Nonprofit Website Landmines: The Abandoned Website
“We have a beautiful site, but I have a hard time getting in contact with our web designer and when we do it takes forever to have updates made. And we don’t know how to update it.”
What Happened: These sites all too often are put together by well-meaning volunteers or new web designers who are just beginning to hone their craft. When they build the site, they build it using tools that they are trained to use, such as HTML tools. They build it and then they say they’ll do updates pro bono or for a reduced rate. And I’ll bet you got a good deal on the site. However, as the volunteers or new web designers get into the business they get busier and busier and pretty soon, a quick 10-minute update to a site gets lost in the backlog of projects that end up on the designer’s desk. For you that means unanswered emails and phone calls and no site updates for weeks, months, or even years.
How to avoid it: Before you begin your web design project, decide who is going to maintain the website. Properly maintaining a website can be a sizable responsibility. If you fail to account for it in your planning then the site is destined to slowly die off due to lack of effort. That’s the last thing you want, because if you’re not using the site as a hub for your online communications, then you are turning your back on a large segment of potential donors and volunteers who would otherwise be able to find and be inspired by your mission and organization. Think of it this way: A beautiful house that is not maintained soon starts to look shabby and uninviting. Websites suffer from the same lack of attention.
If you are going to hire someone to maintain your site, then my advice is to get a maintenance agreement that contains a set number of hours per month. Then pick someone in your office to collect the website changes and updates and send them to your designer at an agreed-upon day. For our maintenance retainer clients, we schedule a day every month for changes and let them know the schedule ahead of time. This keeps us and our clients organized and up to date. Of course there are times when you need to make a quick fix that’s not in the schedule. Having a retained web professional means you get preferential treatment for these quick changes as well.
If you are going to update the site yourself, then I would suggest you have your website built in a content management system (CMS). For you this means you will be able to log in to the back door of the site and update content using tools that are similar to those you would use with Microsoft Word. We use a free piece of software called WordPress to accomplish this with our clients. What the public sees is a normal-looking and highly functional website. But behind the scenes is a very easy way for you to update, add or delete content on the site. Since we build all sites this way now, we offer training to our clients for using the software.
How to fix the abandoned website: If you’re in this situation, then your solutions are similar to those above. You first need to decide whether you are going to maintain the site or whether you are going to outsource the maintenance. If you’re going to outsource it, then check on a retainer agreement with your current designer with an update schedule. Or, if you want to maintain it in-house, check with your designer to see if your site is built using a CMS (we can check this for you, too). If so, ask if they provide training in it. If it’s not built using a CMS, it can be pretty easy to have the site converted to a CMS. We offer a service where we take an existing site and convert it to a WordPress-based site and then provide several training sessions so you can maintain the site. The result of this conversion is almost no change to the outward appearance of the site, and a way for you to change the content on the site quickly and easily.
If you’ve stepped on either of these website landmines and are still feeling overwhelmed, please contact us and we’ll take a look at the damage and make some suggestions on treatment.