Building a new website for your nonprofit doesn’t need to take months (or, dare we say, years…) of your team’s time or cost a small fortune to pull off. In fact with the right approach, you can avoid delays, keep costs down and launch a new site your visitors will love.
Discover 12 best practices to launch your new nonprofit website on time and under budget.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
How to Launch Your Website on Time
Let’s jump into the fun stuff here. We’ll start out by talking about how you can launch your nonprofit’s new site on time. We have six best practices that fall into this bucket, and then we’ll talk about how you can keep the project under budget.
1. Assign a single point person.
So the first tip here: assign a single point person. Really, all decisions as you’re moving through the project should flow through this person, and they should be the single point of contact who’s interfacing with your website partner.
The key here is to empower this person to make the final call on website-related questions and decisions that come up. You can definitely gather input from other people! But knowing who’s going to make the final call is really helpful and can help avoid this sort of consensus-seeking and really speed things up, in addition to ultimately making the final website project stronger.
2. Control the feedback process.
Now, the second tip is to control the feedback process. And the goal here is to avoid having too many cooks in the kitchen.
For most nonprofits, this comes down to figuring out how to best involve the board, but it can also apply to members of your team if you have a bigger team.
It typically comes down to controlling three things:
- When in the process you ask for feedback
- What type of feedback you ask for
- How long you open the feedback window where you’re welcoming people to give feedback
So in terms of that first one, when in the process you ask for feedback, we typically recommend waiting as long as you can without incurring additional costs.
The specifics will depend on which of those website approaches you’re taking. Typically with a DIY approach or with a website platform, I recommend waiting until you have a first draft of the website ready so you’re actually showing a rough draft of the site.
If you’re going the custom route, typically, this would be partway through the initial design phase where you have something that you can show that’s tangible and coming together. And then maybe once you have a test website, you do another round of feedback.
The way I think about it is, think of it like tasting a cake. It’s not all that helpful to have your board tasting the batter. It’s much more helpful to have them taste it as the cake is actually starting to take shape.
The second piece, what type of feedback you ask for, the key here is specificity. The more specific you are, the more helpful feedback you’ll get.
It also helps to limit the scope of the feedback that you get, which can really focus the feedback on particular elements of the website and just make giving feedback feel a little bit more concrete. It can also help limit some of those sort of “out there” pieces of feedback that you might get from a board member or a member of staff.
And for the last piece, how long you open the feedback window, you just want to give a timeframe that you’re accepting feedback. And then if someone misses it, you can say, “Thank you for your feedback. I’ll definitely keep it handy. It’s not going to make its way into this round of revision, but we’ll definitely keep it on tap for the future.” That can just help keep the process moving forward.
So again, controlling the feedback process can be huge as you’re involving other people.
3. Keep the site as simple as possible.
The next step here: keep the site as simple as possible. For most organizations, your new site is going to be a major improvement over your existing site. So keeping it as simple as possible will allow you to get it out into the world as quickly as you can.
You can always add more to the site once it’s live. But one of the added benefits about getting it out into the world is that you get real visitor behavior that then you can incorporate into the revisions that you ultimately make.
So you can use things like website analytics or website search data, questions that you’re getting asked from people that have visited the website, and that can actually inform some of the changes that you make.
In terms of operationalizing this, what I recommend doing is, once you have a site structure, go page by page and ask yourself, “Could this wait until after launch?” and just be as ruthless as you possibly can be.
Again, keeping the site as simple as you can will help you get it out into the world as soon as possible.
4. Agree on key dates and milestones.
And the next step: agree on dates and key milestones. What we’re talking about here is from the get-go, let your partner know (when you’re kicking things off) when you would ideally want to launch the website. Then they can help you work backwards from your launch date.
It’s also really helpful to let them know any key milestones that you’re going to have along the way. So maybe you have a board retreat or a conference or a big event, and you want to have something to show. Maybe it’s not the finished website, but maybe it’s a test version of the site or some designs. Knowing those milestones will help keep everyone aligned on when you need something and avoid any rushes to meet those key deadlines.
Big note of caution here. You do not need to develop a detailed timeline that has every step of the process. Honestly, this often ends up being a pretty big waste of time because things inevitably change.
Just knowing the key dates that you’re trying to hit those milestones and when you ultimately need the site out into the world is usually enough to keep these sites moving along.
5. Gather your login credentials.
Next tip here: gather your login credentials. This is one of the easiest stumbling blocks to avoid.
When it comes to gathering credentials, it usually falls into one of two buckets: Either it’s pretty easy because things are pretty well organized, or it is a surprisingly big pain because things are all over the place. You can’t get access that you are hoping to be able to get, or you don’t know what email address is on an account.
So just start early. It can take a lot longer than you’d expect and can help alleviate a lot of stress if you’re able to gather these accounts.
We actually have a list of the most common technical accounts that we’ve seen be helpful. Hopefully this is a helpful resource for what to gather before you get too far along in the website project!
6. Don’t let “perfect” delay “great.”
And the last tip here related to launching on time is: don’t let perfect delay great.
I will admit I am guilty of this myself. This is something I’m working on. I often say to myself, “Great and done is better than perfect and planned.”
Obviously, you want to make sure the quality is strong. You don’t want to launch something that isn’t good quality. But you don’t need to obsess over every minute detail.
Again, you can always make changes to the website down the road. So get that new site live and then make it even better over time!
How to Launch Your Website Under Budget
Those are our tips around launching on time — but website projects can easily balloon in cost. And obviously that can be very problematic. So how do you stay under budget that you’ve allocated for a project?
We have six tips here too. They’re going to somewhat relate to some of the tips that we actually just covered!
