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Building a website is like building a house; You draw up plans and review them before you ever start building--because it’s a lot easier to move the kitchen on paper than it is once the house is built! But not everyone is an experienced architect. So, for those of you who are building your first website, or are thinking about redoing what you have, here's the Nonprofit Website Checklist... so you don't accidentally build the house before you're really sure about where the kitchen should go.

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Hosted By
Monica Maye Pitts
Monica Maye Pitts Chief Creative Officer
Stacy Brockmeier
Stacy Brockmeier Account Executive

Nonprofit Website Building Checklist – Website Planning Series Part 2

The website building process is a pretty intangible thing so Stacy has a great analogy she uses to describe it and make it real to people who don’t do it every day. 

She says, “It’s like building a house. You draw up plans and review them before you ever start building. Because it’s a lot easier to move the kitchen on paper than it is once the house is built.”

Because the web design process is so intangible, a website doesn’t feel real to some people until they can physically touch it with their mouse. And by that point, friends, it’s too late to move the kitchen. 

Much of the hard work has already been done, which is why it’s so important to actually check off all the boxes on this checklist before you even get started. 

So, for those of you who are building your first website, or are thinking about redoing what you have–and especially for those of you who have been nominated to figure out how to accomplish the whole “website re-do” task–this is for you. Let’s dig into part two of our website planning series – nonprofit website checklist. So that way, you don’t miss anything as you’re getting started with your new site.

#0 – Document Your Goals and Your Audience

Is it strange that my checklist starts at zero? Before you even start working through the checklist you need to understand your audience and goals as an organization–both yours and those of the other decision makers involved. Look for differences of opinion so you can make sure you’re on the same path to start.  Share this information with your web developer first thing. We talked about this pretty extensively in part one of our website planning series so I won’t belabor the point here. But it’s an essential part of the checklist.

Your goals and audience are the two parameters you’ll use to weigh the decisions you make about your website against. Write them down and agree upon them as a team. If you’re the leader of the team it’s your responsibility to make sure your website reaches those goals and connects with your audience.

There are two reasons why it’s important for you to document your goals in audience and agree upon them with your team:

People forget.

Your website will not be built overnight. Weeks or months down the road, it’s easy to forget about the reasons you made the decisions initially. 

People have different opinions.

If you have multiple decision makers in your web design process it’s not always easy to keep them all happy. If they agree on the goals to begin with and you have them documented, you can guide them back and help them make decisions based on the goals they set forth at the beginning–and avoid all-out drama during the process.

Making Your Blueprint

At MayeCreate, we call this our working document, or “working doc”. It’s the blueprint we follow to build your site. We build this in a google doc so everyone on our team can get to it. And so when part of the plan changes, we don’t have rough copies of the plan floating around – it’s all there in one place, safely hanging out in the cloud. In the working doc we list all the items in the checklist.

#1 – Outline Pages (and what will be on them)

This is like listing out the rooms you need in your house. Start with a Home, About, Donate and Contact. Then fill in all the pages in between. 

Common pages include:

  • What we do
  • About Our Coast
  • Services Provided
  • A Page for Each service
  • Events
  • News 
  • Donate – Don’t make people dig for the donate page – put it on the main navigation!
  • Careers
  • Ways to Give
  • Privacy Policy

Get an overview of what to consider for each of the sections in your site in our free Perfect Nonprofit Website Checklist!

Perfect Nonprofit Website Checklist

Perfect Nonprofit Website Checklist

A nonprofit’s website should be as easy to use as a coffee cup.

A free checklist to outline what should be on the perfect nonprofit website to give your supporters the “coffee cup experience”.GET THE CHECKLIST

#2 – Determine Photo Styles

Really think about the message that you want your photos to send; people are VERY visual. Your photos will set the tone for your site as much, if not more than any of the words you put on your site.

Do you already have photos? Do you know where they are?   

If you do have them, part of your plan needs to be finding them and getting them together.  I like to create a folder per page and group all the images I think might work for that page in the respective folder. If you’re working with a designer, this is even more important because they might not understand your lingo or who is who of your team members. 

