I’ve run into more than the usual number of nonprofits who have crappy websites built by consultants lately. I’m not talking subjective design preferences here, but flat-out terrible decisionmaking and implementation. When I’ve questioned the nonprofit communications staff about these websites, the answer is always “The website consultant did it that way.”
Enough is enough.
If your web development/design consultant is doing any of these things, they are hurting your organization’s ability to communicate effectively, which is the whole point of having a website. If you are a web developer who does these things, please stop working for nonprofit clients. They can’t afford the pain you are inflicting.
1. Not using a standard content management system.
It is not acceptable to provide your nonprofit clients with a bunch of flat HMTL files and scripts. Nonprofit staff should be able to login to a content management system (CMS) to make simple changes to the text and graphics on their own sites. They should not have to pay you or another consultant to fix a typo, to update their event calendar, or to put their latest news on their home page.
Nor should they have to learn how to code, or to invest in expensive software, in order to make basic changes. They shouldn’t even have to learn how to FTP! Adding a new page of content, or editing an existing one, should be as simple as writing an email — which demands that consultants use content management systems.
Idealware recently reviewed the major open-source (free) content management systems. WordPress is what I use most often and is a great choice for most small nonprofits.
2. Not explaining how to use the content management system.
I don’t think web consultants are obligated to turn their clients into CMS experts. I do, however, believe that web consultants are obligated to build some basic training into their contracts (like an hour or two).
At least two people at the nonprofit should be trained by the consultant on how to make basic edits to existing pages, to add new pages of content (including how to upload photos), how to embed code from sites like YouTube, and how to delete pages. Ideally consultants will also teach them how to change the navigation too (e.g. adding and renaming menu items). Even the least tech-savvy staff can handle these kinds of changes.
Granted, some nonprofits will want to outsource even the most basic updates to consultants. But they shouldn’t have to, and I think good consultants should use these requests as training opportunities, helping the nonprofit learn the difference between what they should and can do themselves and what should be outsourced.
3. Not creating adequate space in the design for timely updates.
I’ve seen many nonprofit website home pages that look perfectly lovely, and yet are communications disasters. Why? Because there is very little space in which the nonprofit can make timely changes. Five lines of text that staff can edit in the corner of the home page doesn’t cut it. Photos that can’t be easily changed because they are part of CSS backgrounds (even though they look like current content) don’t cut it.
I know that nonprofit staff are often afraid of “breaking” their websites, and so consultants often lock down as much as possible in the design to prevent the nonprofit client from messing up the design. But I’ve seen several websites that cross the line. Give your nonprofit clients at least several paragraphs worth of text they can update, especially in the key locations on the home page. Give them space where they can upload photos or embed videos — and where those can be changed easily over time without having to rely on you or another consultant.