify for a short-term bed at a shelter and receive enough assistance to make it through to when they could be authorized to work. However, there are only about 600 shelter beds available in the entire United States for survivors of trafficking, most being for short term stays. It is currently taking 2 years or more for T visa applications to be processed and approved. After discovery, escape or rescue, it will usually take some time to get a survivor’s application paperwork together, so even a 24-month shelter stay would expire before most applications are even processed. 

This leaves the survivor with few options; they are required to stay in the U.S. while their application is being processed, they are not allowed to work, and there is nowhere they are able to stay. Even if they found a shelter bed, that still leaves needing food and essentials. Shelters have limited budgets for food and other necessities, and most states do not provide healthcare to survivors. Homelessness becomes their only option. 

When a human being is in a situation where they need food, shelter, and clean water (even leaving aside health care) and cannot earn money, they are extremely vulnerable to further trafficking and abuse. Working under the table, being paid in cash, is literally the only option left to them by the government that is reportedly trying to help them. However, once someone accepts money for any work, the results could be disastrous. Not only does it threaten a survivor’s visa status, but often an abuser uses the threat of reporting their work as a means to control and exploit them, and the cycle of trafficking begins again. 

As a result, survivors can literally be forced back into exploitation by the very process they are relying on to help them gain freedom. 

Survivors, Not Criminals

There are 5000 T visas available each year, yet advocates report that number is rarely utilized even though there are tens of thousands of trafficking survivors who come to the U.S. every year. In the last 10 years the number of applications submitted has exceeded 1000 per year only twice. Nonetheless, according to the USCIS, there is a growing backlog of pending T visa cases. 

Despite the good intentions of the T visa, supporters say that it is difficult to meet the requirements, even for those who are aware of the program. Additionally, there is a perception by many that survivors of trafficking are criminals in some way. But trafficking likely violates the 13th Amendment by effecting slavery or involuntary servitude in the US. It in no way makes the survivor a criminal in and of itself. It seems that deeper discriminatory stereotypes play a significant role in this misplaced perception, especially for children.

Many survivors are actively trying to help the prosecution of their trafficker, which requires them to get to court. Even if they are able to secure transitional housing, they also need access to transportation to get to court and to meetings with law enforcement. The requirements to help law enforcement are often burdensome and re-traumatizing, so even for those willing to share their story and assist with a prosecution, there is a cost to help our law enforcement punish this heinous crime. 

Those who do qualify for T Visas are often afraid to apply. Because of new immigration orders, it is riskier to expose one’s immigration status in the U.S., even if a survivor is here because of human trafficking. Now immigrant trafficking survivors are left with these choices: risk deportation by applying for the T visa and being denied, or risk deportation by not applying at all.

Easing the Hardship

Although the T visa program is a step in the right direction, the lack of a survivor’s ability to work while waiting for the visa application to process is a severe roadblock. Though the prohibition on work is not a new feature of the T Visa application process, the current Administration is making things worse by further delaying processing applications. If the Administration truly wants to fight human trafficking in the United States, it could be done better by creating a specific work authorization for trafficking survivors while visas are processed. 

Right now at AnnieCannons, we have more than one brilliant young survivor who is qualified and willing to do complex software programming work, but simply cannot be paid to do it. Instead of giving her a new life and a path to economic productivity, the United States is missing out on skilled STEM-trained women being put into the workforce, simply due to work restrictions on what used to be a short-term application process. Although the global problem of trafficking may not have a simple solution, material improvement could be made here in the United States by allowing survivors to work and provide for themselves while going through the T visa process. It would take strain off an already maxed-out shelter system, improve access to healthcare, generate tax income for the country even as it removes cost burdens from the nonporfit and social services systems, and give a human trafficking survivor the pride of knowing they are contributing to society and taking care of themselves. Stable, high incomes ensure survivors continue to thrive, during their stay in the U.S. under their visa, and beyond – breaking generational cycles of exploitation. Turns out, a savings account improves outcomes considerably.

How can you help?