If you don’t have photos or plan to take them, are you going to use stock photos?

If you’re going to use stock photos, outline your photo style guidelines. Will you use photos with people or not? Will your photos be happy and uplifting or sad? You may create a collection of photos you like in your stock photo site so you can grab them as you need them and not spend hours searching for images everytime you need one.

If you’re not sure which type of photos are right for your site or want to geek out over website photos with me, I have a whole post just on the topic – Choosing the Perfect Images for Your Website.

#3 – Consider Content You Will Update Frequently

You want to find the easiest way to update your website, especially if you’re not super tech savvy. Programming can streamline these updates.

Story time…

Back in the day before websites were commonly built on a database, I managed an auction website. Every time I added an auction to the site I had to add it on four different pages on the website. And I am not super detail oriented…do you know how many times I forgot to update one of the pages? That lame-o redundancy is the type of thing your website should be doing for you. You shouldn’t have to go to four different pages to update the information! 

Finding a way to build your site in a streamlined fashion is going to make you so much happier as a site administrator, because your website shouldn’t just be easy for your visitors to use. It should be easy for you to use too. Otherwise, you’re not going to update it.

#4 – Research Integrations 

There are lots of times when a service or platform claims they integrate with x. And then it turns out it doesn’t really connect; there are just a dozen workarounds to make the two things work together. And then if one little piece updates, everything crumbles. And something that is supposed to save you time becomes difficult and time consuming. And you’re better off doing it manually (which is also time consuming, redundant and ultimately terrible).  Questions to ask when considering an integration;

  • What is it that we’re actually integrating? 
  • How does that integration actually work? Is it streamlined? 
  • What do you need it to do? Is it really functional? 
  • Is it actually going to make your life easier? Or is it going to add extra steps? 
  • Is it cost effective? 
  • Is it stable? Or do you have to force it to work? 
  • How old is that documentation? If it’s from 2010 it’s probably not accurate anymore, something has updated since then. 

So we want to make sure that it’s really stable, really functional, and it’s going to last a long time. We don’t want to have to redo it over and over and over again.

A few tricks that I’ve found for figuring out whether integrations will actually work or not: 

Look for documentation explaining how it’s actually going to work.

Most of the time if two things can really integrate they company should be giving you the documentation and tools you need to do it. Even if you don’t understand what that documentation says, if there are 1000 pages of documentation on how to integrate something, odds are pretty good if you’ve got a smart web developer, they can probably make that happen.

Reach out to the support staff for the software.

If you can’t find documentation, reach out to the support staff and ask how it all works.  Ask them to send you the thing that your web developer will need to stitch it all together. Just telling you it’s “10 easy steps” or “your web designer will just know” is not enough. Check and see what hours they’re available to answer questions and see how long they offer support for your developer. 

Get your web developer or IT person involved from the beginning.

We commonly sit in on conversations with clients and software reps to evaluate if a system is right for our clients. Your IT person or developer can do the same. If you get them involved from the very beginning they can tell you what’s what.

#5 – Plan for ADA Compliance 

SO MANY WEBSITES ARE NOT ADA COMPLIANT. They aren’t built at all with disabled users in mind. And I’m not saying every site needs to be 100% compliant in every way, but we need to be at the very least informed that the decisions we’re making about the design of our site and how they can potentially impact our site visitors abilities to use the site.

If full ADA compliance is a goal of yours plan for it from the beginning. Retrofitting can be extremely time consuming.

For example, an auto playing video on your homepage is not ADA compliant. Visitors have to be able to enable the video play to meet the highest compliance standard. But knowing that to begin with could allow you to avoid paying hundreds, if not 1,000s of dollars to have a professionally edited video to put on your homepage. Because for your organization strict ADA compliance may be more important to you than a homepage video. 

 #6 – Set SEO Expectations

Search Engine Optimization, or working to increase where your website shows up in search results, is a totally different game now than it was even 5 years ago. Back in the day, people would engage in keyword puke; it was blah, blah, blah, keyword, keyword, keyword, over and over and over again. Just stuffed it like a turkey. No one wants to read that. It’s actually hard to read.

