When you (or someone on your team) is responsible for managing updates to your nonprofit’s website, you’ve got a variety of tasks and interests to consider. But one area you might overlook until it’s too late is what the heck happens when a website manager leaves their position.

Who has time for succession planning when you’ve got a dozen other marketing projects that need your attention in addition to the day-to-day work of keeping your website up to date?

But staff changes happen and turnover is inevitable. The Great Resignation is still in full force, driven in large part by low wages and made worse by deep-rooted problems with organizational culture and growing feelings of burnout at work. And nonprofits aren’t immune. Some may be especially vulnerable to these factors.

When that turnover happens, website management can become even more difficult for your team. Not only is the website an important tool used to support efforts across your organization (no pressure), but your new manager will likely need a crash course in the other parts of your nonprofit marketing stack in addition to the site itself before they can hit the ground running.

For these and countless other reasons, website manager transitions can be overwhelming. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to make the process as smooth as possible.

Preparing for a Website Manager Transition

You’ve probably heard the Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” That idea applies here, too (though I’m hoping your website wasn’t built 20 years ago).

The best way to make the transition successful is to plan ahead and give both your outgoing and incoming website managers plenty of time to work through the process together.

In a perfect world, your website manager generally follows some standard processes for managing the site that are documented somewhere others can reference, and passwords for needed tools are stored securely in a place that isn’t a sticky note on a computer monitor.

But in the event you don’t live in a perfect world, having some time to gather up and document important details, share advice and ask questions can make a huge difference and set up your new website manager for success.

Common pitfalls to avoid

Waiting too long to plan for turnover almost guarantees that things will fall through the cracks—and this is especially true if your outgoing manager has been in their position for a couple of years or more. It’s hard to distill years of experience and institutional knowledge into a brief write-up with two weeks’ notice! Give yourself and your team time to plan so you can avoid common issues like:

  • Losing access to necessary accounts. When was the last time you thought about the expiration date of the credit card on file for your website domain account or website hosting? Or about who on your team has access to your payment processor? If those accounts are tied up with one person who leaves your organization, it’ll be tough to regain access and keep things up and running.
  • Breaking features or integrations. Not all third-party tools connect to your website in the same way. Some connections will actually break following certain account updates, like a password change. If you’re updating passwords after an employee leaves, then you’ll want to double-check your website integrations before saving your changes.
  • Getting locked out of your website. Don’t wait until after your outgoing manager’s last day to confirm whether your incoming manager is set up as a user on your website (or at least can submit requests to a developer if you contract with one for changes to your site). The more time your team goes without access to the site, the staler your content becomes and the longer your to-do list gets.
  • Paying for tools you don’t need. There are plenty of great marketing tools you can use for free. But if you’re paying for tools based on a certain number of users, for example, or you ultimately stop using a tool that someone set up and began paying for a while back, then you could be spending money without realizing it.

When teams don’t have a plan, this is the reality they leave for the incoming website manager, and it sets them up to struggle in their new role, if not fail outright. When that happens, it won’t be unreasonable for the new manager to leave their role too, and the cycle of turnover continues.

Prioritizing with limited time

Clearly, website manager succession planning is best done early on, not in the final days of your outgoing staff member’s tenure. But the next best time is right now, and if you’ve got limited time left with your outgoing manager, I’d recommend prioritizing technical account access.

This includes providing access to (or securely sharing login credentials for) things like your:

  • Website
  • Domain account 
  • Hosting
  • Payment processor
  • Email marketing tool
  • Donor management system or CRM
  • Website pop-up tool
  • Google Analytics
  • Social media accounts
  • Any other third-party tools you use to support your nonprofit marketing efforts, like Facebook Pixel, Google Ads, Google Tag Manager, Hotjar or Zapier

It’s not fun or glamorous, but these details are essential for making sure your incoming website manager has some basic footing when they get started.

And if you work with a website partner, consider giving them a heads up about your staff changes. Especially if your outgoing manager is working with limited time or your incoming manager hasn’t been hired yet, your website partner may be able to help smooth the transition by answering questions, sharing resources or providing extra support along the way.

Change is inevitable, but turnover doesn’t have to mean the end of your website. By documenting processes and prioritizing your remaining time, you can ensure a successful transition for your new website manager (and the rest of your nonprofit, too).

If you’ve changed website managers recently, is there another reminder you’d add? Drop your advice in the comments!