What it Means to be a Nonprofit Web Designer

I consider myself better-than-average at building websites for nonprofits. This comes from a long-time interest in the sector and a combination of internships, volunteer experiences, coursework, and readings. I also follow trends in nonprofit technology across the web and at the fantastic NPower Northwest brownbag series here in Seattle. I’m even a member of the Nonprofit Technology Network, better known as NTEN.

“So that’s great and all,” you say, “but what does it really mean to be a nonprofit web designer.”

Five Traits of a Nonprofit Web Designer

This is my first attempt at answering that question, at least in part. I don’t consider this a final or comprehensive list, but it’s a starting point. I hope you’ll share your reactions to this in the comments.

1. Holistic and Mission-Driven

Unlike many businesses that are driven by a bottom-line, nonprofits are driven by a mission to do good. I’ve learned over time that what drives me in my day-to-day work with nonprofits is enabling them to focus on their mission. In my work, I try to translate those missions into websites that assist the organization in bringing about their vision of a better world. By using WordPress and website best practices, I try to make maintaining those websites as simple as possible so that everyone can focus on the most important parts of their job, not technical maintenance.

2. Familiarity with Nonprofit Structures

Because I’ve worked in and with many nonprofits, I’ve seen a lot of different organizational structures. Whether I’m working with a Executive Director, Director of Development, Website Committee, or even full Board of Trustees, I have a general understanding of who those people are in relation to the organization. That knowledge lets me more-easily learn about the people, their organization, and their website needs.

3. Accounting for Multiple Disparate Audiences

Many businesses have a single audience: the consumer.

With nonprofits, their audiences are usually some combination of:

  • people who directly benefit from the work of the nonprofit (sometimes called “clients”),
  • board members,
  • potential and current individual or foundation donors,
  • potential and current volunteers, and
  • interested members of the public.

Expecting to deal with myriad audiences and having experience building sites that accommodate them is a big advantage of working with a nonprofit website specialist.

4. Up-to-date on Donation Technologies and Best Practices

Most nonprofits want to take donations online. Working with someone who is aware of the various online donation systems and has experience setting them up is obviously advantageous.

5. Cost Sensitive

I’ve written before that I think nonprofits should pay for their websites, and, when they can, pay well.

However, at present, it’s an unreasonable expectation of all nonprofits to have significant resources to pay for a website. Having the understanding and flexibility to accept less and more-creative payments is key when working with nonprofits. And because I’m devoted to working with nonprofits and helping other help achieve their missions, I’m ok with that.

What Do You Think?

If you’re a nonprofit employee or a fellow nonprofit website designer, what do you think of this list?

4 thoughts on “What it Means to be a Nonprofit Web Designer”

  1. Glad to see #4 in this list, as figuring out what donation system to use can sometimes be a daunting task for NPOs… especially when narrowing down a feature-set with cost in mind. Great post, Mark!

  2. Great post Mark, interesting reading your blog.

    I also work for a non profit in the UK and am redesigning their website using WordPress. Just one question for you, WordPress.com or WordPress.org Which do you recommend and why?

    Thanks Karen

    1. Thanks for commenting, Karen. Your question really deserves its own post, but my short answer:
      – .com is good for speed and price, but it’s very limiting for an organization with any advanced needs. I particularly think .com is good for bloggers who may want to build an audience before investing much money.
      – .org is hard to beat for features but comes with the added responsibility of maintenance, self-hosting, and more. Still, for most nonprofit organizations, unless they really have a $0 budget, I encourage the use of self-hosted WordPress.

      Thanks for the work you do for the nonprofit sector! It’s important.

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