If you have a nonprofit website project, whether to create a brand new one or redesign an old one, there are several phases that you go through.
The first phase is the discovery phase, which is the process of your website vendor getting to know your business better. It lays the foundation for creating your website.
In fact, if you know you need a website but don’t know exactly what should be on it, then you can engage a vendor in a standalone discovery project. Many vendors will offer to do a discovery project for you for whatever they are charging, and the final product will be a series of recommendations and a project scope for the website.
Those vendors may even offer you a discounted rate if you choose them to build your website.
What a discovery project looks like
Discovery projects are primarily conducted through a series of questions. It could be done via filling in a questionnaire, or even in person or over Skype. This is your website vendor getting to know you better.
Questions can include:
What is your mission/vision?
In other words, why do you exist? What is your reason for being?
Who do you serve? Who are your constituents?
This is important. If you’re building a website, then you want it to speak to the people you wish to serve. In order to make sure it does that, then you should know exactly who you’re serving and everything about them. This includes your program beneficiaries as well as donors.
How do you help those you serve?
What kind of programs/services do you offer? How does it help solve the problems of your constituents? If you have people that you’ve helped who would be willing to share their stories, then that would make excellent website content.
What is the goal of your website?
This is super important.
What do you want your website to do?
If you want to use your website to get mailing list subscribers, then you’ll need to include an email opt-in form.
If you want to use your website to drive donations, then you’ll need an online donation form in place.
Many organizations simply put a website out there with some information about them on it and that’s it. Almost like a brochure.
Websites are capable of so much. Setting goals in advance so that you can take deliberate action to make sure your website reaches those goals will give your nonprofit a big advantage.
What does success for your website look like?
For many nonprofits, success looks like increased mailing list subscribers and donations. There are other possibilities such as increased downloads of white papers/educational resources, increased enrollment for nonprofit schools/universities, increased membership acquisition/retention for associations.
Whatever it may be, make sure that you are incredibly clear on what success looks like for your website. It’ll make it easier to tell if your website is working for you or not. If it isn’t, then at least you’ll be able to come up with ideas on how to fix it.
What does failure for your website look like?
If you get low or no mailing list subscribers, or little to no donations, or little to no activity, then those could be failure factors.
Defining failure is just as important as defining success. It gives you a means of grading your website’s performance and taking action depending on whether it’s succeeding or failing.
The answers to these questions feed your website content
Let’s say you have a website with the typical pages:
- Home page introducing people to your organization
- About page telling people about what you do and who you serve
- Programs page telling people about your programs and services
- Contact page with a contact form
- Donation page with an online donation form
You will have content on all of these pages. The answers to your discovery questions will feed that content.
Make sure the discovery process is thorough
When you choose a website vendor, make sure they take you through a rigorous and thorough discovery process. They should want to know everything about you and not prescribe any solutions until they do. Their solutions should be customized to fit you and your unique needs.
The greatest vendors employ a technique called the Socratic method. When you answer a question that they ask you, they should then ask a question that seeks more clarity based on that answer. You and the vendor should repeat the question and answer process until you have enough clarity around the problem to come up with the solution.
In the beginning, the greatest vendors listen more than they talk and ask questions until the solutions reveal themselves. You may come up with more solutions than they do. It will be their job to bring those solutions out of you.
Making deliberate moves through the discovery process
Identifying everything about your nonprofit organization, from who you are and what you do to what success and failure look like, is crucial to your success. Knowing every detail allows you to make deliberate moves. Nothing is done “just because other people are doing it that way”.
Everything is done to take you one step closer to meeting your organization’s mission. Your website can help you with that, as long as it’s done deliberately.