Frequently Asked Questions

Nonprofit Websites

Think of your nonprofit’s website main page as a retail store window. There needs to be enough in the windows to attract and intrigue people who land on your nonprofit’s site and then want to come in and explore further. If you have a broader constituency then you would need more stuff in the window to represent the interests of your main website visitors. If you have a very narrow target market, then you can get away with less on the main page. The goal is not to repeat exactly what is on the inside of your site, nor is it to represent every single department / section of your nonprofit website. The goal is to use photos and messages that are interesting enough to each of your main constituents that they will click to find out more.

It’s no longer about keeping everything above the fold as people are accustomed to scrolling down their social media feeds until they find something interesting to read. It’s still important to get your nonprofit’s best messaging above the fold though. As a nonprofit you want people to know what you do and who you help, within a few seconds of landing on the webpage. That’s all the time you have to capture them.

Everything you do on the internet will have the potential for vulnerabilities – it’s the nature of the times we live in. So yes – there could be vulnerabilities when using WordPress – as with any software online. The key to preventing problems is being careful with the host you choose (making sure they have security software and malware scanners) and being careful with the number and quality of the WordPress plugins you use; it’s important to use plugins that are updated regularly and to keep them updated once you add them to your nonprofit’s website.

There are some extra costs with adding e-commerce capabilities to your nonprofit website. Many plugins that are used with content management systems like WordPress, have annual fees to keep the license up-to-date and to continue to receive updates and support for each plugin. Programs like WooCommerce offer a lot of custom plugins that you may need to run your store and they could cost you several hundred dollars a year in addition to the usual fees associated with receiving credit card payments. Plan on including these costs into your budget when you are running an online store.

Using WordPress is fairly intuitive but the real ease of use depends on how organized your programmer is when he/she sets it up to begin with. WordPress becomes even easier to manage when you install a plugin like Visual Composer that creates a graphical overlay for each page so you have more control over all the elements on the page without needing programming skills.  It’s also important to make sure your programmer sets up your nonprofit’s website so that the WordPress core software and other plugins can be updated without affecting any custom work done in your sites theme.

All of our sites include custom design so you have a unique look for your nonprofit organization. We also re-organize your site to make it is focused on usability for your constituents and we help you create content and pages that meet the specific needs of your website visitors. A small nonprofit website with basic interactivity costs anywhere from $1500 to $3,000; a medium sized website with social media and fundraising integration can run from $3,000 to $6550, while a larger site with additional customization, complexity and data management can range from $6500 to $10,000.

The best way to draw traffic to your nonprofit’s website is to focus on creating content of interest to your constituents that you can promote directly on your website or through social media and email marketing. This content should not be donation related – at least not all the time. It needs to be real news that you create not just a sales pitch to buy a ticket and not just curating other people’s content. New, original relevant content on your nonprofit website is ranked highly by Google and helps to boost your search engine rankings and will get shared by more of your constituents, all of which will bring more people to your site.

Many nonprofits will just place a standard widget provided by Facebook or Twitter to insert into their site; these widgets don’t really look great on your site and don’t’ look like they are actually a part of your site – they stick out like sore thumbs and can be distracting rather than attracting. With a custom nonprofit web design, we can create social media feeds that use the same design of your site so they look fully integrated and they are more flexible in terms of placement on the site and in the functionality.

It’s actually better not to have your exact e-newsletter on your nonprofit website as you want to create an air of exclusivity so people will have to sign up to get the full newsletter. But it’s a great idea to take the individual articles of your newsletter (at least some of them) and post them as blog posts on your website as a Latest News feed on your site. This lets you re-purpose content from your newsletter and create new interesting content that bumps you up in the search engines at the same time.

First you need to check your nonprofit’s website content…. Is there enough compelling info about your organization on the website that can help the donor make a buying decision? Does the site exude credibility (do you have membership logos, partnerships, annual reports and other information that makes your organization look like a responsible organization?) Then check to see if your donation process is simple and easy to use….do you have any obstacles that make it difficult to donate? Is the donation process entirely secure under the https: designation? Your donation asks need to be specific; donors are more responsive when they can direct where their funds go and when they can see the results directly.

