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10 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Building That New Website – Website Planning Series Part 1

I always breathe a sigh of relief when I sign up a new consulting client and the first challenge they want to solve is their website, not some crazy marketing idea from la la land. Because if there’s one thing I love to talk about - it’s websites. I don’t think I’ve been talking enough about the glory of web design lately. And since mediocre web design is a plague we can’t seem to shake on the world wide web I teamed up with Stacy, my COO, CFO, Lead Sales Person and Chief Wearer of Many Hats to go into full on website geek mode. Over the next few months we’ll geek out over each part of a nonprofit site. So you can stop working around your website and put it to work growing your organization. Starting from the very beginning with these 10 questions to ask yourself before building that new website.

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Monica Maye Pitts
Monica Maye Pitts Chief Creative Officer

10 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Building That New Website – Website Planning Series Part 1

Website Planning Series Part 1

I always breathe a sigh of relief when I sign up a new consulting client and the first challenge they want to solve is their website, not some crazy marketing idea from la la land. Because if there’s one thing I love to talk about – it’s websites.

I don’t think I’ve been talking  enough about the glory of web design lately. And since mediocre web design is a plague we can’t seem to shake on the world wide web I teamed up with Stacy, my COO, CFO, Lead Sales Person and Chief Wearer of Many Hats to go into full on website geek mode. 

Over the next few months we’ll geek out over each part of a nonprofit site. So you can stop working around your website and put it to work growing your organization. Starting from the very beginning with these 10 questions to ask yourself before building that new website.

Why not just jump right to the price?

Most of the time when people want a new website they want it yesterday. That urgency makes them want to dive right in, skip these first questions and get right to the price quote. 

Websites, just like any other project you undertake, start with a plan. We use these questions to guide us to the right plan for each site we build. We start big picture. Then we WOW and finally get to the good old fashioned HOW of our project. 

Even if you never have a conversation with a MayeCreater you can use these questions to kick off your web project and use the answers to help you plan a website you can put to work for your organization.

Start big picture.

Usually to kick off a discovery meeting I tell clients I’m going to ask them about a million questions until the lightbulb in my head comes on and then I can get to planning what’s going to be on the site. Some of those millions of questions are pretty organic. But I always start big picture. 

#1 – What are your goals?

Your website really starts by talking about your organization, not by what is going to be on each page. You want your website to work for you, to make it easier to meet people and even operate your organization. So first you have to define where your organization is going.

So where are you headed? What are you looking to do in the next X number of years? How is your website going to help you get there?  If you’ve been around for a while, you might just be establishing either a new service or new look and feel for your brand. I mean, the goals are really endless. 

Keep your goals front and center.  Remember – the purpose of your website is to help you reach those goals.  The decisions you make about what you put on the site should be purposeful and support where you’re headed as an organization.

#2 – How are you marketing your organization right now?

Building a new website is not just about the way it looks. We want each part of your website to have a purpose, and support all the other marketing that you’re doing. 

Marketing comes in many shapes and forms. Organizations usually answer this question by going straight to listing the types of  social media they do and how often they send their newsletters. Don’t forget all the other ways your brand comes in contact with the public.

Don’t forget about networking activities, press releases, volunteers wearing T-shirts around town, clubs or organizations you’re part of, events you attend or hold, public speaking opportunities… all of these are marketing too. 

Are there ways your new website can support the other types of marketing you do or, at the very least, compliment them?

  • Could you send a newsletter from the by adding your press releases to your blog and adding links to those blog posts in an email?
  • Could you gain more social media followers by adding a social feed to your website?
  • Could you deepen relationships with event attendees by taking photos at the event and posting them on your website?
  • Does your website allow people to sign up for your events online?

There are dozens of ways your marketing activities can work in tandem; the sky’s the limit – but first we have to understand what your doing to consider ways to make it all work together.

#3 – Who are you talking to?

Who your website is serving – who your website is talking to – is one of the most crucial points in your website planning discussion. Your audience is really who you’re making the site for, after all. 

But it can be tricky to get it right. Your perspective and even the terminology you use are often different from that of your audience. You are far more educated than they are about what you do and why. Your goal is to make it as simple as possible for them to understand your cause and use your website.

