You know that your nonprofit needs a website. You understand that a website can help you serve your constituents and attract and retain donors among other things.
But maybe you don’t have a website yet.
Or maybe you do have a website. But your current website just isn’t good enough to give your organization what it needs.
Maybe that website isn’t worth saving. Maybe it’s better if you start from scratch.
If you don’t yet have a website or need a new one, either way, a brand new website project can be daunting.
So….what can you expect when you’re expecting (a new website, of course)?
Well-managed website projects are divided into phases
Once you select a vendor to build your website for you, it’s not smart for them to simply dive right in and start building it.
If you were a hobbyist and simply experimenting, then that would be fine. But you understand that anything built for your organization requires deliberate attention and care.
You want your website to help you meet your mission. That involves making intentional decisions about that website.
When you build a website using a phased project, it allows you to make those intentional decisions.
So, let’s get into each one of those phases:
Phase One: Discovery
Discovery is basically the process of your vendor getting to know your organization better. Your vendor should ask you questions about your organization, mostly about the constituents you serve.
They should get to know your constituents as intimately as possible. If you want your website to help you serve your constituents, as well as attract new donors and keep current ones, then your website should represent them accordingly.
Discovery can also include finding out more about your organization’s desired branding, including visual elements, personality, and brand promise.
Whatever your vendor focuses on during discovery, it should get the information needed to guide decisions on how to build the website.
How the discovery phase relates to the project scope
If you have already established the scope of the project, then discovery will simply fill in the missing pieces needed to fully build the website.
When I talk about project scope, I’m talking about the items that you want in the website. An example project scope would be:
- Homepage that gives a brief overview of your company
- An about us page that goes more in depth about who you are, what you do, and who you serve
- A page that focuses on the services that you provide
- A blog page that allows you to write blog posts
- A donation page that has a donation form on it as well as other ways to give
- A contact page that has a form that people can fill in to get in touch with you
If you already have the project scope defined by the time you pick your vendor, then their discovery phase will involve getting to know your organization and constituents better to make your website the best it can be.
However, if you don’t yet have your project scope defined, then the discovery phase will define the project scope.
The value of a separate discovery project
If discovery is needed to define the project scope, then that’s a separate project entirely. After all, a vendor can’t give you a price quote for a website without a scope.
If they do give you a quote for a website that has no known details….thank them for their time and move on.
A vendor who is a high-quality professional will charge you for a separate discovery project. The final product of that project will be recommendations as to what the project scope will be.
You will then have a choice:
- You can have that same vendor build the website based on the recommendations, or
- Take those recommendations to a different vendor and have them build the website instead
I can’t tell you whether one choice is better than the other. It really depends on your situation. There is no universal answer.
Phase Two: Design
The design phase can be subdivided into two sub-phases:
Sub-Phase One: Wireframes
A wireframe is a barebones sketch of what your website will look like. There are several software packages that allow you to do wireframes.
You can also do it on a piece of paper with a pen.
Many vendors will simply use a wireframe as a quick way to show you what the layout of your website will look like.
However, a smarter vendor will use a wireframe to get everyone on the same page. Here’s what I mean:
Your vendor will have people who serve different functions working on the project. This includes designers and developers/coders. The wireframe can get everyone on the same page.
The designers can start designing based on the layout. The developers can start coding based on that layout. This will speed up the entire website-building process and minimize potential errors and re-work.
Sub-Phase Two: Visual Design
If the wireframe is the barebones outline, then visual design is what the website will actually look like.
The barebones wireframe is turned into a fully-formed design with actual colors, fonts, headings and sub-headings, layouts, white space, and other design elements.
Phase Three: Development
Development is basically synonymous for “coding”. This is when the developers turn the design into a fully functioning website using coding and programming languages such as HTML and CSS.
Remember how the wireframe puts the designers and developers on the same page? Once the wireframe is approved, the developers don’t have to wait for the designers to finish to start coding. They can start coding the layout right away.
Once the designers give them the full visual design, based on the layout in the wireframe, the developers can then incorporate those design elements.
In the development phase, if your vendor is a good one, then they will build your website onto a content management system (CMS). A CMS will allow you to manage and edit content on your website without having to know code.
I build all of my websites on WordPress, and it’s great for nonprofits. It’s free to use (no software license fee), open source, and has an excellent community of developers behind it.
Phase Four: Testing
This phase is REALLY REALLY important!
Testing is done to make sure that all the website code works.
Many developers write their code and test it on their own computers. There are tools that allow you to turn your computer into a local website server. Developers use this local server because it’s convenient for them and the public won’t see the website before it’s ready.
Testing the code on their own computer is a good start, but this is not the end of the developer’s job.
They should also test it on YOUR server.
During the website project process, you will have to pick a company to host your website. There are companies like GoDaddy, Bluehost, and Siteground that can host a nonprofit website.
Whichever host you choose, there will always be differences between your developer’s local server and the server on which you actually host your website.
Therefore, it’s incredibly important for your developers to test their code on your hosting company’s server. They can do this by putting it up on what they call a “staging site”. A staging site is your actual website on your server, but it’s not visible to the public.
Two main things that a developer can do to make sure that your site is not visible to the public are:
- Password-protect it
- Make sure it’s not visible to search engines
Once your website has been thoroughly testing in the staging area, you can then move on to:
Phase Five: Deployment
Deployment is a fancy word for “let’s make this website go live so that the public can go to it. Ready, set….launch!”
Deployment is a term used in software development. Since a website is technically software, the word is totally applicable.
Phase Six: Training
Unless you are paying your vendor to update your website, then you should definitely be trained on how to use it.
Depending on the technical abilities of you and your team members, it might be beneficial to pay them to make software updates. Your website could get messed up if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Otherwise, you will likely make content updates to your website. Changing text here, changing a picture there, making new blog posts, etc. So, make sure that your vendor thoroughly trains you on how to do everything you need to do with your website.
Awesome! So that’s it, right?
Once your website is launched and your team trained, then technically your project is complete. Your vendor can be paid whatever outstanding balances are owed to them, and you have what you asked for.
However, that’s not the end of the story.
Once you have your website, you need to maintain it. You need to make sure it’s working for you. This can be as daunting of a task as building the website to begin with.
Stay tuned for more info about what to do with your website after it has been born and is alive and kicking!