Most nonprofit organizations have shared hosting accounts – which means you may have resource limitations. Your host company should have flexible and varied account choices so that you can scale up easily when needed. Cloud hosting or VPS hosting is great for nonprofits with larger sites that may need that extra space. Stick with hosts that are well-known so they are more likely to be around in 10 years. Equally as important is to find a company with great 24/7 customer service and additional security and backup services. Go Daddy is still one of our favorite companies to work with!

If you have an annual signature event that is your biggest nonprofit fundraiser, it could benefit from having its own branding and website. Having a separate event site helps you target traffic specific to your event and separate from your main nonprofit website – particularly useful if your event attracts attendees that are a little different than the visitors to your main site. When your event reaches a larger size it can outgrow your main site with all the details involved. A separate site allows you to keep event info up all year ‘round – better for your sponsors and for your event in general – without interfering with your main site.

Stock photos are very rarely ok to have on your website unless you use them to accentuate a blog or news article, and you can choose carefully enough and customize enough that it does not come across as a typical stock photo. For the main photos of your nonprofit website, you need to show a compelling story, and you just can’t do that with stock photos. If you cannot take photos of your clients, consider focusing on staff, volunteers, donors and other people who can be front and center so you have a human appeal on your website.

Website messages need to be very different from grant text. Grants are more formal, highlighting your program usually with more text than visuals. Nonprofit website content is scanned more than it is read, so concise and/or visual content is going to be far more persuasive when it comes to getting someone to explore the site further. It helps to write out in detail what you want to say on your website and then read through it and remove all extraneous detail, pretending that you have only 1 minute or a very small amount of space to say what needs to be said – which his true.

Gone are the days when updating your website once a quarter was the norm. Now you have to keep adding fresh content to stay relevant in search engines and to get people coming back to your site regularly. When you start fueling your nonprofit marketing and development campaigns with unique content, and focusing on your nonprofit website as the hub of all that fabulous content, then you are on your way to modern marketing. Updates should be at least weekly!

The program section of nonprofit websites is often the most ignored section.  Many times we will just see a brief static description of each program and nothing more. What is really needed is a dynamic area where program stories and updates are changing regularly. That means regularly showing your program impact with new photos and stories. Donors and potential donors will love this. Another big missing piece? Show potential clients how the program works. How do clients sign up? Directly through you or do they need come from a referring agency? Is there paperwork involved? Put up as much info as possible to save you staff time and make it easy for people to sign up for your nonprofit program.

Nonprofit Marketing

This will vary depending on your nonprofit’s specific needs and size. As a general rule, it’s best to have outside input of some kind because the brand is really more about public perception than internal perceptions. We recommend having all or some staff input, board input and constituent input. We recommend doing the initial round of branding to meet the specifications and approval of key staff and board members and then reach out to a broader audience with a refined selection of brand options to get final input.

For a newer nonprofit organization, the first brand update is the most challenging as there is some serious attachment to that original concept and often that concept reflects the founders’ vision and no one else’s. We recommend updating the nonprofit brand for the first time within 6 to 7 years and then revisit the brand every 3-4 years after that. Design and technology trends change so quickly and your brand should be revisited regularly to make sure it is still conveying a current and relevant message to your constituents. Often the direction of the nonprofit changes and the brand needs to adapt with it as well.

We often see nonprofits adhering so strictly to specific brand rules i.e. only one color, one font and no flexibility when portraying the brand. But that’s like saying we should have only one facial expression – it’s ok to show different expressions and still look like the same consistent brand. Build in that flexibility when the nonprofit brand is created, with a set of colors, fonts and messages that coordinate and allow you to show more than just one static side to your nonprofit organization.

It depends on what you want to do with the campaign. If part of the campaign recognizes or rewards corporate or other special supporters or you have partners that will participate in promoting the campaign, it can be beneficial to have a separate nonprofit campaign logo. The campaign logo can be used each year for the specific campaign creating brand recognition and helping alert people to that specific time of year when the campaign is active.