These days SEO is delegated by the Google Gods on a far more global level. Everything from where you’re physically located to how visitors actually use your site can impact how Google ranks your site. Some of the other items on this checklist will help you with SEO. Especially the tech schtuff I’ll get to later.

Just get clear with your designer and your decision makers about what they expect in this arena so you don’t have contention down the road. 

If you’re interested in learning more about SEO check out these other blog posts/podcasts where I go into full geek mode over the topic:

Set Your Team Up for Success

The technical execution of how the website might be built is only part of getting it done. There are a group of people that also need to work together. Or maybe it’s just you all on your own. (In which case, you my friend are an amazing human being. And you can do it. You really can!) So in order to actually complete the website, you have to understand what everybody’s doing on that team;what is their role? Get your team on the right seats on the right bus with the right humans on them with these next few items on the checklist.

#7 Determine Your Decision Makers

I can’t tell you how many times that the right people aren’t involved at the very beginning. On more than one website, even after double checking to make sure we had all the decision makers involved, we’ve launched a website and then all of a sudden a person appears out of the woodwork freaking out about the new site. Don’t let that be your organization. Once the house is built, it’s built. Changing the kitchen is not cheap. A quality company will hold you to your decisions and you’ll have to pay for the additional changes demanded by your ghost decision makers.

Also,if you have a donor paying for your site, MAKE 100% SURE they don’t expect to have a say in your site. You don’t want to burn a bridge with a great supporter or end up having to foot the bill without their support.

#8 Choose a Leader for Your Web Team

In our company we call these people project managers. They’re the leader of the project. They’re the ones who make sure it all gets done. They don’t actually DO it, they just hold everyone else accountable for their part. 

And you should definitely have these folks on your side of the project too. Especially if you have volunteers or multiple staff members involved. If you have seven people involved in the project, delegate just one person to communicate amongst all of them, and relay your decisions back to your web developer.

Without a delegate, your web company could be drowning in a flood of inter-organization emails discussing your site and never really know what decision is made between them all. And then work might happen on your website that you weren’t really anticipating. And then that work has to be redone. And you might have to pay for it. 

#9 Delegate a Writer

As with everything else, you have options here. Your web development company may write your content from scratch. You can write it and hire them to edit it. 

You might delegate writing parts of the site out to different staff members of volunteers. If you take this route, you need ONE person to edit ALL the content so it all comes out feeling cohesive and consistent. 

One struggle area for consistency I see frequently is in staff or board member bios. One person will refer to himself  in third person and another individual will talk about herself  in first person. So be sure to edit those.

Determine things like name usage and title structure ahead of time. 

You need to use your name in a consistent fashion on each page. Decide whether it’s going to be first completely listed out and then abbreviated, or always written out, or always abbreviated. Make sure you’re capitalizing titles and subtitles the same way though your site.  Consistency is a subconscious indicator of a professional product. It makes people feel comfortable and builds credibility for your organization. 

#10 Delegate a Webmaster

Most organizations have two webmasters. One for day-to-day tasks and another for more technical items. 

Your day-to-day webmaster is the person on your team who will make regular updates on your site.  Could be a staff member or the web developer.  Consider this person’s tech level when making decisions about how the site will be updated. Some people are more tech savvy than others and we don’t want lower tech folks to get discouraged and give up on us!

Your high-level webmaster is the person who will likely do your software updates and plugin updates. Some hosting companies do this and sometimes it’s your web developer or a combo of your web developer and day to day webmaster. Your high-level webmaster is the person you call for functionality changes and weird stuff that sometimes breaks. This person is also who you call when your day to day webmaster leaves and you can’t figure out how to update the site any more 😉.

Set Your Timeline

#11 Set a Goal for Completion Date

90% of people have no clue how much work goes into building a website. And all those stupid DIY TV commercials are not helping anyone. People always call and want their website done yesterday. That is not a good timeline, just so we’re clear.

