Websites are an essential point of communication for most nonprofit organizations. A web presence helps to lend some legitimacy to nonprofit groups, and online communication helps to mobilize supporters to action. The trouble is, some nonprofit organization websites are just bad. The design is awful, or the site structure is a mess, or the site hasn't been updated in 10 years.
Nonprofits face unique challenges. Some groups are so laden with bureaucracy that making any change to online communication is nearly impossible. The technical requirements for making the update are low, but the political force needed to effect change is not worth the effort.
For the sake of this post, let's just focus on ways to improve websites sans group politics. (Sorry, no tips on that one. You're on your own!)
If you have a site that transports users back to the golden era of design fifteen years ago, then you need to move toward something new. It doesn't have to be the shiniest design ever, but a modern design will instantly help the online image of your group.
If you have the the budget, hire a designer. Let a professional do it right. If not, use a site like ThemeForest.net to find an affordable theme. Seriously, for $50, you can have a site that looks professional and inspires confidence. Yes, free themes are available around the web, but I would advise against them for your organization. Less designers are offering free templates anymore, so many of the available themes are becoming dated and are no longer working alongside content management systems the way they should.
Content Management System (CMS)
Make life easier and go with a CMS. It can be Wordpress or Drupal or whatever suits your fancy, but make your website easy to update for non-coders. Yes, content management systems have issues. They can make advanced formatting difficult within pages, but you will get more out of your website 95% of the time for using a CMS.
Just keep a few things in mind.
- Don't go crazy with your fonts. Just because you can change the color and size doesn't mean it always a good idea. Try to keep the overall feel of your page cohesive.
- Clip art is evil. Yes, it was neat in the 90's, but we've come a long way since then. You can find amazing imagery for free under a Creative Commons image search on Flickr to give your organization a more professional appearance.
Nonprofits actually have an advantage in sourcing media elements for a website since many images, songs, and videos are licensed with a noncommercial version of Creative Commons. That means you can use those elements (with proper attribution -- see the details on the site where you find free media) while businesses have to pay for that type of content.
What Do You Think?
This post is a very basic look at issues with nonprofit organization websites, but getting design and a regular (current) content schedule right will put your organization ahead of the pack.
What other issues do you see with nonprofit organization websites?