We think this is a nonpartisan issue – no matter which side of the aisle, representatives should favor survivors providing a livelihood for themselves and ending the abuse. If this issue is of interest to you, text “RESIST” to 504-09 to access the Resistbot tool.  When creating your note to our congressional representatives, tell them you want to create means for trafficking survivors to work legally (and pay taxes) while they go through the T visa process so they are never trafficked again.

Leveraging Technology to Close the Continuum of Care Gaps for Trafficking Survivors

Since the very first class at AnnieCannons, we have discussed the problems facing human trafficking survivors. Every time, one issue has come up over and over: significant gaps in the continuum of care – the services and assistance needed for a survivor to successfully leave behind their situation of exploitation and become completely independent.

The first challenge facing many survivors is being asked to personally call a long list of providers to see if they qualify for support. Imagine having to tell your traumatic story over and over again, and potentially being disappointed at the end of each call. Others have needed to hack the system in order to actually get what they need, and feel compelled to share that with others to save them from the same pain and re-traumatization. Even more have found providers who claim to offer services, especially mental healthcare, but discovered down the road that those services are not readily available, or are not provided by someone actually qualified to offer those services. According to our students from the Bay Area, they have been in and out of three to seven shelters before joining our program and finally finding their way to financial independence. 

These experiences are usually not due to negligence or ill-will, rather they are the result of providers and nonprofits who are struggling to find the funds to continue to operate and provide the services they know are desperately needed. This struggle is especially noticed in the Bay Area where AnnieCannons’ students live. The cost of living and high housing costs lead to a greater need for service providers and nonprofits to raise funding simply to provide a shelter. People financially supporting a shelter often expect other pieces of the continuum of care to be provided as well, such as case management. Added to those expectations are difficult and often nonsensical grant reporting requirements that take time away from serving humans to meet criteria regarding data handling and collection practices, especially for government grants.

There are groups that have created case management applications intended to assist case managers, shelters, and others involved in the continuum of care to better track their data and manage those who benefit. Given the number of locations that Bay Area shelters have to enter data already, these tools often go unutilized. Additionally, these applications are designed to track one person at one facility, falling short of tracking them if they receive other services at other organizations, or how effective those services are. 

Difficulties also arise when referring a survivor along the continuum of care to other groups and organizations that can provide assistance. There are consent and confidentiality concerns in telling another organization about a person and their history, with no good way of recording a survivor’s consent to share information other than a paper form. In fact, one executive director stated that we would save her staff a significant amount of time if we could simply automate the printing of directions and contact information to go along with a referral. 

With the support of the Chintu Gudiya Foundation, AnnieCannons is now working with Tech4Dev, conducting thorough product research to design a technology solution that puts the survivor at the heart of the design process. Our experience with survivors has made it exceptionally clear to us that the variety of issues surrounding the successful application of technology to close the gaps in the continuum of care, from start to finish, require a focus on the survivor. A survivor-centered solution will solve the concerns over privacy and confidentiality and provide full feedback loops and impact reporting about the success rate of services received. It will go even further to protect the survivor from re-trafficking and monitored phones, and provide an effective way to handle referrals and avoid re-traumatization. 

While we are gathering project data and working to provide solutions, we will be consulting with a select group of Bay Area case management and housing providers to discuss their pain points and core needs in using technology. By analyzing the technologies they use and discussing anyl tools they may not yet be utilizing, we hope to better understand the gaps and needs in the area to create the best solution possible and put it to work for survivors. 

If you are a Bay Area shelter or case management provider and you would like to consult with us about your technology, please email info@anniecannons.com. We will continue to post here about the process of our research and discoveries.

How to Get Buy-In and Funding For Your Nonprofit’s Website Redesign

This is the second post in our new series on how to execute a redesign for your website.  If you missed our first post on when the timing is right for you to consider getting a redesign, you can read that here.

If you work with a nonprofit and think it’s time to redesign your website, you will probably need to get approval from several groups and stakeholders. Plan ahead to avoid wasting time and increase your chances of everything going smoothly. AnnieCannons has worked with a number of nonprofits to redesign their websites; here are some suggestions to streamline the process.

Before you begin: create a project proposal.

