It seems like almost everyone wants a content management system for their website, which makes me a little bit sad because I know that there is a 75% chance that within one year that beautiful new site will look very similar to their old site – before the makeover, if the nonprofit doesn’t take extra precautionary measures.
Why? Because the same staff that created the text, messages, graphics, photos, menu structure and organization of the old site – albeit through a webmaster conduit – will still be creating the text, messages, graphics, photos, menu structure and organization of the new site – only now it will be directly through the content management system.
The Elephant in the Room
The biggest problem with many nonprofit websites is NOT the design OR the fact that staff can’t update the website themselves. Honestly, these 2 factors are not very often entering into the minds of your constituents when they visit your site. They could care less who is updating the site (or whether the staff can do it themselves), and a bad design might be noticed but it won’t have nearly as much impact as these items – which are UNIVERSAL problems with small to mid-size nonprofits that need website makeovers:
1. The organization of the website and the visitor’s ability to maneuver through the menu structure to find what they need.
2. The quality of the content (and messages) and the ability of that content to engage, direct, and visually motivate the visitor to action without always directly selling.
3. The right type of content that the visitor is looking for so that they can make that “buying” decision to donate, volunteer or advocate.
One More Thing
I’m pretty sure I’m a broken record on this one, but here it is one more time: There is absolutely no point in updating a website if the logo looks horrible. If you have a great logo and tagline and your colors are appropriate (see: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Color For Your Nonprofit Website), the actual physical design and layout are really secondary.
For the Do-It-Yourselfers
I’m not actually saying that content management systems should never be used – they just need to be used responsibly and you need to budget for that extra responsibility. People who say CMS solutions are free and easy are, frankly, out to lunch. You will need to budget for:
1. Staff Time – you might be tempted to dump this job on the 20-something in your office who is the only one who knows anything about social media or website technology. But you really need to pair that 20-something up with someone more seasoned in the marketing world, because trust me the website is all about marketing – let them teach each other what they know while working together.
2. Website Style Guide – contract with your website developer to create a website style guide specific to your site that outlines best practices for creating and updating content – when and how to use the different elements to maintain design and content integrity.
3. Staff training – to get the best results with your CMS, your staff will likely need training in how to use that particular CMS AND provide ongoing training opportunities that allow staff to stay up-to-date on the latest online fundraising & communications techniques, and content marketing.
4. Programming Support – Even larger nonprofits that have marketing and technology staff already on hand and have better training budgets, are still likely to utilize outside contractors to provide customizations, troubleshooting and support for their CMS – because each CMS is so different and complex (and potentially problematic), that there are programmers that specialize just in that particular type of system.
5. Get regular checkups – make sure you are staying on track with your website through a combination of outside expertise and constituent feedback through surveys and informal focus groups.