Usually takes about three months to go from start to finish on a website. You have to write everything, find pictures, design the look, research, and the list goes on. That does not happen overnight. So plan on at least three months to build your website. And that’s with a web designer who is dedicated to building it for you. If you’re doing it on your own and you haven’t done it before, or you have other responsibilities in your job, you might need to give yourself as much as six months or a year to get it done. 

#12 Set Benchmarks to Get There

Just like building a house, redesigning a large site is an undertaking. You need a plan to get there. Take the deliverables in this list – #’s 1,2,4, 9 and 18 and guestimate how long they’ll take you to accomplish. Give them each a due date. It’s easy to shy away from things you are not 100% sure how to do. Give yourself some deadlines along the way to make sure it actually happens.

Plan the Tech Schtuff

I’m not going to go into these super, super deep because, quite frankly, these are things that your web developer should be handling for you. But I do want you to know about the tech schtuff so you can hold your web developer accountable to make sure that they actually happen.

#13 Make sure your site will be mobile friendly

If your website isn’t mobile friendly, you’re really doing yourself and your visitors a disservice. And, quite frankly, Google isn’t going to like you. And everybody wants to be liked by Google. 

You can judge how mobile friendly your site is by using the Google mobile friendly test. 

I would not be as concerned about “mobile first design”. This is a lovely little buzz word. Really you want something that’s mobile friendly period. I don’t care how your developer gets there.

In our office, as a rule, we always start with the most complicated thing first. And usually the most complicated layout is the one that you see on a desktop. We also test for mobile each step of the way. Mobile tends to be the simplest layout. We do, however, code mobile first.

If you’re not convinced or need to convince someone else about the importance of a mobile friendly site, here’s some more fodder for you.

#14 Balance Load Time With Design 

Google loves a fast loading site. Visitors love a fast loading site. So, therefore, you should also love a fast loading site. It’s like a loading love fest.

Some of the things that slow a site down are things you control – like really big videos or pictures. Those items naturally take a longer time to load.

Unfortunately, you can’t see the things that are slowing your site down. Some are very technical. And those are the items your web developer controls. Things like page builders, tons of plugins, or antiquated development practices all slow down site speed. Your hosting provider can also be a deterrent to your load time. 

You won’t know if your web developer is creating you a site that slow until your site is completed. But you can do your homework and run a test on a website they’ve recently completed for another client to see if their work is up to par.

I use GTmetrix to do my page speed tests. I LOVE this guy 😍. He was my steady during lock down when I did nothing but run speed tests and optimize our websites and coding process. He’s free and he’ll give you a load time report on any website you desire.

#15 Decide Which Browsers It Needs to Work On

RIP IE. Dang, I can’t tell you how long I have waited to say that phrase.  

Internet Explorer is a web developers nightmare because it is not made like any of the other browsers. So, if you know that your website has to work on Internet Explorer because your organization is running antiquated browsers and refuses to update them,  just know that Google no longer supports this browser and your web developer might not either. You’ll probably need to pay extra to optimize for IE.

It’s not a bad thing that the browser kicked the bucket though. We had to add quite a bit of extra code to make things look right on it, which slows sites down. Not considerably (says my lead developer), but extra code is extra code and it takes longer to build a site and load a site that’s optimized for Internet Explorer.

Almost all web developers will get your site looking and working great in major browsers. Now is the time to consider which browsers your organization and audience uses and make sure you’re not going to miss an outlier. 

#16 Who Will Manage Your Domain?

Your domain is your web address. Like MayeCreate.com. 

If you don’t already have a domain name look for one that’s super easy to spell. Also note that you might have more than one domain for the same site, especially if your name is ridiculously long or if you often go by an acronym. 

It’s okay to have more than one. They’re inexpensive and sometimes it’s easier to have a quick easy to spell option to explain to new supporters or clients.

