Internet, Nonprofit 2.0, Strategy

Build A Nonprofit’s Technology Assets From The Ground Up, Part 2 OF 4

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This is the second part of Build A Nonprofit’s Technology Assets From The Ground Up, Part 1 OF 2. In this post, I talk about the website tiers of the Maslovian hierarchy of nonprofit technology needs for the small nonprofit. Unfortunately, this article about a nonprofit website is so long that I’ve decided to expand the series to one long posting for each of the website, CRM and social media layers in the pyramid. And that’s why this series is now four parts long and not two. 

Website

Why do I make having a website more important than a CRM? You need Web traffic first to get people to even read about your wonderful mission and programs.  The amount you raise for your nonprofit online will be a function of how much traffic your website is receiving. If you have a significant offline presence OR you already have a legacy donations management program in place, then you can switch this layer out for the CRM. This is where your work at the lower levels of the pyramid will start to pay off. A great mission, competent staff and a rock-solid network will definitely put you in position to work on your website. Most nonprofit missions usually have an educational and policy advocacy component to them. Your progress towards this portion of your mission can be measured by using website traffic numbers. Your website is also the demarcation point where you turn your previous investment in IT resources into something approaching revenue generation.  Yes, that’s right, I’m urging nonprofits to make sure that their IT efforts can actually make money for them.

Driving traffic to your website and then monetizing it will take a lot of design and analytics work. Unfortunately, nonprofits seem to be more concerned with how their website looks as opposed to how it functions. I urge you to flip those two priorities around in your head. You are spending hard earned donation dollars on your website. You owe it to your donors and your fundraising staff to maximize performance from your website. Some small nonprofits do incredibly well on the Web, if you’re reading this post, this is probably not you.

Design

Design always seems so simple. It’s the most visually creative and can garner all sorts of feedback from the stakeholders in your website from program managers to fundraisers to your donors. Before you start, be aware that making and designing a web site for a re-launch is relatively easy. The number one thing for all your stakeholders to remember in Web design is: it’s not about you. Your favorite color may be blue and you may love the font Helvetica but that doesn’t mean those are design choices that should be imposed on your nonprofit’s website. 

I strongly recommend that you read this book called The Design of Sites: Patterns for Creating Winning Web Sites (2nd Edition). You don’t have to go through the whole thing but you should definitely read the first few chapters of this book. The book is intended to help you understand how websites are supposed to be designed and implemented from a design and usability point of view. Good design is key and you should certainly shoot for  the strong graphical quality of the websites listed here despite what I have to say about them.  Being a good looking website has all sorts of benefits to it like getting people to buy into your mission and then having them trust your donate button (if they get around to that).

Be aware though that design is only the beginning of this process. Frankly, it will merely start off your website but it will not be the thing you’ll be doing on a daily basis with your website. That’s what analytics is all about.

Analytics

Analytics is the art and science of looking at website traffic data and then implementing changes to your website in order to improve that website traffic. If you do it right, it will improve the articles you write for your website, the textual ads you place on other websites as well as how you serve your community on the web.

I suggest that you start with this book: Web Analytics: An Hour a Day. Both myself and Beth Kanter took a look at this book and found that it was extremely useful in understanding web traffic. I was already pretty into web analytics before the book and it served to validate techniques I was already using. Learning from this book will give you a huge leg up on improving your website traffic.

Generally speaking, most startup/small nonprofits don’t have a lot of traffic on their websites and seriously need to work their sites in order to get a modicum of traffic. I found a pretty good tool for “grading” your Web site at http://website.grader.com/. It encapsulates things I’ve talked about recently regarding website design. Seriously, please read that last link. I find myself repeating it over and over again to my nonprofit manager friends.
Once you’ve read the Web Analytics book and found out how your website is faring, you’ll have to start giving marching orders to your website designer/developer. Just ensure that your techie follows Google’s webmaster guidelines and if you’re using WordPress to follow the suggestions at this incredibly good WordPress SEO article. For an added bonus, make sure your techie is also aware of Matt Cutts’ blog about Google and SEO.
At the very least, you can put up a basic web site aka brochureware and work forward from there. Getting a decent Google PageRank of 4 and above and a site that at least pays attention to SEO would put you ahead of many other nonprofits out there. I definitely recommend WordPress for small nonprofits and installing SEO plugins for WordPress.

Many of the lessons I’ve learned on making a nonprofit website has been from my experiences managing nonprofit websites. To that end, if you want to see what I mean by managing traffic, please check out the traffic statistics for these three websites I’m currently managing for fun: asianamericansforobama.com and apaforprogress.org. and even this blog.

Analytics should take up several hours a week at first when your website is launched/relaunch. It’s akin to a video game where your Web analytics tools will give you daily feeback about your site’s design and content. Every new piece of content gives you yet another chance to connect to your Web audience and to rejigger the way you approach your mission. It’s like a grand experiment that takes place day after day. Unleash the mad scientist in you.

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