There are a million reasons you might need to launch your new website quickly. And in these cases, following a long slog of a traditional website development process isn’t going to work.

Maybe you’ve got an important event coming up or a fundraising campaign for a major giving day. Maybe you hate your current website and want to replace it with something better. If you’re just starting out as an organization, maybe you don’t have any website just yet.

All are valid reasons, and ones we see a lot in our work with nonprofits. It’s tough to balance a quick timeline with the big hopes and dreams of everyone in your organization. That tension often ends up delaying the start of a project or dragging it out for months longer than necessary — either way, you miss your target launch date, and it’s back to square one.

What if the time pressure to launch yesterday could motivate your team to prioritize items in your website wishlist and actually launch on time? Enter: the phased approach to website development.

What is a phased approach?

A phased approach is very much what it sounds like: a way of building a nonprofit website in phases. By starting simple, this approach helps you launch a website with the essentials so that you can start working toward your goals sooner and build onto the site after it’s live.

Compared to a more traditional or custom approach to building a website, a phased approach puts a greater focus on your most important goals and audience needs, rather than an equal focus on each individual element that comprises your site.

A phased approach recognizes that your website is a living tool that should continually evolve to meet the needs of your community—and work to do a better job of that over time.

Is it right for your project?

Your new website isn’t helping anyone while it waits for a fourth round of stakeholder feedback and minor edits here and there. But those steps can be hard to avoid if you have a lot of non-negotiable, complex needs that require custom development. You wouldn’t want to launch your site without the requisite features and functionality, especially if you’ve hired a team to develop it from scratch.

However, if you’re using a website platform like ours to build your site, then starting simple and approaching your project in phases could be right for you.

When all of the features you need are already baked into your website builder, it’s much easier to prioritize the must-haves against the nice-to-haves and move quickly. And if you’ve got an intuitive site structure with room for growth plus the support you need to make changes down the road, you’re in an excellent position to take an iterative approach to the website development process.

If that sounds like your project, then the other factor to keep in mind is team buy-in. Your team needs to commit to a shared understanding of what’s most important for your new site to have at launch. When everyone knows what a launch-ready site looks like, you can work together toward that goal and take the site live once you reach it.

How to Launch Faster with a Phased Website Development Process

You can break up and characterize the various phases of your website build in whatever ways make the most sense for you. Ultimately, the benefits of a phased approach come from the mindset and priorities that you apply to the build, not from sticking to a rigid formula or arbitrary timeline.

But if you’re looking for a place to start, consider the following steps:

1. Set expectations internally.

Don’t wait until you’re behind on a project to start thinking about what you actually need and what can wait until after launch. Instead, come to a shared understanding of what a good, launch-ready website looks like early on and set that goal as the expectation across your team.

To reach that understanding, start by reviewing your current site (or other existing materials, if you don’t have a website yet) and ask yourself:

  • What’s missing? What do you need to have that you don’t already?
  • What is the most important action you need visitors to take?
  • What do they need in order to take that step?

This can help you prioritize the essential information and features you truly need in order to launch from all the “what ifs” that will crop up once you get started.

2. Start simple (but keep track of ideas for later).

Now is the time to be realistic about your existing assets and capacity. It’s easier to start small and add later than it is to bite off more than you can chew, work for a long time and then burn out before missing your goal timeline or having to table your project altogether.

Do you need to redefine all of your program areas, overhaul your processes for serving your community, and develop brand-new content around each area of your organization just because you’re launching a new site? Probably not. That’s a lot of pressure and impossible to achieve if you’re on a tight timeline.

Be honest about your abilities, your time and your needs, focus on the essentials, and make a list of what you’ve decided to table for now. Something as simple as a Google doc should do the trick, but more power to you if you’ve got a project management tool you can rely on to list and organize tasks for the future.

3. Get technical account access out of the way.

Sorting out your various technical accounts and providing access where it’s needed (like to an existing site’s domain and hosting) is the least fun part of this entire process. No one likes it, and you’ll be tempted to put it off until you absolutely cannot wait any longer.

But that won’t change the fact it has to happen. Don’t risk the increased chance of mistakes by waiting too long to track down (or set up) your accounts. Determine what tools you’ll be ready to use at launch, set up integrations early, and breathe a sigh of relief when you can test and troubleshoot issues with plenty of time before launch.

4. Enter content throughout your site.

Next, it’s time to actually populate your new site with content. Whenever possible, carry over as much content from your existing website or materials as you can. Now is not the time to reinvent the wheel!

If you’re starting from scratch, keep things simple. Write basic content for new program areas to spare your audience any “Coming soon!” pages, and find inspiration for others in our guide to essential page content for nonprofits.

Once you’ve gathered or written your content, get it onto your pages — and try your hand at formatting so the information is readable. Avoid only using huge blocks of paragraph text, but don’t worry about getting it perfect. Layouts can always be adjusted later. (Besides, you might be surprised what something as simple as a few headings, a picture and a button or call to action can do to elevate a page!)

5. Review and launch.

With your pages built out and your technical accounts in order, you’re in the home stretch. Before going live, you’ll want to look over the new site to be sure it’s ready for the world.

Stick to looking for any errors or inaccuracies that need attention. Is anything blatantly incorrect? Is something missing or broken? Focus on addressing those issues before getting carried away with minor items. If you have time to implement nice-to-have changes before launch, then go for it! Otherwise, add them to your list for later and move on.

Final reviews can turn into weeks-long feedback loops if you’re not careful. Remember to rely on the shared understanding of a launch-ready site that you set earlier, and let that definition guide you through to the launch of your new site.

Post-Launch Web Development Phases

Once you’ve celebrated your launch (which you absolutely should do, by the way), you can prepare for the next phases of your website project.

Like before, you can define these phases however is most helpful to your team. Generally speaking, though, there are a few major phases that follow the launch of a new website:

  • Post-Launch Polishing: All those minor tweaks you tabled earlier? Now’s the time to revisit that list. These edits might include reformatting a page you’re not totally satisfied with or swapping out a stock photo for an original image. Knock out those small wins early on so you don’t have to worry about them later.
  • Advanced Additions: You may also have entirely new information to add to your site, like new program pages or a built-in form to replace the downloadable PDF you’re using currently. These changes can have a sizable impact on your visitors’ experience with the site, so try to dive in quickly once the minor tweaks are taken care of.
  • Long-Term Strategy: Your website is a tool. Resist the “set it and forget it” mindset and consider your long-term plan for maintaining and leveraging your new site. Find tips for keeping up your marketing momentum and developing your roadmap for strategic website improvements over time.

A great, live website is more valuable to your work than a theoretically perfect one that never launches. Let your quick timeline motivate you to prioritize your needs, launch a solid site and build onto it over time.

Have you approached a website project in phases before? How did you break up (or simplify) the steps in your website development process to launch a site more quickly? Share your advice with us in the comments!