One challenge every nonprofit faces is speaking to more than one audience on their site while keeping it all organized and easy to use. Your website helps you connect with donors, volunteers, the people that you serve, even partners.

Think through why each type of audience is going to your website. Make a list of what they need to find on the site. Plan build a page or section for each audience individually and consider ways to make it easy to find exactly what they need. Let what your audience is looking for, drive the content you put on your site and how you organize it. 

#4 – What do your website visitors need to know?

People come to your website and they know one or two things: They know who they are, or they know what they want. Your goal is to guide each of those types of visitors the information they need on your website. 

If I go to a website, and I know I’m a mom with young kids, but I don’t know what you offer, or what you can do for me, then I’m someone who knows who they are. 

If I’m a donor who has donated before and already believes in your organization, and we’re just renewing that relationship, then I know what I want. I’m going to make a donation. 

How many people fall into each category is highly dependent upon how educated your audience is about what you do. What’s funny is that really young organizations and really big organizations with lots of services often face that challenge. 

Young or unique organizations have the challenge of educating people about why their cause matters. Big organizations often have the challenge of sharing with people everything they do.  Both of those types of organizations will welcome many visitors to their sites who only know who they are. Their websites need to explain to those visitors how the organization benefits them. 

Now go for the wow 😮

That leads us into the next phase. This is where the light bulb comes on and I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I love that moment in a meeting where I know how to solve the problem. That’s when I get it, I totally get it. And it’s so exciting. I want to just freak out and jump up and down and get so excited, because I know how to make a website that will make my client’s life better.

I call this the Wow stage. And if you’ve been following me for a while, you may have heard me talk about the Wow stage before. 

Now, I’m a “wow-er” – I love to be big picture, so I love this stage of planning. But my husband is the “how-er”, so I always tell him, “Back off! I’m in my Wow moment. Don’t ‘how’ me.” 

So as we go through this next part of the questions that you should be asking yourself and your web designer to plan your website, I want you to go into full-on Wow mode. Do not start asking yourself,how am I going to do this?” That’s not the point of this activity. Friends, we’ll do that in the next step. 

This is your chance to really dream about what your website can do and how it can be totally awesome.  

The first part of the Wow stage is what it looks like and what you want it to feel like.

Think about it like an interior designer. My personal style is industrial farmhouse. Meaning I’m basically steampunk. And my husband makes fun of me because it looks like a rainbow threw up in our house. But there’s no rule saying I can’t use every color to decorate the dining room. 

Okay, so I digress. 

#5 – What organizations do you want to be like?

All us web designers have “website idols” that we look at. And most organizations have somebody they look up to too – organizations that are just doing it right. They seem like they have it all together. 

Take this opportunity to see what’s working for them.  What do you like about their sites?  Do those things make sense to include in your own site? Obviously you’re not going to copy everything that someone else does. But you can admire and get inspired by all kinds of things like:

  • How they explain things on their website
  • The way they present their website
  • How their content is organized on the site
  • The visuals that they use
  • How a section of the website functions to make it easy for visitors to use

Once upon a time in a creative meeting we were wowing over a website and a client said, “Oh yeah, but we can’t have this. This is too good.” 

My friend, nothing is too good for you. I want to make you look amazing. I want you to feel so proud of your website. 

This is the Wow stage, friends. Your web designer can tell you whether they can accomplish that or not. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t want it. You should want these things. You should want to look amazing. 

Go out and admire some sites. Find the websites that connect with you. Sites that make you say, “Wow, this is so cool. I want to be like these people.” 

Make a dream board – it could be on pinterest or just links on a google doc. Every time you see a site you like, save it. Make a little comment about what you like about it. These little nuggets of goodness will guide your designer into creative bliss and help you get the website you really want and need in the end.

#6 – How do you want your site to function?

The next thing to dream through is the functionality of your  website. Even though we’re talking about function this is still the WOW phase. When I ask, “How to you want your website to function?” that’s really just a fancy way of saying, “How can your website work for you?”

There are so many organizations that are either all-volunteer, or they have very small staff, and are just maxed out. But even if you have a big staff, I know it doesn’t mean that you’re just sitting around eating bonbons! Everybody’s really working hard. So can we come up with ways you website can  make your life easier? 

It’s astounding how many things your website can do to solve problems for you within your organization. The possibilities are endless. Within reason. 

