(Screenshot via rhd.org)
Whether you’re changing your organization’s name or completely revamping its marketing strategy, it’ll almost inevitably take longer than expected.
Resources for Human Development knows: The $255 million health and human services nonprofit just completed the year-and-a-half-long process of revamping its online presence. Its old website was designed in 2009 — “the prehistoric days for web design,” said Comms Manager Kevin Roberts, who had just joined RHD at the time.
“While at the time we thought it was the greatest thing ever, we looked up in 2017, and there were pieces that were not mobile compatible” and the site overall was “dense and tough to navigate because it tried to satisfy a bunch of internal audiences but wasn’t great for external audiences,” he said. “We were trying to please too many.”
The phases of redesign included:
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- Identifying the need — That included a month of “investigation and research into who our primary users were, what issues they were having with the website” in the form of listening sessions with government partners, donors and other stakeholders, Roberts said.
- Picking a design partner — RHD interviewed five or six firms that worked in both design and in marketing and branding. It ultimately chose the Haddonfield-based design firm Whitepenny, which had previously done design work for JEVS Human Services and a Jersey branch of the United Way.
- Design — Whitepenny and RHD went back and forth for a few months as drafts were imagined and discarded.
- Content migration — From the old to new site. This took about six weeks in the spring, even with a handful of staffers dedicated to bug testing.
- Debut — RHD opted for a “soft rollout” in June for its leadership and other major stakeholders, “then we made it live without a lot fanfare because no matter how much testing you do, when you make the site live, there’s going to be glitches,” Roberts said.
The new site was publicly promoted in mid-July via newsletter announcement — nearly a year after the organization began working with Whitepenny. But “we went into it with no illusions,” Roberts said. “We knew it was going to be a heavy project.”
Whitepenny principal Jon Cofsky offered a few pieces of advice for nonprofits looking to embark on their own redesign project.
Remember who the site is for.
Is it accessible? How is your target audience interacting with it, and how can you improve that experience through design?
“One of the biggest things we talk to nonprofits about is the difference between their internal structure and their [outward-facing] site” — meaning, how they structure their programs vs. how they talk about them, Cofsky said.
Also, what’s the call to action your site is trying to make? That might be connecting people to services, or it could be soliciting donations. In the latter case, consider how easy it is for people to donate through the site — “that’s always something nonprofits want, but it’s not always something they focus on,” Cofsky said.
Make it look like your nonprofit is “thriving.”
“A lot of times, nonprofits aren’t thought of as a brand the same way corporations are,” Cofsky said. But their appearances still inform how newcomers think of them, “and they’re going to judge you on design, on message, on how easy [the site] is to use — all of those things that have nothing to do with what you do.”
Communicate that your nonprofit is actively doing cool, important work by regularly updating your website’s content. Share new success stories, post photos from recent events, send out some #MondayMotivation tweets and embed them on a sidebar.
Know that it’s going to cost you.
Design isn’t something to skimp on. Granted, not every nonprofit has the budget of one the size of RHD (though Roberts said he couldn’t share how much RHD actually spent on the web overhaul).
Save some money by looking for someone to do the actual coding pro bono — yes, such angels do exist — but Cofsky recommends investing organizational funds in at least the planning stage to give the future designer a thought-out blueprint to work off of.
“Once you have that, you could find some more cost-effective ways to get it executed,” he said.
Trust the process.
No, not that process.
Redesigns can be scary undertakings, but nonprofits need to be open to new ideas throughout. After all, organizations (and people, for that matter) can’t grow if they do things the way they’ve always done them, right?
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