The thought of making a new website for your nonprofit can be equally exhilarating and exhausting. While you’re ready to take things to the next level, there are a lot of things to consider, including who can help you get it done. With so many different options out there, how do you choose the best website company for your organization?

Years ago, creating a new and powerful website required a big commitment with a hefty price tag. And while fully custom designs are necessary for some organizations, they were—and still are—a cost-prohibitive option for many nonprofits. That said, if you don’t have the complex needs to justify a custom site but want more of a partner than you’ll get with a do-it-yourself approach, you’re facing the daunting task of finding a website developer that can meet you somewhere in the middle.

On a positive note, we see a growing amount of nonprofits and their leaders understanding the crucial role that a quality and credible website can play when it comes to building a trusted brand, increasing a base of active supporters and raising money. Hopefully, this means that you won’t have much trouble making your case for a new site.

But we still see some nonprofits thinking about a website as a one-time cost instead of an ongoing investment. Can you think of any website or digital platform that has succeeded with a “set it and forget it” mentality? Your organization is sure to change over time along with trends in technology, marketing and fundraising. How you choose to build a website, and who you build it with, will set you up for success now and in the future.

Using This Guide

Have you already narrowed down your options to 3 to 5 website companies? That’s generally how many options we recommend you strongly consider to find the right fit. If your list of potential vendors is longer than that, keep paring it down until you get to a point where it feels like you have solid contenders that seem to meet your needs. Once you get to that point, it’s time to jump in!

This guide will help you get on the path to creating the website your nonprofit deserves with the company that best fits your goals and needs. From a long list of website considerations to a simple company ranking tool, we want you to make the right choice for your circumstances. We understand our nonprofit website platform isn’t for everyone, and while we believe in our approach, our hope is that this guide enables you to more quickly and confidently sort through your options to find your ideal website partner (even if it isn’t us).

Determine Website Goals and Must-Haves

A website on its own isn’t going to solve all of your nonprofit’s marketing and fundraising challenges. But it can do a lot of heavy lifting when you plan ahead and set specific goals to focus on. A short list of goals and priorities goes a long way to determine what your website must have to be successful versus the types of things that are nice to have (but may not be worth the added cost in the end).

Before talking to a website company, your nonprofit should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What are your goals for creating a new website?
  • Who are you targeting with your new website? (If you don’t know, make some personas.)
  • What types of goals do your target audiences have when visiting your website?
  • Can you list some nonprofits that provide similar services to you? What are their sites like?
  • What are three websites you like and three you don’t like? Why do you feel that way?
  • If your nonprofit has a website already, what’s working and not working?
  • If you have an existing site, what does your data say about where you are having success or falling behind?
  • What’s your budget?
  • What’s your timeline?

Common Pitfalls

As you prepare to talk to and compare different website companies, don’t make the task any harder than it needs to be. Avoid these three common pitfalls of the nonprofit website design process.

Think you have to send out a Request for Proposal (RFP) in order to make a decision? Not anymore! Generally, nonprofits draft an RFP to try to standardize the process and save themselves the time of talking to each potential company individually. But you could be limiting yourself and not even know it. In many cases, RFPs reduce the value and insights that a website company can bring to the table because they’re responding to your constraints and requirements rather than describing how their process, expertise and recommendations can help you reach your goals. RFPs also cut out the relationship building phase with a vendor that can help you make a final decision based on overall fit, communication style and, if needed, a gut feeling. If nothing else, they take a lot of effort to put together and you could still struggle to compare apples-to-apples. Spend the time getting to know the web design companies you’re considering for the project to get the best idea of what they’re capable of.

We totally understand the temptation to use free or reduced price help whenever you can get it. It can be a great way to save money on a variety of tasks. But given the complexity of building a new website and the long-term relationship necessary to ensure it grows with you, we’d recommend saving donated time for other projects. We’ve worked with plenty of nonprofits that have been burned by helpers or vendors who, despite having the best intentions, weren’t able to get the job done. We generally wouldn’t recommend using interns, volunteers, part-time designers or print-based designers to build your website. You run a much higher risk of not getting a site that works in the way you want. Even pro bono offers should be taken with a grain of salt—there’s potential for your project to be perpetually on the back burner. That’s not to say this sort of situation never works out. In the right situation, and with the right people involved, it certainly can. We’ve just heard from too many nonprofits with half-built websites to not mention it here.

This really goes for any vendor, but avoid the temptation to only compare prices when choosing a partner to build your new website. If the quality isn’t good enough, your visitors will suffer, and the investment you made won’t provide nearly the return you were hoping for. Instead, focus on picking the partner that you think will provide the most value for the price, which this guide can help you sort out. After that, if they’re the least expensive, then consider that a bonus.

Find the Best Website Company for Your Cause

When it comes down to it, the best website company for your nonprofit is the one with the approach and final product that will serve you the best at a price you’re comfortable with.

Use this guide to identify the most important things to consider as you come to a decision. We’ve put together a list of more than 50 criteria that you can use, grouped in simple categories ranging from design and functionality to support.

To help you quickly compare companies, we’ve also created a free tool you can use in coordination with our list of considerations and criteria. Easily rank each partner’s ability to meet your needs and get a clearer picture of the best website company for your nonprofit. Download it now (opens in a new window) and then continue!

Next: Website Considerations ›