Are you spending hours gathering information, organizing it and retyping things? 

We have a lot of websites that intake applications for services or employment, and process them into PDFs. And they look beautiful. The applications look just like the printed ones you normally intake. The website can even save the PDF with specific naming conventions, so you can actually find them again. 

Thank goodness, because if there’s anybody out there who’s getting PDF attachments with random names…I feel your pain. It’s awful. And then you have to retype that crap into your CRM or whatever you’re using to manage people and the activities. It’s miserable.

Instead you can take that same application and have your website sync it with your CRM. So not only do you get it in a PDF form that’s functional for you as a human, it can also go right into your system. It’s magic.

What do you do manually that could be automated?

If you have membership dues that come up every single year, you can have members sign up on the website, and their membership can auto-renew. And while you will have to pay the credit card fees for the luxury, it’s worth the investment. Is it better to have the opportunity cost of paying the credit card fees, or to have to invoice all these people and call them to collect payments? 

Do you want to automate your email newsletters?

Well we’re marketers, so we typically talk a lot about content generation. If you have ever had to sit and build newsletters, that is a very tedious, time-consuming task.

Your website can collect content from members and volunteers, and then send that out in an email newsletter automatically when paired with an email marketing service. 

Do you want members-only content?

We have a lot of organizations offer online training, or share documents with their board. Some of them have to share all their meeting minutes with the general public. 

Those things can live on your website. And if you are already adding it to your website, your goal should be finding the least labor-intensive path to get it there. 

Our company is the marketing arm and web development behind CoMoGives, a year-end online giving online campaign produced by the Community Foundation of Central Missouri. In 2020 our local nonprofits raised over $1.6M through the CoMoGives campaign.

We have put information for 142 or more organizations every year, including their logos, photos for their slide show, plus all their fundraising goals on the website. 

Do you think that we manually enter that? Nope! Participating organizations submit their information and after approval, the Community Foundation clicks a button to put it out on the site. 

Do you need marketing ideas?

Since my company manages the marketing for the CoMoGives campaign, we gather marketing information from the organizations when they submit their info to the website. They submit extra pictures, tell us what they did with the funds they earned from the previous year’s campaign and share what they plan to do with this year’s funds. 

You can do the same thing with your donors. If you want to know why they support your organization, or what their favorite part of what you do is, then you can just ask them in the donation form. And then you have that information ready to use later on in your marketing. 

🥴 Now on to “how” version 1.0.

Make sure to wrap up the Wow phase by documenting all of those ideas in a way that you can find them. You may want to talk through them with your staff to see if they have anything else to add. Then you’ll talk through your ideas with your web developer to ensure they make sense.

#7 – Who’s the right person to build your site?

Once you understand what you want your site to do, you have to ask yourself, who’s the right person to build it? Because once again, we’ve been talking about this as an investment in your organization, because you can see that it can be an administrative part of your organization and a marketing part of your organization. 

So how do you want to make that investment? 

Obviously, everybody wants to do it the cheapest way possible.  But I have to ask, is a free website worth it?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started in the sales process with someone that says that money isn’t important they “just want it done right”. But then somebody comes in and volunteers to build their website for free. And instead of getting the site they need to grow their organization, they go the free route and end up with a site that’s still only sort of what they needed.. 

Now, I agree, free is awesome. I certainly can’t compete with free.

I’m not saying you need to pay an arm and a leg for your site. I just want you to make sure that the person that you’re working with actually has the ability to create the site you need on a timeline you can live with. Your website deserves to be more than the red-headed side project that never gets finished.  

If you need a really simple website, free could actually be totally okay. 

But when you want it to do some heavy lifting, that’s when you get into the challenges – That’s where you need to stop, take a step back, ask yourself, who is the best person to do this for me? And what’s the opportunity cost of having your site built for free?

Because a website with functionality is far different than a website that’s just a brochure. There are lots and lots of people who can build a brochure online. But when you need functionality that’s when you need somebody with a track record. 

We inherit sooooo many websites. Some are from people who went through the sales process with us and decided to go the free route. But then they come back to us and they’re like, “Okay, this did not work out the way that I thought. It’s still not done, will you please save me?”

We also end up inheriting websites from other web designers. Some are from volunteers who initially built the website. And in the end the site just didn’t do what the organization needed it to. Or no one in the organization can even figure out how to use it. 

