Revised with new information as of October 16, 2017


A free resource for nonprofit organizations, NGOs, civil society organizations,
public sector organizations, and other mission-based agencies

Jayne Cravens, www.coyotecommunications.com

 

 

Basic Web Site Construction
& Content Suggestions
For Mission-Based Organizations


 
 
This advice is written with small nonprofits in the USA, Europe, etc., and tiny NGOs and government programs in developing countries, in mind.

Your organization's first web site should be ONE page, and it should be put up the moment you have a web host. Creating this page will take you less than an hour. The entire process - registering a web address, paying a web host and creating the page - should take less than two hours:
  1. Register a web address - a homepage URL, or domain name - with a service that does such. The URL of my web site's home page is coyotecommunications.com. Your nonprofit, at least in the USA, will want a URL that ends in .org rather than .com, most likely. You don't need a web site to register a web address. Register your web address by making a list of URLs you want and then looking at the Who Is database to see if any of your desired URLs are available. The web hosting service you choose may be able to do this for you, for a fee, but make sure that, as a result, your organization owns the URL, not the web hosting service. I've used Network Solutions and Dotster for domain registration, but they also offer web hosting. I think my web host, hostgator.com, does too. The URL (web address) you choose can be pointed to whatever server where your web site resides. My web site, coyotecommunications.com, has had two different web hosts over the years, but my web address never changes. Here's much more detail about Choosing A Web Site Host & URL. When considering your Web address, your Web address should be:
    • not use an "underscore" (my_nonprofit) or a "tilde" (my~nonprofit); it's difficult to say such addresses over the phone, and many people will get your address VERBALLY from a staff member
    • as short as possible
    • easy to say over the phone (sometimes, this is more important than keeping it short)
    • easy to spell
    • easy to remember

  2. Pay a web hosting service to host your web site, if you haven't already. As I noted above, I use hostgator.com. I've used Network Solutions and Dotster as well for domain registration, but they also offer web hosting. Here's much more detail about Choosing A Web Site Host & URL.

  3. Write and put up one web page immediately as your home page, that has only your organizationís logo and:

    • organizationís name
    • organizationís address (including city, state and country)
    • organizationís phone number
    • organizations main email address
    • organizations nonprofit registration number
    • a message that says your full web site is coming soon

    It is super easy to find a volunteer that can do this one page in HTML for you!

WARNING: do NOT go with a for-profit that wants to donate web hosting to your organization for free. Too often, a nonprofit or NGO agrees to this and, months or years later, the company just deletes the pages one day, because the person that was the key contact leaves the company, or the company is sold to another company that has no commitment to the nonprofit. Or, months or years later, the nonprofit wants to build a more robust web site and, therefore, wants to move the web site to a web hosting company, and the for-profit company refuses, even says that they own the web address, not the nonprofit. Avoid all of this altogether: just say no to donated web space from for-profit web sites. If a nonprofit offers a free web space to your nonprofit, get a written contract for this free space that spells out the nonprofit's commitment to you, and make your own plans to be off that free web space and onto a web host you pay within six months. Web hosting costs less than $5 a month. Here's much more detail about Choosing A Web Site Host & URL. 

At the end of this process, you now have one page on the web. Anyone who types your URL into the web will come to this page, and see your key information on that one page.


Now, you can do the next, more full, version of your web site. You want to keep it as simple as possible, one that you don't have to update daily or weekly for the next six months, while you work on something much more advanced and you get the systems in place for staff to provide this info. After that basic setup, you can build a much more comprehensive web site with more content and advanced features (more graphics, more pages, searchable databases, dynamic content such as blogs, etc.).

Your organization's initial, starter Web site may only exist for a few weeks months before it is changes or even completely revamped; however, it is better to get on the Web immediately with your basic information (which is what MOST people want anyway) than to be invisible on the Web for many, many months/years waiting for your fancy, comprehensive Web site to be ready for launch.

The development of an initial Web site can be broken down into four very basic steps:

tips

Web Development Starts with CONTENT

Web site construction for nonprofits, NGOs, civil society organizations, public sector organizations, and other mission-based organizations starts with CONTENT. No outside person can develop the content for your organization's Web site better than your organization's own staff - whether employees or volunteers. You may use one staff person or outside consultant to design your site, but your organization's entire staff should all contribute to the determination of what information goes on the site and provide the material for the site.

