How to Prepare for Your Nonprofit’s Website Project: 21 Practical Questions to Ask Yourself

Everything you need to know to kickstart your nonprofit website project off right

The starting point of a nonprofit website is the hardest piece to get right. But when done well, it lays the foundation your organization needs to create an asset that motivates your community and gets visitors taking action.

How to Prepare for Your Nonprofit’s Website Project: 21 Practical Questions to Ask Yourself
In This Article
  • Intro
  • Your Community
  • Your Organization
  • Audience Actions
  • Site Structure
  • External Websites
  • Putting It All Together

A nonprofit website project can be a daunting task.

There are seemingly thousands of decisions to be made, from how to approach your messaging, to which pages to include, to how you should structure content to drive engagement, as well as much more.

Luckily, with the right approach in place, you can drastically increase the likelihood of creating a website that represents your organization well.

Outlined below are the exact steps we use with nonprofit clients to ensure they end up with a website that connects with their community and gets visitors taking action.

Read on to learn how you should prepare to lay the foundation for each of the different aspects of your future site.

In This Article
  • Intro
  • Your Community
  • Your Organization
  • Audience Actions
  • Site Structure
  • External Websites
  • Putting It All Together

Download the complete nonprofit homepage template

Wondering how to make your nonprofit’s homepage as clear, captivating, and user-friendly as possible? Download our homepage template and interactive PDF with a list of 11 essentials for a nonprofit homepage.

Tell us where to send your template:

    Consideration #1: Your community — who are you trying to reach with your org's site?

    All effective websites keep the community at its core. If your site isn’t useful for the people you’re trying to serve, then it’s unlikely they’ll stick around long enough to want to learn more about your work. Having a strong nonprofit website means knowing your audience’s needs and creating an experience that speaks to their expectations while taking your visitors on a journey to arrive closer to your org.

    As yourself these questions:

    • Who makes up your different audiences? – Most nonprofits are trying to serve several groups at once, often including program participants, donors, grantmakers, volunteers, partners, community leaders, the general public, as well as others. Which groups are most central to your org’s mission?
    • If you had to create a list of the audience breakdown in your ideal website traffic (in percentages), what would the breakdown be? – Knowing the numbers of who you’re trying to reach (for example: 50% program participants, 30% donors, 10% volunteers, etc.) can help inform how you structure your pages and messaging.
    • How does your community feel about your organization? – Some communities might be skeptical of the claims your organization makes. Others might feel eager and willing to interact with you. Either way, it’s important to know the most common emotional starting point for those you’re trying to reach.
    • Is there a typical “trigger event” that prompts your community to reach out to you? – Many people won’t just happen upon your organization’s website by accident. Maybe something happened in their life that prompted them to seek you out. Knowing those triggers can help you improve your messaging to feel more relevant.

    Consideration #2: Your organization — what's the context surrounding your site?

    Something many organizations overlook is how they intend to use the website. Not all platforms are created equal, and it’s valuable to get clear on your org’s situation so you pick a platform that will suit your nonprofit best.

    Ask yourself these questions:

    • Are you planning to build the website internally or with an external vendor? – There are dozens of website platforms out there. Each one has its pros and cons. If you’re planning to create your website internally, then you’ll want to prioritize a platform that helps you create something quickly and efficiently. But if you intend to work with an external agency or consultant, you have more options available.
    • What’s your plan for handling website maintenance? – Another consideration is the ongoing maintenance of your website. (Not updating the content, but updating the plugins and other pieces to make sure the website continues functioning properly.) Some platforms will be easier for your team to maintain internally than others. But if you have a budget for ongoing maintenance (and you just want the peace of mind), then you may have more flexibility in terms of which website platform you use.
    • What kind of software will you use alongside your website? – Your org’s website doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are likely databases, donation widgets, newsletter platforms, and other pieces of software you’ll need to integrate with your site. Knowing which software services your org depends (and how well they integrate with different platforms) on can help you decide on the right website platform.
    • What kind of content do you plan to showcase on the site? – Do you have a large library of articles or resources? Do you maintain a bunch of videos you want to show off on the site? What about your newsletters, podcasts, or other pieces of content? And what do you plan to create after the new site is launched? All these questions can help inform the best website platform for your future site.
    • How frequently do you plan to make updates to the site? – Will you be adding or updating content weekly or once every 6 months? While your website should be simple to update regardless of regularity, making daily changes could impact which website platform you decide to go with.
    • How will you market the site to bring in visitors? – You can’t just build it and expect people to come. Instead, you need to know the major ways visitors will come to your site. If you plan to invest more energy into search engine optimization, you should prioritize a platform that makes creating resources and other content a breeze. If you’re planning to use paid online ads (such as Google Ad Grant or Facebook Ads), you’ll need a platform that allows you to create new landing pages easily.

    Consideration #3: Audience actions — what can someone do as the next step?

    Every nonprofit website has goals for the community. After all, your org exists to recruit visitors to your cause. (It doesn’t do you any good if everyone leaves your site and doesn’t ever do anything as a result of reading your info!) Even if your goal is primarily awareness, it’s valuable to get clear on how someone could potentially act after “achieving” awareness of your focus area.