I’m actually dealing with this with my daughter’s school right now (because I need to volunteer for the school). And finally it dawned on me that I’m a web developer, and they have a website. 🤦‍♀️ So I was like, “Hey, wait a second, can I help you update your website?” 

But then I got into the site, I was blown away. It was such a pain to update it. I was constantly asking myself, “Where do you even find the stuff?” If I hadn’t built websites for a living for almost 20 years, I wouldn’t have known even where to look to make the updates they were requesting. 

A poorly built website is a serious disservice to your organization. It’s just so unfortunate that people have to deal with it. I know you would never do it intentionally and that’s why I added this question to the list. So you can really consider that free offer.

Because if you’re not able to use your site, then you can’t use it to serve your audience. And at that point I have to wonder if a free site cost you more money than it would have if you would have paid to have it built correctly.

Ok, now onto greener pastures!

#8 – What platform will you build your site on?

If you know that you’re going to have a lot of things integrated with your website, then you also need to ask your developer what platform they plan to use to build the website. 

I 💗 WordPress and I choose it after trying many others. I have heard stories about all the different platforms. And just like everything else – Some people really, really love them and other people don’t. 

So ultimately, the website platform you use:

  • Needs to be able to do what you need it to do
  • It needs to be easy for you to update
  • If you need it to have additional functionality in the future, you need to make sure it’s capable of handling that functionality so you can extend the site later

#9 – When does it need to be done by?

Because websites take time, friends. Especially if your current website is huge (like it has a blog or lots of posts or 50+ pages), you can safely assume it’s going to take some time. 

 I don’t want to scare you off from rebuilding your site. But honesty is policy over here at MayeCreate so I feel it’s my duty to tell you that it is going to be an undertaking to reorganize, to rewrite, and really think through everything on your current site. You need a reasonable timeline to get the project done.

If there are pieces you have to gather, rework, and redo, having months and months to gather them is a lot easier than trying to do it all at once trying to fit it into all the things you already have to do on a day to day basis.

Starting around November, Stacy is always slammed with sales meetings. There’s always a handful of people who want their website done by the end of the year – it’s inevitable. And most websites aren’t able to be built in a month. Especially during the holidays. People are taking time off to spend with their family. Time flies by, it really does. We put most sites on a three month timeline from project kickoff to launch.

Give yourself plenty of time to plan out everything that you’re going to need, and start gathering those assets – You will need things like testimonials and photos on your website, and they just take time to do. 

If you can set a timeline to start or finish your website that’s well into the future, then you’re going to be doing yourself a huge favor. And then that will give your web developer enough notice, because they might not be available tomorrow or whenever you need them.

#10 – What’s your budget?

The last thing that Stacy talks with people about is money, the thing that makes people the most uncomfortable. Nobody wants to talk about money, but we all need to talk about it. And sometimes the staff and the board have two very different opinions on the budget. 

So instead of asking yourself, “How much am I willing to spend?” consider:

How much value can it bring to my staff? 

How much value does it bring my board? 

How much value can it bring to the people I serve?

Make sure to budget in annual costs. Sometimes those annual costs are billed monthly. You will need hosting,  an SSL Certificate (if your hosting company doesn’t provide one or if you have a shopping cart) and a domain name (for those of you who don’t have a website yet). 

Two final pro tips on budget

If your budget is tight but you need professional help, consider building your website in phases over time. You could span the cost of your site over two budgetary periods.

If you don’t have the budget internally, consider getting a sponsor to pay for your website. (But maybe one who doesn’t feel the need to dictate who you use to build your website or have their hands in the build process the whole time.) There are lots of people out there who feel very passionately about getting your message out. And if you ask them for money for a specific project, they may be more likely to give it to you. You can even put a little plaque on your website honoring your sponsor that says, “Sponsored by”, “Brought to you by”, or “Generously donated by”.

See!?! That wasn’t so bad!

And now that you have a good picture of what you need from your website you’re ready to start really digging in and planning out each individual aspect of your new site. If you’re looking for a good overview of what a nonprofit website should look like download our free checklist: The Perfect Nonprofit Website Checklist. And stay tuned for future episodes as we go full on geek out over every part of a nonprofit site!

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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