1. Start with visitor goals, not features.
The first is to start with visitor goals, not features. Most nonprofits, when they’re thinking about a website, start with what features they’re going to need on their new site.
But it really makes it easy to overlook something, and features popping up or changing in the middle of a project is one of the most common drivers of added costs. When features are changing, that quickly balloons the cost of a website.
Instead, what we recommend is to ask this question: “What do visitors need to be able to do on my website?” And then use that question as your North Star to back your way into what features are going to be essential to helping them take those actions.
The nice thing about this approach is it’ll help you avoid chasing features and adding additional costs onto the project. And it’ll help you avoid those “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”” kind of features that can pop up.
Stick to what really is going to matter for your audience and your visitors and move the needle for your organization when it comes to fulfilling your mission.
2. Launch feature MVPs.
The next step here is to launch feature MVPs. And when we talk about an MVP, we’re talking about a minimum viable product. Think of it as just the simplest version of a feature that you can launch initially. This is going to help you save money and also save time. It’s going to be a dual purpose tactic.
And ideally, these simple versions, these MVPs, have two criteria: They solve a meaningful part of your visitors problem — but it likely won’t be the whole thing. And the second is that it provides a feedback loop for you to gauge interest.
This will actually allow you to assess how interested your visitors are in this particular feature and get feedback on if this feature is worth investing some additional resources into.
Let’s take a car as an everyday example here. The MVP of a car is not a tire. It’s a skateboard. Because a skateboard solves the problem of getting from here to there. And even though a tire is part of a finished car, it doesn’t solve the problem of getting from one place to another on its own.
And so the cool thing about starting with a skateboard in this particular example is that you can then get feedback from users. So maybe you hear from folks: “It’s too much work. I can’t use it in the rain. I want to be able to take my friends with me (which would be difficult on a skateboard if you ever tried to do that).” And then you can incorporate that into your next iteration.
So what could this look like on a website? Maybe you plan to have a robust job listing and application system on the site. Before you build that and all the complexity that would go into it, start with the simplest version that will solve the needs of your audience. Maybe that’s something like listing job openings as page content and then linking off the website to a Google form to apply or something.
That might not be perfect, but if these pages are getting a lot of traffic and people are submitting that form (or even clicking through to this form if they’re not submitting it), it can still be a strong signal to you that it’s worth investing some additional resources and polishing that part of the site.
And if these features, these pages, are not getting traffic, they’re not getting engagement, that can also be a pretty clear indication that maybe you should cut that feature and save the time, save the money, and invest those things in other areas of your cause.
So feature MVPs can be a really nice way of just testing more complex functionality before you dive in.
3. Leverage existing tools.
And along the same line, it’s also really helpful to leverage existing tools whenever possible. Building features from scratch is a quick way to balloon costs. Features just rarely are as simple as they seem like they should be when you map it out on paper.
Looking for existing tools, prebuilt tools, out-of-the-box tools that are tailored to your needs whenever possible can be a great way of saving money and also saving time.
As an example, maybe you need a mapping system to let visitors find local health centers or area resources. You could build a robust tool that’s exactly what you need it to be — but it’s going to add a lot of cost to your project.
Instead of doing that, maybe you use a store locator tool that can connect to your website. No, it’s not exactly what you need it to be. Maybe the design’s a little different, or maybe it’s missing a key piece of information that you would ideally want to be able to include.
But it’s at least worth weighing the tradeoffs and saying, “Are the cost savings we’re going to be able to realize by using an existing tool worth it, or should we take on the time and the money that’s going to go into building something from scratch?”
And obviously this ties nicely to feature MVPs. You can always build something more robust if there is interest. But using existing tools is a nice, quick and less expensive way to test out how interested your audience is before you invest a whole bunch of time and money in a particular feature.
4. Maintain momentum.
The next tip here is to maintain momentum. This may feel like it should be in the “Launch on Time” part of this conversation. And I mean, of course, it is. Momentum helps. But delays often lead to budget issues as well.
New staff members can enter the picture if there’s a long delay. Maybe you have a new executive director or a marketing director or board members with fresh ideas that can change the scope of a project in the middle.
Keeping up momentum will give you the best shot at keeping a project under budget and, of course, hitting the timeline that you’re hoping to hit.
5. Budget for ongoing costs.
Another tip here: budget for ongoing costs. This honestly mostly applies to custom websites. Most subscription approaches, the DIY approach, the website platforms, most of those are going to have a lot of the cost just baked into the subscription.
But regardless of the approach that you go, it’s worth factoring in long term costs for things like hosting, software updates, support charges if any questions come up, licenses for plugins or third party tools that you’re using.
The key takeaway here is to make sure that you’ve budgeted not only for the initial build, but also for what things look like in the year two, year three, year four, year five. Just think long term about what those ongoing costs are going to look like so that you don’t get surprised with a bill down the road.
6. Discuss budget explicitly.
And the last tip here about launching under budget is just be sure to discuss your budget explicitly. A lot of organizations are reluctant to bring up budgets, and I totally get it. You don’t want a partner to start seeing dollar signs and charge you more than is fair.
But if that happens, honestly, you’re working with the wrong partner. Because budgetary constraints are just a reality across the nonprofit sector in general.
Discussing your budget, discussing any financial constraints, with your partner will allow them to make the most thoughtful recommendations possible on how to maximize your budget.
How can you get the most out of those budgetary constraints and ultimately build the site that’s going to move the needle for your organization? And then you can discuss those trade-offs about whether or not they’re the best use of the resources that you have available.
So, that’s really it! The hope is that you can put these ultimately 12 tips into practice and your nonprofit will be in great shape to launch your new site on time and under budget.