At least weekly. Nonprofit organizations need to keep in touch with their constituents regularly – far more often than once a month – as your fellow nonprofits are doing the same and you won’t stay fresh in your supporter’s minds without more regular contact. The trend is away from doing full newsletters each month as most people will not take the time to read anything that involved; so your nonprofit emails just need to be brief bits of news and information instead of long missives; think of it as breaking up your newsletter into smaller pieces and sending those pieces more often.

When it comes to nonprofit marketing, We like Constant Contact for its ease of use but it doesn’t have some of the cool features that others have; we would recommend Constant Contact if you are just starting to manage your list and send regular emails. MailChimp has a lot more interesting functionality but it’s not as intuitive to set up a campaign. We recommend MailChimp if you want to get fancy and have the time to sit down and learn the ins and outs.

It’s very tempting to keep your organizational video long but people have very short attention spans these days. We recommend keeping videos at 2 – 3 minutes and making sure they are interesting enough to keep people’s attention even at that length. You don’t have to explain everything in one video – consider making a series of shorter videos that together showcase your organization.

These days most printing is done digitally not using the old-school 4 color process printing. With digital printing the difference in cost between color and black and white is not huge, and with nonprofit marketing focusing on creating visually compelling messages, it’s important to have color options to get your pieces to stand out. Don’t skip color!

It’s easy to fill the report with facts and figures, board lists and executive director messages but the real meat of the report should be people and stories and photos. And not a lot of text. The report needs to show your nonprofit’s impact as visually as possible, not act as a repeat of the text already on your website. Feature profiles of your nonprofit’s clients, volunteers, programs, donors and by “profile” I mean a really great photo and a quote to keep it simple and compelling.

Printing is the most expensive part of creating an annual report. You can also create a pdf annual report that just resides on your website and that you can email to your supporters. The ideal scenario would be to create a full annual report and print just a small number of copies reserved for bigger donors and grantors, and then focus on the pdf version on the website – pulling out some teaser content on the site – and in social media that directs people to the full pdf version, and then create a postcard version that can be printed and sent to your entire mailing list (much less expensively) that also takes people to the full pdf version.

We recommend setting up custom traffic reports for your nonprofit campaign landing page, your monthly giving page and your regular donation page through Google Analytics; make sure you have custom unique URLs for each page so they are easy to track. You can also add codes to your email URLS to help track people clicking from your email to one of your campaign pages; and you can add a very brief referral source survey at the end of your nonprofit donation process to get direct feedback from donors as to what specifically brought them to that page to donate.

The top 5 things to pay attention to would be comparing New and Returning Visitors (are people returning and how often?), the length of time they stay on the site (are they finding interesting content or are they leaving quickly?), Unique Visitors (is your traffic increasing or declining over time?), Referral Sources (how are people getting to your site), and Most Popular Pages (to see what kinds of content your constituents find most interesting).

Your annual campaign should have a similar life cycle as your nonprofit’s signature special event; which means it would be a year-long process or at the very least a 9-month process. Nine months out is the best time to set up any collaborations whether it’s lining up a nonprofit matching gift partner for Giving Tuesday or locating a mailing list sponsor to help you promote your messages to their mailing list. I’m also a big believer in doing mini campaigns throughout the year, each leading up to and tying in with the end-of-the-year annual appeal.

It’s easy to write a marketing plan and then let it sit on the shelf getting dusty without ever looking at it again. It’s important to keep it front and center, scheduling monthly and quarterly meetings to revisit and review with staff and board members. We recommend setting up marketing goals and activities in a calendar or project management system like Trello or BaseCamp to track to-dos and progress.

We recommend using a tool that will help you manage more than one social media channel at a time like FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Youtube. Both Hootsuite and SproutSocial can do this and they have a relatively low monthly price.

It’s easy to get distracted with the latest and greatest social media channels but no matter what size a nonprofit is, there are limitations to how much time can be spent on social media. We recommend sticking with the basics – the tried and true – and not spreading yourself too thin. Social media updates are time consuming and not always the best use of time when it comes to direct fundraising. Facebook Twitter, LinkedIn and Youtube are good bets.