Website usability might sound like something only developers and designers should worry about, but having a proactive stance can help you get the most out of your time and money—two things that many nonprofits hold dear. You can read entire books on the subject, but here are some things you can think about and talk with your web-team. They will be super impressed and you will feel like a rockstar.
Before you start development
It's amazing how many organizations go into the process of building a website withouth really understanding why they need a website. Granted, it's not always intuitive, especially if you have strong programming or a great outreach strategy. Here are some questions to help you figure out why you need a website, or even if you need one (Hint: you do).
1. Who is this website for?
Organizations have many relationships with supporters, potential supporters, businesses, government officials and bodies, and other organizations. Your website can certainly serve all of these groups, but it is useful to make it clear where the needed information is. If someone unaffiliated with your organization goes to your site, they will be looking for something different than someone who is a strong supporter. Triangle Community Foundation does a great job of directing users to the necessary information. Your website might have a more subtle approach, but having a very clear idea of who will use the site will help you to determine how to make information accessible.
2. What is your goal for this website?
Your website should have a purpose. Why are you building a website in the first place? Yes, it's good to have a website with your name out there in case someone Googles you, but there's more to it than that. Maybe you want people to be able to donate easily. Maybe you want to grow your email list. Maybe you want to get volunteers or attendees for an event. Maybe you simply want to provide information. This really depends on your organization's primary goal. A group like the Institute for Southern Studies, whose focus is investigative journalism in the South, will primarily focus on content delivery—that is, getting their articles to the user. An organization like Oxfam International wants to raise money to support their efforts. Good websites for nonprofits will not leave the user wondering where to click, they will draw your attention to their primary objective.
3. How do you want to use the site?
So you know for whom you are building the site, and what you want them to do on the site, but that amounts to a bright green donate button on your sketch pad. Never fear. A lot of what matters is how you envision using the site. Do you want to be able to post updates on a regular basis, interesting news stories or events? Or maybe you want to have a nice site that has information about your organization and never touch the blasted thing until it's time for a redesign. Be honest with yourself about this; no matter what your level of interaction with the site, talk to your designer and developer about it.
If you don't have web developers or designers to talk to, you can always talk to me! Drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org