Poll results and question themes point to nonprofit website struggles

  1. 2021 Washington State Nonprofits Conference: Tuesday
  2. 2021 Washington State Nonprofits Conference: Wednesday
  3. 2021 Washington State Nonprofits Conference: Thursday
  4. 2022 Washington State Nonprofit Conference Field Notes: Day 1
  5. 2022 Washington State Nonprofit Conference Field Notes: Day 2
  6. 2022 Washington State Nonprofit Conference Field Notes: Day 3
  7. 2023 Washington State Nonprofits Conference Field Notes
  8. Poll results and question themes point to nonprofit website struggles

As part of the Washington State Nonprofit Conference this year, I ran an “Ask Me Anything” session again where I could poll all attendees as they joined. (Watch for blog posts with answers in the coming months!) The poll and questions confirmed many thoughts I’ve had about what nonprofits struggle with most when it comes to their website.

The Poll

For my poll, I asked a question that I’ve wondered about for a long time:

What’s the #1 issue you struggle with when it comes to your nonprofit’s website?

The Results

53 attendees responded and here are the results:

Selected results ordered by frequency: Internal capacity, internal skills, find new platform, other, vision/strategy, nothing, budget, find right consultant
What’s the #1 issue you struggle with when it comes to your nonprofit’s website?
Poll Options (in order presented)Selections
Internal Capacity – Staff have clear website responsibilities and time to devote to site21
Internal Skills – Staff have sufficient training and experience7
Budget – Organization can purchase tools and hire support2
Vision / Strategy – Organization knows how website supports their mission5
Finding the right consultant / agency1
Identifying and implementing a new tool / platform6
Nothing! Our website is helping us achieve our mission. (Please tell us your secrets!)5
What’s the #1 issue you struggle with when it comes to your nonprofit’s website?

Poll Notes

  • Obviously, this is not scientific, but the conference attendees are all committed staff of small, medium, and large nonprofits.
  • I put “Internal Capacity” first because it was on my mind as a leading cause of website problems. Unfortunately, the Whova platform doesn’t allow the option to randomize answers, so that appeared first for everyone who took the poll. So there may be a bit of primacy bias in these results.
  • There wasn’t a way for people to indicate what they intended by “other”.

First thoughts on poll results

This isn’t exactly surprising. Things like budget, finding a consultant, and finding the right tool are struggles that nonprofits go through when building a new project, but internal capacity and skills are constant needs. Too many times, the website either falls to no one, someone who is overworked and might not even have the site in their job description, or someone who is siloed off from parts of the organization.

And this is a problem for organizations! The website is often the first place a person may encounter an organization. You can have just a few moments to set a good tone, and visitor frustration can build quickly if the information they are seeking isn’t available.

I suspect that “budget” wasn’t selected more, partly because people aren’t considering whether they could hire help with their website communications needs. There are wonderful writers who can provide support for writing, revising, and publishing new information on your website, either as part of large overhaul project or on an on-going basis. More nonprofits should consider hiring communications help, even if for just a few hours a week.

Themes in Ask Me Anything (AMA) questions

Since this poll was part of my AMA session, I could also look at the 13 questions from 11 participants for themes. Here are those questions edited for typos, length, and clarity:

  • We have a specific focus but differing audiences and geographies for which we do that work. How do you balance a website not becoming overwhelming with information overload or info not of interest to that particular constituency?
  • We want to create a website that has a number of small business resources and tools. Do you have any suggestions for organizing a resource website?
  • How do you advertise your website to the public?
  • How much traffic is it reasonable for websites to get in this changing tech world? How important is the website versus social media or targeted emails?
  • What are your general best practices for organizations’ websites?
  • What have you found to be the most visited/viewed/useful web pages of a website? … Do you think “About Us” / listing individual employees/members on a page is helpful or overkill?
  • What I am struggling with is how to not have our projects come out as chronological, and how to personalize each project page to not look like a blog. Should I just find a different contractor/try harder?
  • What do you feel are the most vital elements to be on the main page of an organization’s website?
  • When building a website, what are recommendations for adding portals and links for different demographics? For example, one for our staff to access items, one for different services or contracts that we provide, etc..
  • I got inspiration from a session yesterday to make kind of a “choose your own adventure” type of experience to get folx to connect to the mission of our nonprofit. Should I do that through Prezi or buttons on our website or something else?
  • To what extent should a website function as an educational resource? … How can we best promote our org. while educating folks & functioning as a resource?
  • We have one full time staff member & one .25 FTE, and alas, neither of us have a background in website management / development. Do you have tips / tricks for those new to website work and WordPress more generally?

In those questions, you can definitely see many of the problems covered by the poll choices, and I imagine people picked the one most related to their question if it was top-of-mind.

Overall, I saw two big themes in those questions:

  1. Organization’s struggling to align their website information and structure with the needs of their constituents.
  2. Organization’s struggling to maintain and customize their websites.

In both of these cases, the people asking questions often seemed to know what their broad problem was but were looking for help with knowing how to figure out the answer (not the answer directly).

People who work for nonprofits are smart. They care deeply about their issue areas and they are often extremely knowledgeable on the people they serve and the people who support them. It is not lack of experience or knowledge that usually holds people back.

I often find that one of my greatest values as a consultant is helping people organize the knowledge they have in a way that leads to effectively organizing information and helping visitors find and use it.

Recommendations for organizations

Based on the poll, questions, and a lot of my recent thinking about the biggest struggles for my own clients, I would make a few key suggestions that I think are achievable by most organizations:

  1. Set explicit expectations for website responsibilities: Who will work on the website? What are their responsibilities? How much time they will have to do it? This needs to be part of job descriptions.
  2. Be honest about expectations: Will the staff person or persons working on the site actually be able to devote the amount of time needed? Do they have the skills they need? (How can they get them if not?)
  3. Right-size website and communications plans with capacity: It is better to be smaller and sustainable than bigger and headed toward burnout and content rot. Build the smallest possible website and set a cadence for website updates that is achievable. If you’ve done steps #1 and #2, you should be able to do this.
  4. Embrace incremental change: You are now ready to maintain and evolve your website. The most effective organizations almost never do a full redesign but instead focus on the most pressing need so the website is constantly improving. Budget for and hire help to adjust things with mini projects. Reorganize the menu. Build a program intake form. Audit the PDFs on the site and convert most of them to web pages. These types of projects will result in real improvements for visitors that compound your effectiveness over time.

Keep Trying!

None of this stuff is “easy.” That’s why I have a job. But I do think most organizations have it within them to do better! If you’re not satisfied with how your organization’s website is maintained: reassess the expectations of the site, make a new plan that fits within your capacity, and then make small-but-consistent improvements to your website. The results will come.

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