3 min Read
June 17, 2014

Webinar follow-up: Is it time to rethink your website?

Nonprofits have had websites since the Internet first sprouted pages for organizations over 20 years ago. Does your site still feel and look like it’s a child of the ’90s or has it kept up with the times—in both who your organization is now and current user experience trends?

Last month, I helped a few hundred nonprofiteers answer that mighty question: “Is it time to rethink your website?” Together we looked at the evolution of CARE’s website as well as the new site we redesigned for The Marfan Foundation as part of our brandraising process. I was happy to share a flowchart I developed a few years ago with Kira Marchenese of the Environmental Defense Fund to help guide a nonprofit’s web process.

While I was able to answer some on-the-spot questions during the webinar about usability, audience-specific navigation, number of pages a site should have, buy-in issues, and whether or not you need to have an IT background to manage a site, I couldn’t get to them all. To help continue the conversation, here are a few of those questions and my responses. You can also watch the webinar here and add your own question as comments to this post.

To get to know our audiences, you suggested we create user personas. How do I do that?

User personas, also known as audience personas or profiles, are a great tool for any communications process—especially websites. They are typically fictional profiles based on real members of your community. These profiles not only summarize the person’s demographic background, but they spell out that person’s motivations. Why are they coming to your site in the first place? What do they need to see in order to click deeper? The point of these profiles is to push you to think like your community and avoid organizing your site in ways that only make sense to you and your colleagues. Liz, our Director of Strategy, wrote a handy how-to about creating audience profiles and my friend John Haydon offers some steps and examples of personas on his website.

Can you recommend resources to learn more about how best to integrate customer service technology within the website?

Great question. I’m don’t have a lot of experience with this, so I’d start by talking to the company that provides your Constituent Relationship Management(CRM) system, if you have one. I do see more nonprofits are experimenting with the live chat functionality many of us have come to expect from shopping and travel sites. And some people even suggest offering live chat to engage with donors and volunteers.

For an audience of physically disabled people (auditory, visual, mobility limitations), how do you manage your design to be accessible? Making it easy to view and use while still looking modern and fresh.

In 1998, the U.S. government amended Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act and required all federal agencies to produce sites that could be used by people with disabilities. While the law does not require all nonprofits to comply (unless they are part of a federal agency), creating an accessible website is considered a best practice by many and may be a priority based on an organization’s mission. To see if your site is accessible, review this checklist from WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind) and this helpful set of resources published on TechRepublic.

To the question of whether or not a site can be accessible and still look good, I think it can. Take a look at the White House website or NOAA that just won a Webby award.

Are there any marketing or communication plan templates you can recommend?

I love that you are asking about overall communications strategy in a discussion about websites. Bravo! Your website should follow your plan, not be your communications plan!  Nancy Schwartz has some great insights and a template for a nonprofit marketing plan. I also presented on this topic at The Foundation Center-DC two years ago. You can view the slides for “Developing a communications strategy for your nonprofit” and that should help you get started.

And now I have a question for you, my friends who are still reading this post: “How is the content of your website?” Whether or not it is time to rethink your site, there is always time to improve your copy. Sign up to learn how to write for the web with Dan, our creative director, in a free webinar on July 16.

I invite you to add resources to the questions discussed on the webinar and in this post, or ask a question of your own in the comments.