6 Things to Consider During a Nonprofit Web Design Project

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Every day, cultural institutions face unique challenges while working towards a mission with a small technical staff and digital budget. Limited money, revolving staff, and regulatory pressures require visionaries to think ahead of their competition to build a digital presence that doesn’t tie their hands with expensive proprietary licenses and high maintenance code. 

So often, cultural nonprofits feel pain triggered by the decision of another department. When technology solutions like ticketing, donor and membership management, point-of-sale, email marketing, and content management are selected without cross department communication, they won’t integrate. This causes struggles big and small like: 

  • Extracting or inputting data 
  • Battling with vendors to get even the most innocuous tracking code installed
  • Making the public-facing user experience feel seamless
  • Customizing the look and feel of simple things, like forms and checkout screens
  • Keeping content (like event descriptions) consistent across systems

After more than 13 years working with nonprofit and cultural institutions, like the Denver Botanic Gardens, we’ve seen that these problems are epidemic. Drawing from experience, we have a few ideas about why that could be, and how Drupal can help. 

Mind Shift: Expense vs. Investment

The big problem is that most nonprofit web design projects are considered a one-time expense, instead of a long term investment. 

Expenses are a one-time cost with a start and end-date. Once a purchase has been made, it is scrutinized as an operating cost by the board and the finance committee, often dubbed a ‘necessary evil.’

Investments require long term, strategic thinking. They receive ongoing budget priority and dedicated resources. They, like an employee, are expected to make money and be accountable.

When a for-profit company spends money on the development of a new product or venture, they bank their business on it. They set goals and expect it will eventually enjoy returns that will help the company grow. 

Treating technology spend as an investment rather than an expense can position a nonprofit to be more strategic about its vendor selection, increase direct revenues from a nonprofit website design and generate longer term buy-in from leadership.

How can nonprofits make the shift?

Open-source technology1. Invest in open source. Open source software differs from platforms provided by Microsoft, Adobe, etc. in that it doesn't cost anything to license and use. It also means you can pick up your site and take it to any vendor. Because it's open source, Drupal is updated and maintained by millions of developers (a lot like Wikipedia). This means that when a new social media platform becomes popular for example, the community can create an integration within a matter of days or even hours. 

Integration2. Make integration-focused software a priority. Own the technology. Don’t let the technology roadmap be dictated by whether another company thinks a feature is important. Pick vendors by their commitment to playing nice with other tools, not by how many out-of-the-box features they have and always, always make APIs a priority. Drupal can connect to almost anything. Other less custom platforms have a hard time integrating with third party software. Drupal can integrate with almost any platform, regardless of how old or specific. Drupal works well with things like Salesforce, Hubspot, Marketo, and countless many more.

Drupal logo3. Learn how well Drupal works for nonprofits. It is a scalable content management and system integration platform of choice. Trusted by institutions like GreenPeace, LACMA, The Red Cross, and The Whitehouse, Drupal offers the ability to integrate with enterprise solutions like Blackbaud/Convio, Magento and other commerce platforms, ticketing systems like Galaxy, Tessitura and more that haven’t been invented yet. Integrations, scalability, and speed to market are all things to be kept in mind when selecting digital tools.

Analytics4. Think in terms of conversions. Measure. Technology tools should save and make money, directly or indirectly. Have higher expectations of a ticketing system, a content management system, or a volunteer management system. Figure out how things that are valuable and can be tracked like “conversions”. Assign value to non-monetary outcomes so gain and ROI can be calculated. 

For example: 

A volunteer may not be a revenue line, but recruiting someone takes valuable staff time. Calculate how the website can do some of that work for you. 

  • Volunteer value - $50 each 
  • New dynamic volunteer signup form - $1,200 
  • Result? 30 more recruits than usual 
  • ROI: ((30 x $50) - $1200) / $1200 = 25%

25% return? Not bad.

Managing and reconciling event information across all website platforms can be cumbersome and require tons of time by a content manager. 

  • Staff cost - $40/hour
  • Manual ticketing effort for event - 120 hours
  • Calendar API integration - $2000
  • Automated ticketing effort for event - 40 hours
  • Annual Savings: ((120 x $40) - ((40 x $40)+$2000)) = $1,200

$1,200 savings every year? Nice.

Staff Happy5. Keep your staff happy. Drupal is built to make sense to users of any technical skill level, and the admin interface can be optimized for any type of workflow. The interface can even be customized to look like other systems that users may be more familiar with. Content edits can be made easily, and Drupal can be configured to allow for revisions and approval from multiple content editors with various permission levels. 

Hosting6. Don’t forget hosting. During a nonprofit web design project and throughout the life of a website, is it important to have the support of a reputable hosting company. A Drupal specific hosting company, like Acquia, offers the most comprehensive bundle of support and integrated hosting services, which as an long term investment can save thousands. For a nonprofit, reliable maintenance and security is unmatched. 

Drupal is a long term investment because it can be scaled as a nonprofit institution grows. It can save time, money, and hassle, especially when paired with a top-notch hosting platform, like Acquia. In our tenure working with nonprofits like the Denver Botanic Gardens, The NFPA, and the Colorado General Assembly, we’ve solved many problems using Drupal. If your nonprofit or cultural institution could use an overhaul, contact us