Before you jump in and excitedly tell your stakeholders about your big idea, take some time to gather ideas and crunch the numbers. Presenting everything as a well-thought out and a nicely presented proposal will carry your excitement and ideas much further. 

  • Include what a new website will do for your organization, what it will fix, and the kind of opportunities it will allow once the changes are made. We recommend attaching the website redesign to a major organizational milestone or event, like a fundraiser. The board might provide more support if they think the project can improve a fundraising initiative.
  • Consider whether you have budget for initial design work (expect $1000-$5000 for most nonprofits’ marketing sites). Especially for more complex sites, you may be able to obtain finished designs that you can show donors to make it easier for them to say “yes” to funding your project.
  • Include a budget with your proposal.  Costs for a typical website redesign can be broken down by an estimated percentage of cost per phase, though all estimates in software are necessarily fluid. If you engage with a professional to determine their estimate in one area you can extrapolate the rest. Note: this is not an exact science but is helpful for benchmarking and gaining approval:
    • Discovery & Planning
      • 10%
    • Design
      • 20%
    • Development
      • 60%
    • Testing
      • 5%
    • Content
      • 5%
  • Pad your initial budget by at least 30%. There is generally more to setting up a website than you think, especially if you need to work with a designer. You should generally expect to pay hourly, so many rounds of comment and revision with designers can add up (to avoid this, see our “Planning” section below). Also, you’ll need to consider related ongoing costs, like monthly or annual hosting fees, domain registrations and renewals, photo license fees, etc. 
  • If you’re not sure of what you want your site to do, add extra budget padding. We often see organizations change their mind about what they want once they it on paper or on the web – even down to the fonts they THOUGHT they liked. Make sure you have enough funds reserved to get you all the way to what you want – or make sure you are prepared to trim your expectations to create a solid site that is simpler than what you may have imagined.  

Bringing it up: engage stakeholders & get approval.

Now that you have your ideas clearly spelled out, you can move forward and present your proposal to your organization. There may be some pushback, but the more prepared you are the easier it will be!

  • Share the proposal with your manager and get their buy in first. Continue to go up the chain and across the organization until the Executive Director is on board. Since a quality website will be a material budget line-item for most organizations, reminder your ED that a Site upgrade will improve all marketing and development initiatives, too.
  • Make sure all the key decision makers on your team are sold on the proposal not only to build a website, but on what the goal of the website will be. This makes it easier to get team approvals through the design and development process.  Being clear on what you want to accomplish and why you want to accomplish it will also help limit expected costs.
  • Identify who the “approver” is for your team. Designers and developers need to have someone who can say “yes, this is right” or “no, this has to change” at various points in the process. It’s better to agree with your whole team who that person will be in advance, or who else the one project driver needs to check with to move the process forward.
  • When you approve a budget, make sure your team is clear on whether it is a “do not exceed,” or strictly limited pool of funds versus a budget target that you can cross for good reason.  Communicate this to your developers early and often.

If there’s a large number of people who need to be convinced, you may find your enthusiasm waning. Keep on track by focusing on the purpose and goals of the redesign and try not to get hung up on the details just yet. 

The fun part: gather messaging & branding.

Great, you have the go-ahead! Now you are ready to work on your messaging and branding. It’s time to collaborate with your team to gather all the pieces you will need, seeking the highest possible quality.

