Web Site Construction & Content Suggestions
For Mission-Based Organizations
Your organization's first web site should be a simple, basic, timeless Web site that can be designed quickly and does not have to be updated daily or weekly. After that basic setup, you can build a much more comprehensive web site with more content and advanced features (more graphics, more pages, searchable databases, dynamic content such as blogs, etc.). Your organization's initial, starter Web site may only exist for a few months before it is changes or even completely revamped; however, it is better to get on the Web immediately with your basic information (which is what MOST people want anyway) than to be unfound on the Web for many, many months/years waiting for your fancy, comprehensive Web site to be ready for launch.
The development of an initial Web site can be broken down into four basic steps:
Web site construction for nonprofits, NGOs, civil society organizations, public sector organizations, and other mission-based organizations starts with CONTENT. No one can develop the content for your organization's Web site better than your organization's own staff - whether employees or volunteers. You may use one staff person or outside consultant to design your site, but your organization's entire staff should all contribute to the determination of what information goes on the site and provide the material for the site.
What will go on your organization's initial home page will help determine how your entire Web site will be structured. The answers to the staff's identified Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) from clients and the general public should determine what will go on your organization's home page (the first page people see when they surf on to your Web site).
What are "FAQs?"
FAQs are Frequently Asked Questions and their answers. Determining what the FAQs are for your organization is crucial in the development of your Web site. I started saying that back in 1995, and now, almost 15 years later, I believe it more than ever!
The best person to define the FAQs is the person who answers the phone the most. Yes, that's right -- not the marketing manager, not a consultant, not a web designer, not the IT staff, but, rather, the receptionist. Ask that person the top 10 - 20 reasons people call or stop by your organization. Also ask this person to whom he or she transfers the most calls, and then talk to that person/persons as well, asking him/her/them what the top 10 reasons are that people call them.
The answers to these questions create the content and structure for your initial web site (and should always influence further incarnations of your web site). The answers to these FAQs should be made easily accessible on your Web site via your home page. If you use an outside consultant or volunteer to design your site, that person should be well-aware of your organizations FAQs. Remember: people in your target audiences will visit your Web site for the same reasons that most people call your organization.
Home Page Suggestions
For a simple, initial site, the following is suggested as content for the home page:
- the full name of the organization. Even if your organization's logo incorporates your organization's name, the full name of your agency should appear somewhere on your home page, so that it shows up when someone uses a search engine to find your organization
- the organization/program mission statement(s). Not everyone who visits your web site will know what your organization does and, therefore, your short, one-sentence mission statement should be the perfect way to tell them. If your mission statement is more than a sentence, then it's time for you to work on a new mission statement!
- link to a section that provides complete, detailed descriptions of your programs, services and resource.
- link to a page about the history of your organization (why it was founded, its major accomplishments, etc.)
- link to a section with the latest annual financial reports and budgets
- mailing address and at least the main phone number and main email address (or link to a page to submit a question)
- link to a page providing directions to your organization (both as a map and written out)
- link to information on where to park (both cars AND bikes), and what mass transit (bus lines, train lines) a person could take to get to your location
- link to how to support the agency (how to donate, how to volunteer, etc.)
- link to a page of FAQs (frequently asked questions and their answers)
- a "news" link or blurb. Even if it may take awhile for you to update this regularly, get the place on your home page where people can expect to find it. Your goal is for this to change at least monthly. It would be a reason for people to return to your site regularly, and would point visitors to parts of the site they may not go to otherwise. Highlight a special event, new volunteering opportunities, a new service, a message or new blogfrom the Executive Director or veteran volunteer, etc.
- link to a page of press releases, with the most recent always first
- articles from your publications (newsletters, annual reports, etc.)
- articles and personal narratives (“blogs”) written by your NPO staff, board members or clients
- job openings
- staff list
- announcements of public hearings or legislation about an issue relating to your agency (following the restrictions placed on you by the IRS as a tax-exempt organization, ofcourse).
- NO LINKS to pages that are not part of your organization's web site on your home page!
- Doing so encourages people to leave your site before they've read any information about you. No links to off-site materials on the home page means no funder or sponsor logos that link off your site!! You can put such links on secondary pages; these secondary pages can link to other organization's sites, but NEVER the home page!
