Your nonprofit’s website serves as your organization’s home on the internet, so it’s understandable that you want to get your site up and running as quickly as possible. However, it’s not worth it to rush the project, especially if you fail to set a strong foundation and have to rebuild your site from scratch a few years down the line.
This guide is here to help you create a strong foundation for your first web build project and we're going to cover the following topics:
1) How to Create a nonprofit Website: Frequently Asked Questions
2) How to Build a Website: 3 Steps Your Team Can Take Before Hiring Professional Web Consultants and Designers
3) Why Work with a Development Agency to Complete Your Web Design Project
Too many nonprofits fall into the trap of creating a quick, just-in-time website for their organization and then quickly outgrow the site as their organization expands. Creating a strong foundation now will prevent a major overhaul in the future. Let’s get started.
How to Create a Nonprofit Website: Frequently Asked Questions
Before we dive into the steps your team can take to set your web design project up for success, let’s answer a few frequently asked questions that your nonprofit might have about this project.
What should be included on a nonprofit website?
When it comes to what should be included on your nonprofit’s website, think about the functions you want your website to serve. Informing supporters? Generating support? Raising funds? The answer is likely all of the above and more.
When examining nonprofit websites with a strong foundation, there are a few key elements that are evident on most of them:
- Informational Pages: This includes your “About Us” page and any other educational pages about your mission and organization as a whole.
- Ways to Get Involved: This includes volunteer information, fundraising opportunities (peer-to-peer sign-up pages, online donation form, etc.), advocacy opportunities, matching gift and volunteer grant information, event calendar, and more.
- Blog: This includes quick blog post updates about your nonprofit’s work, supporter and constituent testimonials, and even long-form educational posts.
- Contact Information: This includes contact information for key staff members, contact information for your headquarters, and potentially an embedded survey form to submit inquiries.
Your website is often the first location that supporters look to when they want to learn more about your organization. So, you’ll want to provide enough information for them to learn about your cause, the steps you’re taking to further your cause, and how they can pitch in. They shouldn’t need to jump through hoops to get involved but rather be able to do so as soon as they land on your website!
How much does a nonprofit website cost?
As a nonprofit professional, you’re well aware that every dollar that goes to your internal operations is one dollar less for your mission— and unfortunately, that includes the funds spent developing your website.
When it comes to building a new nonprofit website, the cost varies greatly. Depending on your nonprofit’s budget and expectations, this could simply mean the small cost of registering the domain name and hosting the website (for a do-it-yourself approach) to a more expensive bill amounting to thousands of dollars (for organizations seeking a feature-rich, custom-built website).
Generally, we recommend that nonprofits avoid a fully DIY approach and instead work with a website design consulting firm that specializes in nonprofit websites. This is because modern nonprofit websites are much more than informational tools— they’re donation processing tools, volunteer and event registration tools, and even channels for direct advocacy actions.
Building out the functionality to support this extended use (online donation forms, registration forms, and more) and doing so in a secure manner requires an advanced understanding of website design, the nonprofit tech landscape, and web project management.
That said, there are steps that your nonprofit can take prior to partnering with a web development consulting firm to remove some of the work down the line and cut your project costs as a result.
How to Build a Website: 3 Steps Your Team Can Take Before Hiring a Professional Web Consultants and Designers
While we recommend working with a nonprofit website development consultant to build your site, there are steps that your team can take before establishing an official partnership to lessen your project costs overall.
Pre-Web Design Project Step 1: Register your domain name.
The first step in setting a strong foundation for your web build project is choosing and registering your domain name, also known as the address of your website.
Once you’ve chosen your domain name— given that it’s available, as domain names can only be registered to one website— you’ll register the name via a domain registrar. A domain registrar is a company that manages the registration of domain names, with popular providers being Domain.com and Godaddy.com.
Domain registration costs vary but can cost approximately $14.99 per year, and often you can prepay for up to 10 years in advance. After registering your domain name, you’ll attach it to your website via the web hosting service that you work with.
It’s recommended that you choose and register your domain name as soon as possible to prevent the name from being taken. Registering your domain can be done before your website is created, so there’s no harm to registering in advance.
Pre-Web Design Project Step 2: Plan and draft initial content.
Once you’ve secured the technical elements needed to begin building a site on the internet, you can begin considering your website content. While your website development consultant will eventually end up building the pages of your site, you can put that team a step ahead and save on project fees by creating drafts of your content in advance.