  • As much as 80% of a successful website redesign is driven by the quality of your prep work on things like verbiage, imagery, and brand. 
  • Before you contact a developer or designer, develop crisp mission and vision statements, clear descriptions of programs and services, and confident ideas that are ready for visuals. Remember that designing a website and making general branding and copywriting choices are different. For larger budgets, you can work with a branding consultant or copywriter to hone your content before you provide it to a web designer.  Whether you build this content with just you team or you hire outside consultants, do this before you start a web designer. Seemingly small things like length of titles and number of words in a section can change designer outputs substantially. For this reason, finalizing copy early will usually save you web designer fees.
  • Identify any images required or desired for use on your website, any logos or trademarks, etc. – and make sure the files you have for these “assets” are as high-resolution as possible. It’s easier to make files smaller or lower-resolution, but pretty impossible to make them higher-resolution. Having these elements ready before you meet with anyone will lower costs and keep your timeline steady. A designer can help you with what you don’t have, but they will bill you for that help. Be upfront with your web developer and/or designer about what you have and what you need when you get an estimate. This will keep your costs limited to time spent actually working for you, rather than telling you what work you need to do for yourself. 
  • If you don’t yet have a logo you want to use, the cheapest paid options for this are around $300. In both logos and graphic design, you get what you pay for, so if your budget is limited you might want to seek a volunteer and see them actually finish your design before you start your website – just be sure to set expectations with the volunteer in advance, or you could find yourself waiting a very long time for the promised logo.  (Pro Tip: ask your logo designers for versions of your logo in all of the most common file types, including SVG, PNG, and JPG, in both full color and black and white versions). For higher-cost logo designers, you should get a whole “style guide” that would include fonts, colors, and other branding items. Expect one to three rounds of revision, minimum, to reach something your whole team likes.  
  • We often see nonprofits get bogged down in the “goal” or “brand” phase of this process, so if your team is circling and not coming to definite answers, assign someone to assemble what you already have in terms of newsletters, flyers, events, case studies, pitch decks, or from grant language and identify what has resonated most with your donors in the past.

If you don’t have a logo, branding, or visuals, you should look into having a contractor or agency create them for you before you kick off development. They are among the first things a website developer will ask for.

You are not ready to start engaging a developer 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).

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.

5 Reasons Your Nonprofit Might Need A Website Redesign

Without an outside perspective, it could be hard to tell whether or not you need a website redesign. We see many clients wait too long to get their websites refreshed, and the data shows time and time again that they are losing lots of potential donations, advocates and clients because of it. Wondering if it is the right time for you? We put together a quick quiz for you to find out.

You should definitely kick off a redesign project if you answer yes to any of the following:

  1. Has your organization recently experienced any type of service change, name change, or logo change?  Not only should your website reflect the new you, but you can use this as an opportunity to kickstart interest in your brand and generate new donations.
  2. Is your donation button more than one click away from giving you money? Your donation button should be highly visible and extremely easy to process a payment.  Any friction in the funnel could mean thousands if not millions of potential donor dollars lost.
  3. Is your website more than two years old? In the last two years, there have been 53 different updates in WordPress alone. Not staying up with the latest web and browser enhancements can cause long load times and security issues. By not staying up to date, you are also losing out on many new features that consumers expect now in their experience (not to mention new emojis!).
  4. Is your website only viewable on a desktop or laptop computer? 51% of all internet users only use their mobile phone to access the internet. If your audience is based in a developing country, the number of mobile-only users is as high as 70+%. Mobile apps and responsive websites are imperative to reach them.
  5. Looking for something exciting to share or an indicator of growth and impact? If your org hasn’t grown in size or impact, you have nothing new to update your donors on, or you aren’t attracting new donors in general, a new site could offer a kickstart.

If none of the above applied to you, good news – you probably don’t need a redesign.  But if you did say yes, it’s time to start gathering stakeholder approvals and building your requirements.  We specialize in building 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.

Best Tech Tools for Nonprofits

Diverse men coding on computer

As a tech-focused nonprofit, we’ve experimented with a lot of tools and software. Here is a list of our favorite tech tools, along with our own use cases that we have found most efficient and cost-effective over the years. We hope you find these helpful!

Organization Management

  • GSuite- GSuite is free for nonprofits and includes several products including Gmail, Hangouts, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Forms, and Sites for collaboration.  Below are a few unique ways we use the products:
    • Google Docs- Google Docs is a collaborative application that allows multiple people to add to the same document. We use it to manage our common grant language, like our mission statement, as one example. It’s great to have the version history handy, add comments tagged with individual assignments, and maintain a central doc that we can all reference together instead of multiple document versions.
    • Google Forms–  Google Forms is a fantastic and easy to use survey tool. AnnieCannons uses Google Forms in our software classes to gather anonymous student feedback about our students’ experience with our instructional staff.
    • Google Voice – Google Voice gives you a free phone number that you can forward to multiple phones, give out to receive texts and calls without sharing your personal phone, and a matching app that transcribes voicemails. This has been especially useful for managing emergency evening and weekend calls on that would otherwise go to personal cell phones.
  • Asana- Asana is a task management assistant. Asana offers free tiers and allows you to visually manage tasks, products, projects, and checklists. It is collaborative so everyone can add and manage tasks while being able to see the same transparent project plan. You can use their mobile app to add to-do’s on the go, as well.
  • Notion– Notion is a workspace for wikis and centralized documentation. Notion can hold content like training methods, time off rules, and checklists for job positions that people can access online whenever they need. It also offers task calendars and spreadsheet databases, and is available as an app for your smartphone. AnnieCannons uses Notion as an internal knowledge base for things like guidance for our graduates to follow as they build their first training projects. There are free options or options that range from $4-$8 a month.