    As yourself these questions:

    • For each of your audiences, which actions would you like them to take when they come to the site? – Think about all the things you’d like someone to do after arriving on your org’s site. Subscribe, join, sign, read, contact, follow, engage, and everything in between. What actions could someone take if they were interested in building a relationship with your org?
    • If you could choose only one “major” action for each audience, what would it be? – Next, whittle that list down to a single, more significant action. For donors, it’s likely make a donation. For program participants, it might be submit their information. Getting clear on the next major action you’d like each audience to take makes it easier to build an experience that leads up to that action.
    • If you could choose only one “small” action for each audience, what would it be? – Everyone who comes to your org’s site won’t be ready to take a significant action, and that’s okay. Maybe they’re interested in your message but not ready to fully commit. What could someone do that’s a smaller ask but still allows you to continue building the relationship? For many orgs, this will be join the newsletter or follow your work on social media, but it could take other forms depending on what you have in place.
    • How could you create more trust with each audience to help them feel comfortable taking action with your org? – To inspire action, you have to build trust. For each of your audiences, think about any hesitations they might have with your organization. What might block someone from wanting to take that next major step with your org? Knowing those hesitations makes it easier to create content that speaks to those concerns and can help encourage visitors to feel more comfortable beginning a conversation with your org.

    Consideration #4: Your site's structure — what pages do you need to connect with visitors?

    The pages of a nonprofit’s website form the foundation of everything else. But more than just a list of pages, your site’s structure is the skeleton of your content. Having a strong list of pages that are intuitively organized can mean the difference between a website that feels relevant and a website that feels confusing or unintuitive.

    Ask yourself these questions:

    • What are your website’s “base” pages? – Base pages are pages that many orgs frequently have. Home, About, Programs, Services, Get Involved, FAQs, Donate, as well as many others are common. Which of these pages will make up the major pillars of your site?
    • What pages will go in your primary navigation menu? – A nonprofit’s primary navigation menu (the menu that appears at the top of every page) is one of the toughest areas to get right on a site. Include too much, and it feels like a lot of work for visitors to sift through. Include too little, and it feels like visitors can’t find the information they’re searching for. Finding the right balance is key for what’s frequently considered the “backbone” of your org’s site.
    • What are the questions we most frequently receive from your community? – If there’s a question you receive again and again, it’s a sure sign that there’s an opportunity for a helpful resource. Could you create a page that speaks to this question? Or if it’s something that doesn’t warrant it’s own page, could you weave the information strategically on other pages of the site?

    Consideration #5: External websites — what are others doing well?

    There’s very little that’s new in the website world. The trick is pulling together the right pieces and adapting them so they work alongside your org’s brand. Rather than reinvent the wheel, looking at what other organizations are doing (both in the for-profit as well as nonprofit spaces) can offer a treasure trove of ideas you could borrow to create a better website.

    Ask yourself these questions:

    • What other organizations are your peers in your focus area, and what are they doing on their websites? – If there are other organizations or businesses with a similar community, it’s worth looking at their websites to see what they include. What are some things you could adapt and incorporate to your site to better connect with your audience?
    • What are your design preferences? – It’s subjective, but still important to consider: do you just HATE the color green? Are you really passionate about the types of icons or illustrations you use on your site? It’s best not to box yourself in too much (and you should always keep your community as the core of all your design decisions), but acknowledging any design preferences is useful early on.
    • What other websites have the same “vibe” or feeling you’d like your community to feel for your org? – If you’re trying to come across as approachable, look for websites feel approachable. If you’re trying to feel more trustworthy, look at those websites that you think come across as trustworthy. Which sites capture a similar impression as to how you’d like your org to come across?
    • What aspects of these other websites with the right “vibe” make it feel the way it does? – What elements do these websites have that make it feel approachable, trustworthy, empathetic, or whatever other word you’d like your website to embody? Maybe it’s the colors, the messaging, the spacing, the fonts, or something else. Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above. Either way, look at how other’s websites are inspiring the feeling you’d like to create and work backwards to figure out how you can do the same.

    Download the complete nonprofit homepage template

    Wondering how to make your nonprofit’s homepage as clear, captivating, and user-friendly as possible? Download our homepage template and interactive PDF with a list of 11 essentials for a nonprofit homepage.

    Tell us where to send your template:

      Putting it all together — where do you go next?

      I won’t mince words: creating a new nonprofit website can be difficult. If it were easy, you would’ve knocked it out last Wednesday when you had a spare hour in between meetings.

      But with the right process in place, the project becomes drastically easier. And the likelihood that you create something that connects with your community skyrockets.

      Getting the start right on your nonprofit website is by far the hardest part.

      Don’t just jump straight to creating a website. Use the above questions as a springboard to guide your way toward the website your nonprofit needs and your community deserves.

      Have any questions you found useful while creating a nonprofit website? If so, add it in the comments below!

      In This Article
      • Intro
      • Your Community
      • Your Organization
      • Audience Actions
      • Site Structure
      • External Websites
      • Putting It All Together

      About the Author

      Austin Hattox helps nonprofits develop a strategy for improving their online presence and taking visitors on a journey through their website. He worked as a software developer for over a decade in the for-profit space before deciding to exclusively work with nonprofits seeking to better leverage their websites for growth and community.

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