The Big Picture: The Role of the Nonprofit Website in 2015

The Big Picture: The Role of the Nonprofit Website in 2015

When asked about relative importance, in the grand hierarchy of all marketing materials, we all know it, the website tops the list. In fact, 91% agree that the website is the most important communications channel used by nonprofits*.

Other channels like email marketing and social media aren’t trailing that far behind, but your website should be the central hub of your organization’s communications, the core place that ties all of your marketing efforts together.

This is not new. For years we’ve heard that the website is the single most compelling part of your marketing tool kit. I would even propose the website is a bigger piece of the marketing puzzle for nonprofits than it is for other types of businesses or organizations. Why? As a nonprofit communicator, you’re rarely selling a tangible product. Instead, you’re selling a promise, a story, or a solution. One can’t hold your mission in the palm of their hands and touch and feel it before they make a decision to buy (or can they?). People who invest in your organization do so because they’ve bought into your story. Your website is the hub for all that you do and the place where people learn about your organization, form opinions about it, and decide whether or not they’re going to become involved—a critical component in achieving conversions.

As emerging channels begin to play a more important role in telling your story, there’s a (new) need to tie them all together. The website should take center stage and gesture to supporting actors from stage left and right.

The average business redesigns their website every two to three years**. Three to five years is probably a more realistic goal and an ideal benchmark if we link these iterations to the pace of technology, which is the top driver behind many website redesigns (on par with the impact of the visual design).

Looking back at the sites I’ve built (or helped clients build), websites circa 1995 were still considered “early adopters”, and these were static pages of content at best (like brochures but online). In the early 2000s, websites were being built on CMS platforms (mostly proprietary) but the idea that content could be saved to a database as you went along and then dynamically pulled onto the pages of your website was still fundamentally what most organizations were trying to achieve. Then toward 2005, blogs, forums, and community intranets were the “next big things” as we saw the beginnings of user-generated content. In 2010, the medium became somewhat fragmented with various social media channels really becoming mainstream and an emphasis on creating mobile websites (often as standalone sister sites to their desktop counterparts). Heading into 2015, the next shift we’ll see is the need to pull everything back together again.

Proprietary CMS platforms that claimed to be all encompassing full-featured systems eventually fizzled out. Platforms that focused on individual functions (and did them really well) prevailed to the point that most organizations now have upwards of a dozen web assets under their management by the time you count the national site, branch site, member portal, a campaign microsite, the Facebook page, Twitter page, Instagram page—you know where I’m going…not to mention trying to remember all of the passwords for each!

It’s a reality that you must embrace that you’re nonprofit is going to be interacting in many digital places, but all of these microsites and social media channels need a core. So the new role of the website for this year and next is just that: a communications hub for your company and the gateway to all the various places where one might engage with you.

Think of the role of your website as a funnel: it should direct various audiences to the place that will best serve them. Maybe that’s the member’s portal or registration page, or perhaps it’s to connect them with the most appropriate social media content for volunteers or donors.

But it’s also “somewhere to come back to”; somewhere where people can get the full picture and then some. The website of 2015 is about bringing the pieces and players together to create a more thorough experience of your brand.

Other Signs that your Site is Ready for an Upgrade

Visual design, the second primary reason for a redesign, is not something to push aside either: an outdated site says the same about your organization. The impression people form about you from the moment they see your website will effect their understanding about who you are, the capacity you have, and your ability to have impact for your cause.

Some Things to Consider if you’re Planning a Website Redesign:

  1. Think about what your website should be doing now and go for it. Try to plan for the next 3 years (but no more).
  2. Think about the types of content that should live on your public website, including news posts, blog updates, basic corporate information, etc. This type of information is what most CMS systems are natively able to handle.
  3. Keep core systems (like CRM systems) interfaced with your corporate website as little as you need them to be so that your website is easily upgraded in 3-5 years from now (not just finally done!). Member registries and management portals, event registration, donation and e-commerce platforms, and other large process-driven systems that are linked to the unique operations of your organization can be the customized long-term investments (they aren’t your website—you wouldn’t want to be rebuilding those every 3-5 years!).
  4. Keep it nimble. Your site needs to be nimble enough to incorporate new sections or integrate with new social channels easily.
  5. Keep tabs on your content and understand where it is being stored and how to access it. You will want to ensure that it is portable/migratable so that it will continue to serve you through the next (and the next) redesign.
  6. Leverage, leverage, leverage: Cross-promote and cross-pollinate between your organization’s different websites and social sites. (Technology can make this an automatic process). This so you can maximize the reach and influence of your content.
  7. Begin to think and learn about marketing automation which is the next big thing to wrap into the fold as it lets us really see how people interact with our content and understand the types of experiences that are required to achieve conversion.
  8. Be where your audience is. For example, if you are focused on new supporters this year (more so that retaining existing ones as an example), this will affect the choices you make and the “portals” you create/promote on your website.

Takeaway: Your website should showcase your organization as a dynamic and active entity with multiple points of entry and various ways to get involved.

 


* 2014 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report (notforprofitmarketingguide.com)
** 2013 Website Redesign Report (Hubspot)