Accounting & HR Software

  • Quickbooks– Quickbooks provides a discount for nonprofits at TechSoup. We have found that the discount offered on TechSoup makes it less expensive than to hire and keep a bookkeeper. Quickbooks also gives the option to integrate with bank accounts and automatically compile financial statements to date and by specific periods, which is helpful in grant applications. Fair warning — some training might be needed for Quickbooks in order to be able to execute all these functions smoothly – it still needs a human to create and customize your accounting categories.
  • Bill.com- If you are a nonprofit that works with multiple different vendors, Bill.com allows you to easily create invoices and manage payments.  They don’t have discounts for nonprofits but their tiers are reasonable in comparison to creating invoices from scratch, and it keeps records of your invoices for you.
  • Gusto-  Gusto is a cost-effective cloud-based payroll option that automates payroll, tax filings, and employment department filings. Unfortunately, Gusto does not offer any type of nonprofit discount, but it can take a lot of time off of an Executive Director’s plate. The amount of hours that it would take to have our executive staff manually process payroll or the cost of working with an individual consultant would cost more than to pay for Gusto. It also offers additional services such as filings with the state’s employment compliance department.

Video Conferencing

  • Zoom- Zoom is our favorite video conferencing product. There is a free tier option that is helpful, however, it is limited as to who can manage meetings and how long they can run. We found a TechSoup discount for you to use.
  • Webex- Because Webex is a Cisco product you can apply through the Cisco website to get it donated.  Like Zoom, Webex allows team video conferencing along with collaboration tools, cloud calling, and conference devices.
  • UberConference– UberConference is a free conference calling software that we see a lot of clients and partners leverage.  It is a great free option if you don’t qualify for Webex or Zoom discounts.

Data Analytics and Donor Management

  • Mixpanel- If you have a more complex website, Mixpanel can help you get valuable customers insights on how customers use your product or website.  They have both free and paid options. In our experience, the free option was enough to analyze and optimize our donation flow.
  • Salesforce- Salesforce is great for managing your donor and volunteer databases and workflows. Salesforce.org has a grant application to get a free Salesforce license.  However, know that setting up and maintaining Salesforce can be a big investment of work. Before seeking a license donation, your nonprofit should make sure it has the staff bandwidth to maintain and manage Salesforce.

Online Learning

  • Teachable– Teachable offers free tiers that allow you to post recorded classes as well as include assignments. This is a great free tool to use if you are looking to share classes and offer online learning – we often recommend it to agencies struggling to figure out how to host an event for something like volunteer training. Teachable is easier to set up than other online learning platforms that we have used in the past.

Marketing Campaigns & Email

  • MailChimp– MailChimp is an email and campaign platform where you can easily create beautiful email and landing pages.  They also offer robust reporting and analytics for engagement across your database. Mailchimp offers a 15% discount for nonprofits and charities,  as well as a free plan.

Crowdfunding Campaigns

  • GoFundMe– An online platform used to launch campaigns and raise/manage donations. GoFundMe takes a 2.9% cut of your donations. We recommend GoFundMe for nonprofits since it takes the least amount out of your donations. Here are two other options:
  • Kickstarter– A Benefit Corporation that crowdfunds creative projects aligned with their mission.  Kickstarter takes a 8-10% lead of your donations.
  • GlobalGiving– GlobalGiving has the largest global crowdfunding community and has been used by AnnieCannons as well. GlobalGiving takes a 5-7% lead of your donations.

