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Are you building a new website for your nonprofit organization? Will you be building one in the coming months?
Are you wondering how to involve internal stakeholders (including your colleagues, boss and perhaps leadership volunteers and partners) in a meaningful, productive way?
First tip: involve them early in the process.
I asked Mike Mella, website designer and developer at Be Like Water about the downsides of involving internal stakeholders too late:
“The most obvious drawback from consulting internal stakeholders too late in the process is that important content can get overlooked at the point when it’s most appropriate to include it. Stakeholders are the experts in their departments, so when you don’t consider their input it’s easy to miss something important that you weren’t aware of, such as an upcoming campaign. If you only become aware of this content later, it can be difficult to give it the proper consideration within the context of the entire website.
Another problem that arises when internal players are consulted too late is that it creates conflict within the organization. Your website is a unique element of your nonprofit in that everyone on staff will likely feel connected to it. Your website is your nonprofit's identity online. As such, it's something that everyone wants to be a part of. When stakeholders are consulted too late - or not at all - they may feel left out and unappreciated.”
Just as important as timing is involving people in the right way. Let’s look at some website decisions that you probably shouldn’t take to an internal group or committee:
- Colours and fonts: Everyone will have a subjective opinion, but are they trained designers?
- Navigation, home page design, and sidebar elements: Everyone will want to compete for (and maybe fight over) your digital “real estate.” But are they considering the needs of your visitors? And do they have user interface expertise?
There’s a better way to involve internal players in planning your new site.
Second tip: involve them in developing your website content strategy.
You really shouldn’t be planning your website until you’ve created a plan for your website content: decisions about content should come first – long before design and development.
How can you get others involved in helping to develop your website content strategy?
Here are three ways:
1. Ask for their help in understanding your website’s visitors. For any significant communications project, you should develop marketing personas: profiles of representative members of your audiences including their needs, interests, and preferences – along with demographic and psychographic information.
In the case of website planning, you should be developing a persona for each of your website’s key visitor groups. The number of personas you create depends on the complexity of your organization and of your website.
In most nonprofit organizations, certain internal players can offer the user insights you need. A few obvious examples:
- Fund development can offer insights about donors
- Program staff can describe participants
- Volunteer development can help you to understand existing and potential volunteers
Involve these team members in your marketing persona development and explain that their involvement – and the personas you create together – will inform website design and development plans.
As you develop personas together, ask the people you’re consulting questions like:
- Why are these audiences important to you and the organization?
- What questions do they ask/what information are they hoping to find on our website?
- What actions do they come to the website to take? What actions would we like them to take?
2. Involve them in conducting your website content audit. To understand what content you need, you must understand the content you already have. That’s why one of your earliest steps must be a website content audit.
Enlist the help of your organization’s various content “owners” to help you get a clear picture of your current website content, what you will keep on the new site, what you’ll be removing, what needs to be updated or developed and who is responsible for all of this.
Don’t stop at just asking colleagues for a content list. Include them in the conversation as you consider:
- What messages you are currently communicating and what messages will you need to communicate via the new website?
- How well does the current content align with your nonprofit’s strategic goals, messaging and brand personality?
This audit and evaluation will help you to understand the scope of the work ahead, including the time and resources you’ll need to allocate to writing.
3. Get their help in understanding the questions your site needs to answer. To move away from communicating what you want to say and to start offering information that your audiences are seeking, your new website needs to answer visitors’ questions. To find out what those questions are, ask around!
Even if they don’t yet have the answers, your colleagues can very likely tell you what your audiences want to know. For example:
Ask fund development:
- What questions do potential donors ask?
- What do donors want to know about the work of the organization and where their dollars are going?
- What do participants ask in order to select, attend, and participate in programs?
- What practical and logistical questions do they ask?
- What do they want to know about what happens within specific programs and services?
Ask reception and community managers:
- What inquiries are coming in about the organization? About the cause or issue?
Once you’ve found out what people are asking you can move on to answering the questions in your new website’s content.
Involving colleagues in early content planning will lead to a better site
These are just three ways to involve internal players in developing your content strategy at the beginning of your website project; creating a strong foundation for making those design and development decisions later on.
But of course, as content creator and advocate, I’m biased. So here’s more from Mike about the value of collaborating in this way:
“The more you involve your colleagues early on in your website planning, the closer you get to a complete website. When your website is designed with all stakeholder properties in mind, the site is a more accurate representation of your nonprofit as a whole.
Involving internal players has the added benefit of making those people feel validated and appreciated as their contributions take shape on the site.
When the various departments within a nonprofit work together on a project as complex and significant as website development, the entire nonprofit organization is strengthened. Stakeholders learn more about each other’s areas of expertise and how they all relate to each other to form the nonprofit’s identity.”
Marlene Oliveira is a copywriter and communications consultant at moflow and founder of the Nonprofit MarCommunity. Marlene specializes in helping nonprofits to produce better content and has worked in the sector since 1999. Marlene’s approach is to work with clients and community members, tapping into the knowledge and wisdom they already possess, to help their communications ‘flow’. You can also find Marlene on Twitter or Facebook.