View a sample of a Web site home page structure. [snip]
"Second Layer" Pages
The pages that link directly from the home page are called "main" pages. Not every page on your web site can have a link from the home page, given how many pages your site will eventually generate. However, there is more information you should post on your Web site than just the main pages; for instance, the following are some of the "second layer" pages that could be generated beneath some of the "main" pages. Examples
- complete list of current and upcoming events
- detailed information about your organization
- biographies of your Executive Director and senior staff members, emphasizing their credentials and qualifications in particular
- -- list of Board of Directors
- -- history of your organization (why was it founded? what has it accomplished?)
- -- budgets and financial statements (here's a terrific example of such a page, and here's why such a section is so important)
- detailed information about your organization's services
- -- the services you offer
- -- how a person can access each service
- -- information on fees or requirements for those wanting your services
- -- hours of operation
- detailed information about all of your organization's education and outreach services
- -- youth projects
- -- internships
- -- speakers
- -- publication schedule for your newsletter
- detailed information about the various ways one can support your organization
- -- information for and about financial and in-kind donors
- -- information for and about volunteers, both current volunteers and potential volunteers
The following document can help you think about where you are now, as far as online activities, and where you need to be: Stages of Maturity in Nonprofit Orgs Using Online Services
This assessment will help nonprofits think about networking tech standards they should pursue, and possible goals for the future.
It's important to repeat some information from page to page, because each user will not visit all of your pages. In fact, most visitors will not visit MOST of your pages.
The information on the Web pages may not always be unique from one another; for instance, some information on the FAQ page should be repeated on other pages as appropriate.
Linking pages together
All pages should link together as appropriate; for instance, any time the words "volunteer" is used on a page, those words should link to the page that has information on volunteering at your organization. Many of the links on the home page should be repeated on other pages, so that users don't have to keep returning to the home page to access new areas. And EVERY page should have a link back to the home page.
It is recommended that a standard set of links appear at the bottom or top of every page, so that users can easily and quickly jump from one section of your Web site to another.
At the bottom of each page, I recommend the same information:
- logo for your organization, or, at least the name
- postal address
- phone number
- "main" email address (with a link allowing the browser to send an email message)
- the Web address/URL (with a link that goes back to the home page)
- a copyright notice
Just as you would want this information on your brochures and newsletters, you also want this information on any sets of pages a user may print using your Web site. People WILL print out your Web pages!
A web site should not be focused only on "one way" communications (from organization to visitor); visitors should be able to send email to your organization, join an online group, leave a message on a blog, etc.
You can also create a simple online form to capture information from users. A link to this form should appear on most of your "second layer" pages, but not your home page, as you want people to read at least a little about your organization before they decide they want more information. You could note on the page that the form is for people who would like to be added to the your postal and/or electronic mailing list(s), and that the information would not be sold or traded to any other organization (as e-mail advertisements increase on the 'net, it's important to let people know how their information is going to be used).
It is suggested, at minimum, you ask for the following information from those who want to be added to your mailing list:
- First Name:
- Last Name:
- Email Address:
- Mailing Address:
- Day Phone:
- Are you currently involved with our organization? If so, how?
- How did you hear about our web site?:
- What did you find most interesting on this site?:
- Other comments you have regarding the our organization and/or our web site:
For more advanced tips on web site construction and content for mission-based organizations: the nonprofit TechSoup (formerly CompuMentor) has a web site designed especially to help mission-based organizations with computer and Internet issues.
Other related resources that can help you:
Don't Just Ask for Money!
The "Support Us" button on your organization's web site needs to link to more information than only how to give money to your organization.
Use Tech to Show Your Accountability and To Teach Others About the Nonprofit Sector!
Mission-Based groups are under growing scrutiny. What you put on your web site can help counter the onslaught of "news" stories regarding mission-based organizations and how they spent charitable contributions.
Developing & Delivering Government Services on the World Wide Web
Although written for a particular state's government, these guidelines present principles that can help any agency decide how best to design, manage, and market Web services. The material emphasizes important topics that are often neglected on other "how-to" web sites, including: setting service objectives and policies, organizing and managing staff and other resources, assessing costs and effectiveness. This site is no longer available at its former URL; to access this information, you must go to archive.org and type in (or cut and paste) this URL: www.ctg.albany.edu/projects/inettb/recintro.html