Just be sure to document where you bought it and who’s email it’s associated with so you get the notifications when it needs to be renewed.  If you already have a domain name and don’t know where it was purchased,you can do a Whois search  And if your information is public,  which most domains are, you’ll be able to see the registrar, (the company from which you bought the domain) and the contact information associated with your domain.  

Do not wait until the last minute to do this, because it takes time to reclaim a domain or coordinate with others to move it into a new account so you can manage it on your own.

#17 Choose A Hosting Provider 

Your hosting provider matters. I can’t say it enough. Make sure you’re choosing a reputable company with support you can actually get a hold of and who keeps their servers up to date. Outdated servers will make your site load slower…and we know why that’s bad (if you don’t remember, head back up to #14).

Make sure they have technical support in your time zone and they employ people who actually talk on the phone. If a hosting company doesn’t list their phone number on their website, it’s a pretty good indicator you don’t want to work with them. 

It doesn’t matter how cheap the hosting account is, it’s not worth it if you can’t call them when something’s wrong. Remember – in most cases your email is tied to your domain name. So if something is really wrong, you can’t even email them. 

#18 Keep Google Technically Happy

Cookie Notification  

I’m sure you’ve seen “allow cookies” pop up on sites you frequent. I have a whole episode digging into cookie privacy and consent if you really want a deep dive. Here’s the deal – it’s not as scary you might think when you’re reading the notification. But if you’re tracking website visitor behavior–and you should be–you need to have a cookie notification. 

Privacy Policy

If you’re using Google Analytics to track website visitors, you agreed with Google’s requirement to put a privacy policy on your site. A privacy policy, like cookies, is not scary. It just says what you’re going to do with the information you gather on your site, including the information you gather using Google Analytics tracking your website visitor behavior. 

You can purchase one for little to nothing online or craft one of your own.  We use a service for our clients that hosts their privacy policies separate from the website itself and keeps the language updated to comply with the ever-changing state and national privacy laws. 

My lawyer says that since I’m not a lawyer, I can’t make your privacy policy for you. And you have to make the decision of how you build your privacy policy, so… you can take my advice with a grain of salt about HOW you get your privacy policy. Just put it on the list – you need one.

SSL

An SSL certificate encrypts your website files. You really do have to have one and it needs to be on every page. Google gets really angry at you if you don’t have it. If you don’t have one, Google reserves the right to post a big, fat, red warning for visitors to read before they can get to your site saying your site is “not safe”. That’s not a trust builder.

If you’re not sure if you have one, go out to your website right now. Do you have a little padlock in the corner in front of your domain name? If there’s not a padlock there, then you do not have an SSL certificate.

Learn more about SSL Certificates and why you need one.

Boom, whoo, that is a comprehensive list friends!

 If you have stuck with me through this whole thing, thank you so much. I can’t tell you how much better I feel having told you all of this stuff about website design! I really feel like you are ready to go on and start talking about what’s going to be on the individual pages of your site. And that’s what I cover in the “Perfect Nonprofit Website Checklist” (see below). . 

I promise that not every installment of the website planning series will be this long. But the planning phase is so important. I’m a planner, you can tell; I know a good plan is what makes the whole process go smoothly. 

Next time, I’ll cover what should go on a nonprofit homepage. Yay. Because your homepage is the first thing people are probably going to see. So I’ll break that down for you in our website planning series, part three – what to put on your homepage. 

Until then, if you want an overview of what to put on your homepage, as well as the other sections of your nonprofit website, hop on over and  download our free Perfect Nonprofit Website Checklist.

Perfect Nonprofit Website Checklist

Perfect Nonprofit Website Checklist

A nonprofit’s website should be as easy to use as a coffee cup.

A free checklist to outline what should be on the perfect nonprofit website to give your supporters the “coffee cup experience”.GET THE CHECKLIST

EPISODE GOODIE BAG

Links Mentioned

Related Resources

Perfect Nonprofit Website Checklist

Perfect Nonprofit Website Checklist

A nonprofit’s website should be as easy to use as a coffee cup.

A free checklist to outline what should be on the perfect nonprofit website to give your supporters the “coffee cup experience”.GET THE CHECKLIST

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