Website Management

  • WordPress- WordPress has a ton of great nonprofit templates and tools that you can leverage to build a very customized site at a mid-level budget.  We specialize in setting these types of sites up for clients. Conveniently, once set up, our clients can add things like blog posts and new team member profiles without knowing how to code.
  • Squarespace– If you have plenty of time and a tight budget, Squarespace gives the ability to make a visually appealing and basic website. Know that customization is slim. We do Squarespace setup for some clients who don’t want to deal with the significant data entry requirements.  If you want more advanced functionality, or want a more unique visual experience, we definitely recommend WordPress.

We’d love to hear what your favorite tools are and why!  Feel free to share in the comments section.

What is CCPA and how will it impact my small business?

What is the CCPA?

On June 28, 2018, California passed the California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”), which will go into effect on January 1, 2020. Essentially, the CCPA gives consumers the ability to know what data is being collected from them, the right to opt out of that information being collected, and the ability to ask for deletion of that data.  It also allows them to forbid companies from selling their information to a third party.

If they haven’t already, businesses will need to adjust operations and policies by January 2020 in order to comply with the new laws. There are penalties that range from $2,500 – $7,500 per violation, so compliance should be a top priority.

Does the CCPA affect me?

Any business entity that does business in California has requirements under the law if it meets any of the following criteria:

  • Your business’ annual revenue is over $25 million.
  • Your business receives information of over 50,000 consumers, households, or devices annually.
  • At least half of your business’ annual revenue comes from selling personal information.

The law excludes the collection or sale of “a consumer’s personal information if every aspect of that commercial conduct takes place wholly outside of California[, i.e.,] if the business collected that information while the consumer was outside of California, no part of the sale of the consumer’s personal information occurred in California, and no personal information collected while the consumer was in California is sold.”

Does it apply to nonprofits?


The CCPA applies to “businesses.” The Act defines that term to include any legal entity (e.g., corporations, associations, partnerships, etc.) that is “organized or operated for the profit or financial benefit of its shareholders or other owners.”

Does it apply to my small business?

Possibly.  Do you have customers in California and:

  • make over $25 million, or aspire to do so?
  • selling people’s personal information is more than 50% of your business?
  • receive information from over 50,000 people, households or devices?

If the answers to any of these questions are yes, then you should comply.

What do I do if my small business does need to comply?

  • Put someone in charge of spearheading the process to make your organization compliant. Make sure you get a legal expert to help with the process.
  • Review and map all of your internal data to confirm what information is being collected by your business.
    • Understand how the personal information is being collected, how it is being used, and confirm if it is being sold or shared to third parties.
    • Review contracts with any third parties that you provide consumer information to and compare it with CCPA regulations.
    • Review the privacy policies of all third parties that process consumer information and ensure their policies are in compliance with CCPA as well.
  • Update all privacy policies. If consumers weren’t informed from your privacy policy that your organization collects certain data, make it clear that data is being collected now. For example,  if data about eating habits or email address is being collected, it is to be listed in your privacy policy or you can’t collect it. You must also inform California consumers if you are selling this information, what specifically you are selling, and who you are selling it to.
  • Create an inventory for customer data. Your business will need to disclose upon request the categories of personal information being collected along with the purposes for those categories being collected, so make sure this information is readily available upon request at any point in time.
  • Create a process for data access and deletion.  Customers have the right to access information collected from them within 45 days of the request.  The same for requests for deletion of that data. You’ll want to create a system to document these requests. The system should also be able to automate verifying the requestor and the actual dissemination or deletion of data.
  • Train and update your customer service team on CCPA. Since these policies directly affect the experience of your customers, train all customer service employees on protocol responses related to the new CCPA compliance. Make sure they know what the new regulations are, what they mean, and how they should go about handling the customers request. Make sure the training includes appropriate responses that complies with CCPA.

If your business needs assistance creating a smooth process for technology systems and procedures to fully comply with data laws like GDPR, CCPA or HIPAA, please email us at info@anniecannons.com.