To draft your web pages in advance, do the following:
- Consider what pages you want to include on your website. You’ll likely want a home page, an about page, a blog roll, a donation page, an educational resources page, a volunteer page, a calendar/events page, and a contact us page.
- Create a general outline for each page. For example, an outline for your about page might include a history of your nonprofit, your mission statement, an overview of the work you do, and a list of staff and board members.
- Add content to your outline for each page. At this point, you’ll write the copy, choose images, and if able, you can create graphic design elements for each page.
The goal is to have all of the information ready so that when you begin working with a development partner, they can simply plug the information into the pages they’ve built.
However, while your team can write the copy internally, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have high-quality images on hand to use— especially if you’re a newer nonprofit building your first website. Let’s look at how you can source these images as the final step you can take prior to working with a development agency.
Pre-Web Design Project Step 3: Secure images for the website.
Inspiring an individual to support your organization requires forging a strong emotional connection between your mission and that person. If it’s true that an image speaks a thousand words, choosing the right photos for your site can go a long way in forging that connection.
Of course, your organization can use your own images— for example, images of volunteers at work or constituents benefiting from your services— if they’re available. However, many organizations don’t have these images, especially if they’re just getting started and building their first website.
In that instance, you’ll need to purchase stock imagery to use until you have original photos available. When you work with a development agency to build your site, there are four ways this generally works:
- Find your own internal images taken over the years from events, galas, fund raisers etc.
- Get free images from free-royalty free websites like: Pexels & Pixabay & Unsplash (Don't forget to credit the photographers if you can)
- The agency adds a fee for purchasing stock images to the overall project costs.
- The stock image purchasing fee is already included in the design fee.
[*FYI] Make sure your images are no more than 300 kb. Heavier the image is, longer the website loads and slow website speed leads to bad user experience. Bad user experience leads to the visitors leaving the website which is the last thing you want.
It’s worthwhile to clarify this information upfront, so your team can budget accordingly for the project overall. This is actually another reason why it’s valuable to work with a web development consultant who’s also familiar with nonprofit marketing, as this team will not only build your site but be able to choose evocative images that truly inspire your audience.
Once you’ve completed these three steps, you’ll have a strong foundation to begin working with a nonprofit web design consultant and bring your site across the finish line. Let’s walk through why your team should work with a development agency to finish building your site and the tasks this partner will complete in more detail.
- They have extensive knowledge of the technical aspects of web development. They’ll be able to customize your site, rather than relying exclusively on the templates within your CMS platform. Further, they can ensure that more complicated design needs— such as the intricacies of nonprofit website accessibility— are accounted for.
- They can connect your site to your other technologies securely. You’ll likely want to collect information gathered on your site in your constituent relationship management (CRM) system. Further, you’ll likely want to integrate your online donation platform and volunteer management system with your website to make the most of your online presence.
- They can manage your project and ensure all deliverables are ready on schedule. This team will give you an approximate deadline, manage the project until that deadline, and ensure your site is ready to go live within a reasonable time frame.
- They may provide add-on services. Some consultants also provide nonprofit marketing and fundraising services and can develop your site with this expertise in mind.
Here are the next steps you can expect:
- Discovery and Scope: This step involves establishing and documenting goals, gathering the assets needed to complete the project, and developing an overall strategy and implementation plan for the project.
- Creating Wireframes: This involves creating wireframe page templates that illustrate the structure and functionality of each page. This step may not be included for websites with smaller budgets.
- Visual Design: This involves applying a design to each of the page templates. If you had wireframes created, a designer would fill in the wireframe with your organization’s visual and brand assets according to the approved page layouts. At this point, you’ll review and then approve the design.
- Site Development: The wireframes (if available) and fleshed-out visual designs are used to develop the front and back-end of your site.
- Content and Launch Prep: This is when your content is added to the site, link scanning is used to identify any navigational challenges, and a web training guide is created to ensure you can manage your site after launch.
- Testing and Launch: The site is tested on multiple web browsers and technologies before the site goes live as planned.
While these services can be more expensive than building the site on your own, it’s well worth the investment to craft a site that can stand the test of time.
To wrap up, your nonprofit’s first website development project doesn’t need to be a budget-breaking endeavor. By taking these steps on your own, you’ll set up a strong foundation for your nonprofit’s website, and future developer-assisted revamps down the line.