Your website is a program

Basic things to keep in mind before a website redesign

“Your website is not a project but it is a program,” says Ramy Nagy, Madeo's CEO, and Creative Director.

Ramy was a recent guest on the podcast show NonStopNonProfit hosted by Justin Wheeler. The 45-minute talk is a gold mine for anyone who is interested in understanding the basics of online fundraising.

During the show, Justin asked: What's the most important thing for a nonprofit to consider when building a new website?

“A great website serves a lot of different purposes and not just online fundraising in that sense. It can be a great tool for recruiting your best talent. The same goes, obviously, for their events program or programing or like what they're actually doing sometimes.

You know, people are applying to these services, maybe their education space, maybe they're in a lot of places where the people that they serve, the people that they're helping, are also the people that are using the website for one thing or another. Where they're applying for something, filling out some really learning directly through the website. So it needs to be this intersection of all the departments,” informed Ramy.

He further added: “In that sense and if it's approached that way from day one when you're considering kind of a redesign of the website and if it's approached that way on an ongoing basis where every quarterly meeting you have with your leadership or whether it's monthly or whenever that is the website becomes one of the items that you actually bring up on talk about, just as you would with everything else that's happening across the organization. That's how you ensure that it continues to be relevant and continues to do better.”

Before you wonder, Ramy is an award-winning designer and his creative studio is the brain behind the website Equal Justice Initiative. The website recently won a Webbys for the best nonprofit website.

I have been in complete awe with the EJI website. I was blown away by the simplicity and communication.

“Their work is complex, but the way they communicate their impact is simple and easy to understand. Their digital content strategy is very welcoming and provides a level of education on the issues they are working on in a very compelling way.”

In a recent story Content to Commerce, I had selected EJI as one of the examples. “The website has transformed itself into a publication with the job to inform and then influence for their causes. If you see on mobile or desktop EJI showcases the path-breaking work in the second or third fold. Even the donate button is not popping on your face, it is there and the consumer will figure it out. Not many will believe this way of thinking so do what works for you.”

Innocence Project is another brilliant website from the house of Madeo. The nonprofit founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck at Cardozo School of Law, exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.

The thought process is similar to EJI to showcase content and then drive to donation. The home page is a slide that has few stories to read along with a donation campaign. I am slightly against a slider but then this one looks neat and quick. What follows next is a series of stories on how the nonprofit is making an impact on the cause, how people can get involved to advocate for the innocent and the causes the organization is supporting.

Visitors using a desktop browser are 75% more likely to convert to donate than those visiting via mobile device — but mobile represents 60% of all campaign visitors, according to Classy’s 2020 State of Modern Philanthropy report.

The third annual report primarily analyzed over 40,000 active campaigns from nearly 4,500 nonprofits from Oct. 1, 2018, to Sept. 30, 2019, totaling 6.4 million donations, of which 2.8 million were recurring donations.

Definitely the website remains the biggest opportunity and concern for nonprofits when it comes to online donations. However, the majority of nonprofits treat the website as a static donation box.

“I think one of the great things about having a website that's dynamic and a blog that, you know, like whether it's your news or your blog for that to stay dynamic and updated is that it is, again, you don't need to just look at individual blog posts and say, oh, we put so much effort into one individual blog post what's the return on that one blog post? I think it's more of a mentality of you are building your narrative across the board,” says Ramy

Things to keep in mind before a website redesign

And if you are doing a website revamp, then keep these things in mind. I recently completed my digital strategy project with a nonprofit organization and I had shared the same:

Audit the existing website: Do a tech and design audit. Ask your people not just marketing but across departments on how they find the website, what do they love, what are things that can be good, and what are the competitor websites that they find interesting. 

If you have a list of active donors or subscribers who regularly engage with you. Interact with them and ask how has been their experience. Quite a few nonprofits after a donation, get in touch with their donors to understand their experience. Not everyone will reply, but those who will do will have a big difference.

For your tech audit, there are quite a few tools on the Internet but the ones that I found simple and useful have been Google Pagespeed Insights and Hubspot Website Grader.

Identify what success looks like: Your audit will tell you what you lack and this will help you to write down what success will look like. As a publisher, I did four website redesign in my seven-year stint and like an idiot, I never decided to write down what success would look like. Big mistake, so don’t be an idiot.

One of the goals as a nonprofit could be increasing landing page conversion. To be more specific: “Six months after we launch the new website, our landing pages will generate 30% more leads by switching their forms from one-column to two columns.”

Check your competitors: No one is an expert and so there is no harm in browsing websites of your competitors. You don’t need to copy everything, but it gives a good idea to understand and list down the things that you love. This could be your value addition to the revamped website design.

Check out online paid themes, you can understand what are the new designs and it will broaden your horizon. For example, I find ThemeForest(Nonprofit themes) useful, a gold mine for new website design ideas.

Information architecture: Don’t get scared by the term, it simply means the category and footer flow. The question you should ask what are the categories that you would like to show and what you want to hide. Not everything can be shown in a first glance so decide what you want to show to the audience. This obviously will tie with your brand philosophy and what is your storytelling.

For example, Innocence Project wants to show four categories and that connect with their brand philosophy. There is the “More” option which shows the other categories but they are secondary and that’s why they are hidden.

On the other hand, Invisible Children has a mobile-first approach and the focus is on their “Why”. Once you click on the menu you get to understand their Information Architecture.

Simplify your footers and don’t repeat things that are already there. Besides just don’t replicate your web architecture on mobile. Both have different experiences so try to do justice to them. Here is a snapshot of EJI’s footer on desktop.

Design your mockups: I am not telling you to design your entire website. Obviously you can’t but can you not design basic designs of your important pages such as your Home page, Blog, and Donation page.

Draw it on a piece of paper and try replicating it online with free tools. I used JustinMind to draw prototypes and it isn’t rocket science. Obviously I am not a design thinker but I had a basic design that could be a conversation starter.

These are the basic things that I think you need to keep in mind before you jump into the website redesign game. 

Finally, care for your website and don’t suddenly wake up when you need to raise funds or start a campaign. 

“Everyone a nonprofit needs to remember is that when people spend their money on a product and they're getting a product back, you know, if you're buying sneakers, you're getting the sneakers, right? Yeah. But if you're giving money to a nonprofit, you're not getting anything in that sense. Maybe like feeling good about it. So really, then there needs to be even so much more emphasis on the value of your brand and your story because that is what they are.”