7 Nonprofit Technology Trends for 2019

team at conference table with macbooks

We want to help solve efficiency and growth challenges for nonprofits and social enterprises through the use of technology. In this post, we cover 7 of the biggest nonprofit technology trends that help nonprofits to get more done, better serve their communities & activate volunteers & donors. We also encourage you as the reader to think about how you can leverage these trends to support and enhance your mission.

Nonprofit Technology Trend #1:

Activating and deploying volunteers

One big trend we see is nonprofits have lots of interested volunteers to help their cause, but no efficient way for staff to cost-effectively deploy their passion and skillsets.  We’re seeing more and more nonprofits building apps that help connect advocates to projects that can use their help. Here are a few examples:

  • Health in Harmony – is a planetary health organization that helps communities get the resources they need, so they don’t have to destroy their ecosystems to survive. We’re in the planning phases of helping them build an app that matches volunteers who provide the advice and services these communities need, (like organic farming advice or midwives) with village communities who need it.
  • Moving Worlds is an organization that matches professionals with international nonprofits who need their help. They are able to scale to thousands of volunteers and organizations while keeping the team lean with the help of the matching technology they built.

Questions to consider:

  • Are there mission-critical projects or new programs that you don’t have the in-house skill set, time or money to take on?
  • Do you have a network of supporters who might be able to take on these projects? Could you leverage technology to crowdsource the help you or your communities need?

Nonprofit Technology Trend #2:

Solving for connectivity

Countries all over the world (including the United States) are suffering from lacking a reliable source of internet connectivity. Studies have found that there are still 3.8 billion people without internet – most from the developing world and communities of color. Delivering connectivity opens up a whole new world of options to serve and empower these communities:.

  • WordScientists provides free childhood literacy videos in dozens of languages, but their teachers didn’t have enough internet bandwidth to stream the content in the field.  AnnieCannons partnered with WordScientists to create an app for teachers that could download the content when they had a strong connection, and make it available for viewing anytime offline when they were with their students, even in remote areas or without walls.
  • Another nonprofit organization we see pushing the envelope for higher education in the digital world is Career Girls. Career Girls is a feminist-driven education platform that has the largest online collection of career guidance videos, however it was a challenge to get these videos and other educational content to kids without internet access. Career Girls developed the “Rachel”, a hardware unit to establish remote connectivity. The Rachel made educational resources both from Career Girls and other nonprofits accessible to communities of children in the world with the most need.

Questions to consider:

  • Are the people most in need of your services able to access it? If not, how can you leverage apps and hardware to get your services out into the field where it is most needed?

Nonprofit Technology Trend #3:

Use technology to work smarter, not harder

Nonprofits still have many antiquated operations, such as handwriting Xerox documents and calculating Payroll taxes by hand, that make managing their internal and external processes inefficient and slow. These problems can be solved by automating function with current technology. For example, if your organization is helping victims of police brutality, there are a multitude of agencies, services, and steps needed to get them the support they need. Typically, even if they are lucky enough to get a case manager, they still have to call dozens of shelters they may not even qualify for in the hopes of finding housing.  This process can be incredibly traumatizing and always takes much longer than it needs to.

  • SafeNight by Caravan Studios is an app to help route requests for emergency shelter.  Their New Jersey network has massively streamlined the “do you have a bed?” process but finding enough beds is still a problem.
  • AnnieCannons has been researching the broken connections in the anti-trafficking continuum of care for years. To fix these broken connections, we’ve designed a tool called ReferAll that puts the survivor at the center of her services. ReferAll will automate painful grant reporting processes, case file management, and more to make sure providers’ staff spend all their time helping survivors instead of doing data entry.

Questions to consider:

  • Is there a process in your organization that takes hours or days to complete?
  • How much more impact could you have with automation?
  • If you didn’t spend less time filling out paperwork, what else could you do?

Nonprofit Technology Trend #4:

Data Visualization and Standardization  

We’ve seen an investment by many nonprofits and corporations to visualize and storytell with the data of the communities they serve.  While this trend in data transparency and dissemination is great, we think there is more that can make the data actionable.

