Web Design for Small Non-Profits & Volunteer Organizations – 5 Steps Before Diving into Design
This is the first article in a series on web design for small non-profits and volunteer organizations. To read the second article in the series, which discussed actual design details of good websites, click here.
Why your website matters:
Your website is the online face of your neighborhood association and is critical for recruiting new volunteers and generating support for your projects. It’s probably the first thing people will check after seeing your yard signs or flyers and how they will determine whether they want to take the next step of attending one of your meetings or events.
Website visitors will make instantaneous judgements about your association based on what they see. If your website looks outdated, unkempt, disorganized and unprofessional, people are likely to assume those qualities also apply to your organization as a whole.
How to approach a website re-design:
You understand the value of a great website but the question is, how do you get one? Or, if you have a website, how do you increase its usefulness to your neighbors, both as potential volunteers and meeting participants?
Regardless of whether you design your website yourself or hire a professional, we invite you to take a step back and reflect on the five following items before you dive into design.
1) Goals & Needs
Like almost all projects, the best place to start a website design project is by identifying the primary goals and needs of your organization. Is the site primarily to give updates to your existing volunteers? Do you want to use it to solicit donations for summer events and livability projects? Are you hoping it will help you engage new volunteers? Or would you like another tool to invite people to interesting presentations at your meetings?
Create a list of your communications goals and then narrow the items down to your top 1-3. These will guide all content and design decisions going forward. Another way to determine your website objectives is to ask: What actions will people coming to your website want to perform? What actions does your neighborhood association want people visiting your website to perform? Keep these goals in mind as you go through the next steps in the process.
2) Content Inventory
Now that you’ve narrowed in on your end-goals, perform a content inventory of all the information on your current website. This should include all pages as well as all assets (such as downloadable files, images, links, and videos). The purpose of this process is to capture quantitative information (i.e., “How much content is there?”) in preparation for the next phase of this project: content audit. One way to do this is to create a spreadsheet with the following columns:
You can also use sites like Dyno Mapper to crawl your website and generate an inventory for you.
3) Content Audit
Now that you have a list of all your old content, evaluate what should be kept, edited, and removed based on the goals you identified in step one. This is also the opportunity to identify any gaps where new content will need to be created. Be ruthless! Whittle down your list to items that meet your goals.
Some questions to consider during this process are:
- Does the content serve the primary goals you identified in step 1?
- Is this content still relevant and is it up to date? How frequently does this content need to be updated? If it isn’t up to date, why not – and, is there someone available to make those updates regularly? (if not, consider cutting this portion of the website)
- Is the writing (copy) compelling?
For example, take a step back to assess your neighborhood association’s true capacity for updating the blog on its main page. If the only blog posts are of meeting agendas, maybe it would make more sense to remove the blog (which is meant to be updated frequently with a variety of items) and post the agendas on another page, or, rename the blog page ‘Meeting Agendas.’
If you created a table during your Content Inventory phase, consider adding a column on the table that captures your assessment of the content. If there are pages on your website that have multiple sections or topics, you may want to give each topic a separate row on your spreadsheet.
4) Structure & Navigation
Now that you’ve refined the list of all the content you want to include on your redesigned website, it’s time to organize the pieces into a site structure. Creating a site map ahead of time will help keep the content focused, hierarchical, and accessible. Use this process to create an experience where users can find the information they want quickly and easily.
Creating a site map will also help you get a sense of the scope of your redesign project and is another opportunity to consider whether you can maintain and update the website you’re envisioning. And if not, to scale back your plans. Remember, a simple yet well-maintained site is better than a wide-ranging one with lots of broken links and out-of date content.
A good rule of thumb is to keep your main navigation menu items to seven or fewer and to only have one sub-level of content.
5) Pick a Platform
The responsibility for keeping a neighborhood association’s website up-to-date and interesting often falls on volunteers who lack coding skills. For this reason, it is extremely important that your website is easy to use and difficult to break. We recommend neighborhood associations choose content management systems like Squarespace or Wix over the more complex options like WordPress.
Wordpress Squarespace Wix
Design Highly variable, since there are thousands of themes and plugins to choose from. Squarespace has less themes than Wix, but the themes they do offer are considered to be more polished and modern-looking. Over 500 professional looking design templates to choose from.
You can’t transfer your content from one template to another.
Ease of Use Wordpress is highly customizable, but it often requires volunteers to modify code, or know what a plug-in is, and spend lots of time looking for the plugin that will accomplish a desired design. Squarespace is a drag and drop website builder, so you can design and update your website similarly to how you would edit a word document - without ever touching a line of code. Wix is considered the easiest website builder to use. It allows you to drag and drop content anywhere on your website.
User Support Free users do not receive any official support and must rely on forums to get their questions answered by the community. In addition to providing a forum and knowledge center, they also have live chat and a 24/7 email response team.
It is also Squarespace’s policy to respond to all emails within 1 hour.
Wix offers customer support through multiple different channels, including phone, email, and a community forum.
Currently, Wix does not offer a live chat function.
Mobile Responsiveness Depends on the theme selected. All of squarespace’s templates are responsive, which means they will automatically react and adjust to whatever size of screen the viewer is using. Wix’s templates are not mobile responsive. However, they do provide mobile-optimization. This means they create a second, dedicated mobile website which you will need to adjust and edit.
Hosting Not included Included Included
Ongoing Maintenance You will have to perform updates manually, which can be complicated depending on how many plugins you are using and if your website has any custom code. With Squarespace, all updates are tested and pushed to your website automatically. With Wix, all updates are carried out by their technical team and automatically deployed to your site.
Cost WordPress itself is free. The cost will depend on how many plugins you need, the cost of your hosting provider, whether you need a premium theme and more. You may also need to hire a developer to customize and design the site and a service to perform updates. $12.92/month $18/month
Next month, we will tackle best practices for neighborhood association website design. Stay tuned!