Another website? Already?

Our website is a few years old and some aspects are outdated. But it's hard for me to justify to the board (and me) the expense of redoing it in a major way. Should we just bite the bullet?

 Imagine a boutique store like Hermes that had a wonderful collection of merchandise, beautiful interior decorating, superior customer service, and a winning overall shopping experience. 

Now can you imagine the store manager letting its storefront deteriorate?
That’s ludicrous of course. Yet all too many nonprofits operate this way. They concentrate on their program delivery, organizational growth, staff expertise, and impact measurement. But they skimp on their website, tolerating an outdated look, amateurish design, and limited functionality.
A website is your storefront, plain and simple. Most of your audiences will derive their first impression from it. A potential funder, program partner, volunteer, and general citizen will naturally go to your site first.
So when do you need a new site? Here are five tests to find out.
The pride test
Do you and your staff like to show it off? Is there any feeling of embarrassment or any excuse you have to make when someone says, “I looked you up on the site.”
The random viewer test
Ask a staff member to recruit 3-5 of their friends/neighbors who don’t know anything about your organization. Have these individuals take 5 minutes to look at your site. Then ask them these four questions:
  1. What does the organization do?
  2. Why does that matter?
  3. What does the organization want me to do?
  4. How would you grade the overall quality of the organization based on the website (A-F)?
If the answers don’t match up with how you would answer the questions, that’s a big red flag.
The benchmark test
Look at the websites of 2-3 of best nonprofits working in your field. Compare them side by side with your own site. If there’s a big disjunction in the viewing experience, you need to ask yourself, “Why?” 
The expiration date test
Feathered hair cuts. Tailfins on cars. Boy George. Things go out of style and it is an embarrassment to not notice and adjust. Websites are no difference. In some cases, any individual style change may not be obvious, but the overall combination of aspects like font type, color scheme, graphics can communicate just how up to date the site is – and by extension, the organization is. If you haven’t had a major redesign of your site in the last 3-4 years, it’s time to take a look.
The features test
Does your site have the following features:
  • Flash display (moving images) on the home page
  • Content management system enabling you to update key content (i.e. a News page) by yourself
  • Viewer comments or some other way people can interact with your site
  • “Extensible” design, meaning it is built on commonly accepted developer frameworks (such as PHP) and thus can incorporate new functions easily

In the Western world, these features are all pretty much the standard. The developing world may have different benchmarks, but the reality is that the web tends to make all viewing standards increasingly the same.

At this point, some readers may be responding, “Sounds nice, but I can’t afford to get a updated site?” 
I’ll try to address the expense issue in future entries.   There are ways to look good without breaking the bank.  
But ultimately, it’s a matter of priorities. Nonprofits spend the vast majority on what happens in their store. But if customers aren’t drawn in, it doesn’t matter.   Nonprofits also keep wish more potential donors would hear about them and be interested in their work.  But where will those interested parties go to first to form their impression of your organization?  
So, if your appeal to donors and overall brand quality is suffering from a poor storefront, the question is really, “How can you afford not to?”

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