Spiffing Up the Window to Your Nonprofit

When I turned 16, I was hired to work at a small department store. Once a month, the boredom of folding towels and putting price stickers on knickknacks was suspended while I helped the store owner “dress” the window. We featured our newest merchandise, sale items and other things that (we hoped) would get the passerby to stop, look, and come in and shop.

In today’s marketplace, your website is often the “window” into your nonprofit. Regular donors check it out to see what’s new and exciting, and potential “customers” use it as a means of determining if they are interested enough to engage with you.

So why are so many websites still so inadequate for the job?

There have been a plethora of articles lately about nonprofit websites. A recent online fundraising scorecard showed some deficiencies. I suspect more than one nonprofit fundraiser woke up this morning and felt some guilt about the sorry state of his or her nonprofit’s website. But let’s be honest — a lot of fundraisers are juggling so many balls that unless something is on fire, it’s going to be ignored. And too often, websites just chug along in the background, not living up to their expectations but also not erupting into a fiery disaster.

So take heart — this is not another article chiding you for not having a perfect website. Rather, it’s a two-step plan for those of you who work in a small to midsized shop without a dedicated website team, designed to help you upgrade your website without sacrificing sleep or critical work that keeps your nonprofit afloat. (The rest of you fortunate enough to have someone else to worry about the website can move on to the next article.)

First, do less well. Blaspheme! After all, your website needs to say and do everything that everyone thinks it should say and do. The list of what “should” be on the website is slightly longer than the IRS tax code.

But let’s step back and look at this realistically. The only way you could accomplish the robust, dream website that you envision would be to hire multiple staff members or find a way to add 10 hours to everyone’s day. Probably not going to happen.

Instead, determine what has to be on the site — not what has to be on to appease everyone affiliated with your nonprofit (board, staff, spouses of staff, volunteers and consultants), but what has to be available for donors and prospects who are “window shopping” at your website. Get those things right. Set up a structure to make them stay right (see Step 2), and only then look at adding more.

What are those “must haves”? It varies, but begin with current programs (what is it you do anyway?), success stories, a functional donation page and contact information, and add from there. If you can get away with it, focus on what resonates with your donors and prospects, not simply what strokes egos around the office.

Secondly, have a realistic plan for keeping “less” up-to-date.The bottom line is it has to be someone’s job to look at the website every single day and see if there is anything out-of-date on it. That someone doesn’t have to be you. It can be the receptionist surfing your site between calls. It can be a volunteer. It can be anyone — but it has to be someone. When it’s no one’s responsibility, it doesn’t get done.

Added to this, make sure more than one person knows how to update the website, and don’t make the approval process so complex nothing ever gets posted. You don’t want your website to be the Wild West of erroneous information, but find a middle ground between that and approval purgatory.

Today, I read this on a nonprofit’s website: In 2012, (nonprofit) will be releasing … Someone should be embarrassed about that! Another site had a blog, with the last entry dated in June 2013, and a news section with the last posting a month prior to that. What’s this saying to donors and prospective donors? This nonprofit hasn’t done anything for almost a year.

That’s not the kind of window dressing that is going to get donors to engage.

There are many more “must do’s” for your website. “Optimizing for mobile” seems to be the battle cry far and wide these days (and it’s important — don’t get me wrong). Measure everything. Test. Make your forms easy to complete. And the list goes on.

But this old dog knows that trying to do everything is sometimes impossible and can drive you to paralysis. So vow to do less well and to keep that much up-to-date when it comes to your website. It’s heresy, I suppose, but if your website is the window into your nonprofit, at least make sure the view it offers is current, exciting and inviting — even if it’s not yet nirvana.

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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