  • IBM worked with UK-based “Stop the Traffik” and others in the anti-trafficking movement to create a data hub that enables various institutions to detect human trafficking terms and incidents. It’s monumental for these institutions to work together. However, the data captured is from people who are in contact with law enforcement or NGOs. Many marginalized groups never connect with these organizations, and won’t be included in the dataset. Users of the platform are generally aware of the data limitations, but this and other initiatives will grow increasingly informative once the larger community adopts more standardized data gathering techniques and tailors them for more-marginalized communities.
  • Enigma Technologies hired AnnieCannons to build “Stand Together Against Trafficking” or “STAT,” a platform for financial institutions, law enforcement, and nonprofits to collect learnings about indicators of human trafficking in banking systems.  Approved users can submit new indicators to the community, or look for indicators related to existing investigations.

Questions to consider:

  • Would visualizing and storytelling (even anonymously) the data you have add value to the communities you serve?
  • Is the data you are collecting showing the whole picture? If not, how can you get access to more holistic data sources?
  • How can your data be used to generate interest and funding for new projects?
  • How can your conclusion be qualified to account for gaps in your data set?

Nonprofit Technology Trend #5:

Nonprofit technology discounts and the process of integration

Many software and technology companies like Google give away products for free or deeply discounted rates to nonprofits. Google offers G Suite free for nonprofits, along with ad grants to promote more donation traffic to your nonprofit website. TechSoup has many other discounted services.

Although these products are helpful for nonprofits, not everyone knows how to use them, or even how to integrate them into your existing systems.  It is important to consider partnering with a qualified service partner to implement these services if the team doesn’t have the skills to use these free or discounted services at their full potential.

Questions to consider:

  • Have you researched the free or discounted nonprofit technology products in the last 6 months?
  • Do you have someone on your team with the technology skill set to implement these new services?

Nonprofit Technology Trend #6:

Mobile Apps

Owning a laptop or a smartphone can be considered a trend of its own. Studies show (in the U.S.) a whopping 77% of Americans now (opposed to 35% in 2011) own a smartphone, and 78% of U.S. adults own a laptop or desktop of some kind. Out of these numbers, 13% of Hispanics and 12% of African Americans are entirely smartphone-dependent, meaning they don’t have a computer at home and have limited options for going online other than their smartphone. These numbers are a good reason nonprofits should start leveraging mobile apps as a key tool in their mission strategy.

Here are a few examples of nonprofits using mobile apps to support their cause:

  • UPchieve- UPchieve connects students with tutors via a web-based platform.  The challenge was that their students were accessing their services from a mobile device and the experience wasn’t optimized for mobile.  AnnieCannons helped make their web app mobile-responsive and allow lower-income students to easily use their services on a smartphone.
  • Resistbot– Resistbot is a text-based app that is accelerating the process of contacting officials. By texting Resistbot the word “resist” it helps you find who best represents you in congress while also turning that text into a fax, text, postal letter, or email. Without this app, it would take AN ARMY of volunteers writing letters to legislators to get the same job done!

Questions to consider:

  • Does your target audience rely heavily on smartphones for internet connection?
  • If you had the skill set and budget for a mobile app, what would it do? What would it’s features be?
  • Could a mobile app expedite the steps needed to take action for your cause?

Nonprofit Technology Trend #7:

Making Meaning Out of the Data

Aside from newer, better ways to gather data, technology can also help nonprofits turn their data into action. Vote.org exemplifies this concept because they use the data from voter registration in swing states to better direct funding. A round of applause for them, as their efforts increased the diversity of voter population in the last two years.

AnnieCannons also recognized an area of data that was in need of a course of action. Surviors.io made an app for survivors of sexual assault to anonymously share data that helps others avoid dangerous areas and reveals the reality of rape culture.

A question to consider:

  • How can you leverage data in your strategic planning to better invest in the right projects?

All in all, technology and data can help unleash the full potential of your nonprofit, but it can be difficult to deploy with limited staff time and budget.  Finding the right technology partner who not only can implement the right technology solution, but also help engrain the change within your organization is imperative to the success of any project. If your organization would like to understand how you could benefit from leveraging these trends to your advantage, we are happy to talk. Email us at info@anniecannons.com.