The answers to the staff's identified Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) from clients and the general public should determine what will go on your organization's home page (the first page people see when they surf on to your Web site).

 
          
What are "FAQs?"

FAQs are Frequently Asked Questions and their answers. Determining what the FAQs are for your organization is crucial in the development of your Web site. I started saying that back in 1995, and now, more than 20 years later, I believe it more than ever!

The best person to define the FAQs is the person who answers the phone the most. Yes, that's right -- not the marketing manager, not a consultant, not a web designer, not the IT staff, but, rather, the receptionist. Ask that person the top 10 - 20 reasons people call or stop by your organization. Also ask this person to whom he or she transfers the most calls, and then talk to that person/persons as well, asking him/her/them what the top 10 reasons are that people call them.

The answers to these questions create the content and structure for your initial web site (and should always influence further incarnations of your web site). The answers to these FAQs should be made easily accessible on your Web site. If you use an outside consultant or volunteer to design your site, that person should be well-aware of your organizations FAQs. Remember: people in your target audiences will visit your Web site for the same reasons that most people call your organization.

 
          
Home Page Suggestions

For a simple, initial site, the following is suggested as content for the home page:

NO LINKS to pages that are not part of your organization's web site on your home page, except to social media or blogs! No links to donors or sponsors or partners from your home page! Doing so encourages people to leave your site before they've read any information about you. You can put links to partners, sponsors, etc., on secondary pages, like a list of donors; these secondary pages can link to other organization's sites, but NEVER from the home page!

 
          
"Second Layer" Pages

The pages that link directly from the home page are called "main" pages. Not every page on your web site can have a link from the home page, given how many pages your site will eventually generate. However, there is more information you should post on your Web site than just the main pages; for instance, the following are some of the "second layer" pages that could be generated beneath some of the "main" pages. Examples

The following document can help you think about where you are now, as far as online activities, and where you need to be:
Stages of Maturity in Nonprofit Orgs Using Online Services
This assessment will help nonprofits think about networking tech standards they should pursue, and possible goals for the future.

 
          
Repeat Information

It's important to repeat some information from page to page, because each user will not visit all of your pages. In fact, most visitors will not visit MOST of your pages. For instance, you may need to put your organization's mailing address on more than one page, not just a "contact us" page. You may want to repeat your mission statement on more than one page.

The information on the Web pages may not always be unique from one another; for instance, some information on the FAQ page should be repeated on other pages as appropriate.

 
          
Linking pages together

All pages should link together as appropriate; for instance, any time the words "volunteer" is used on a page, those words should link to the page that has information on volunteering at your organization. Many of the links on the home page should be repeated on other pages, so that users don't have to keep returning to the home page to access new areas. And EVERY page should have a link back to the home page.

It is recommended that a standard set of links appear at the bottom or top of every page, so that users can easily and quickly jump from one section of your Web site to another.

 
          
Page "Signatures"

At the bottom of each page, I recommend the same information:

Just as you would want this information on your brochures and newsletters, you also want this information on any sets of pages a user may print using your Web site. People WILL print out your Web pages!

 
          
Feedback

A web site should not be focused only on "one way" communications (from organization to visitor); visitors should be able to send email to your organization, join an online group, leave a message on a blog, etc.

You can also create a simple online form to capture information from users. A link to this form should appear on most of your "second layer" pages, but not your home page, as you want people to read at least a little about your organization before they decide they want more information. You could note on the page that the form is for people who would like to be added to the your postal and/or electronic mailing list(s), and that the information would not be sold or traded to any other organization (as e-mail advertisements increase on the 'net, it's important to let people know how their information is going to be used).

It is suggested, at minimum, you ask for the following information from those who want to be added to your mailing list:

 
For more advanced tips on web site construction and content for mission-based organizations: the nonprofit TechSoup (formerly CompuMentor) has a web site designed especially to help mission-based organizations with computer and Internet issues.

Other related resources that can help you:

 

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Coyote Communications' Web Site Resources

 
 

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