Nonprofit Website Maintenance Plan: Do I need one, if so, when?

Posted on 16th January 2011 by Timothy Spell
By Admin |January 16th, 2011

When we develop our non profit websites we use content management system technology to ensure our clients can maintain their websites without the need for significant technical skill. In our article Choosing the right CMS we articulate our process for picking the right tool for our clients. In summary we choose either WordPress, Drupal, or Sitefinity depending on the long term needs and budget of our clients.

Over the years we’ve characterized our customer’s needs into several buckets of maintenance plans:

If it is so easy, why do I need a maintenance plan?!
The simple answer is, you absolutely do not need a maintenance plan! Our mission is to push the limits of content management system technology so that you can control each aspect of your website without having to give us a call. We record training videos to ensure that as personnel turn over, the management of your website can be accomplished without serious re-training or expense. Most of our clients choose to manage their website on their own and we fully encourage this.

I have limited staff but really need updates every now and then
This is the most common maintenance plan that we encounter. Usually we partner with your existing website lead or IT person. He or she makes most of the updates, but from time to time we are called upon to help – especially in crunch times such as annual conference preparation periods. In this scenario, we work on an hourly basis to make updates in a reliable and accurate fashion. Below are a few examples of the kinds of tasks we help our clients with:

  • Addition of pages, events, announcements, documents
  • Addition of documents such as PowerPoint presentations
  • Conversion of documents to PDF format
  • Formatting of advanced content like tables and charts
  • Minor graphics design tasks like cropping and sizing photos
  • Addition of new plugins or layout updates to the website

We have a regular need for updates but don’t have the staff to support us
For clients that have a dedicated need for service, we can provide guarantee turn-around times. We generally ask for a minimum of 20 hours per month of work and in exchange we provide a highly skilled technician. In addition to the services above, we provide access to our ticket tracking system so you can see the current status of your requests. In addition to the services provided above, our dedicated support professional will be able to perform advanced customizations and integrations such as:

  • Manipulating imagery with Photoshop
  • Creating images from scratch with our staff artist
  • Developing custom plugins or extending existing plugin functionality
  • Search engine optimization services to help your ranking on Google
  • Active oversight of Google analytics data and continual refactoring of your site to help optimize your visitors experience in line with your nonprofit’s goals

The other benefits with our dedicated plan include:

  • Help desk to include phone suppport
  • Guaranteed turn around times with a tracking and ticketing system to provide accountability
  • “Loose metering” in that we do not charge overages. Some months we expect a bit more work, others a bit less. By giving us the opportunity to provide a dedicated resource we return the favor by reducing your risk in unanticipated fees

I just need someone to keep my site secure and do the necessary tasks like take backups
In our article on nonprofit website hosting we talk about the need to have a strong hosting partner. NonprofitCMS partners with two leading hosting companies: Rackspace USA (NASDAQ: RAX) and Firehost. Both of these providers manage SAS-70 certified facilities with redundant power, multiple internet connectivity links, secure backups galore, and unbeatable hardware replacement guarantees. We offer our hosting services separate from any other maintenance plan. The reason for this is that they are two completely different skillsets. It might be alright for a server administrator to make updates on a website, but we definitely would not want our website team managing our servers!

We recommend our clients use a hosting provider they feel most comfortable with. There are many reputable local hosting companies that have 24/7 teams to do proactive hosting maintenance take reactive measures in the event of an emergency. If you do not have a preferred partner we recommend Rackspace and Firehost. As an option, we can manage your relationship with Rackspace or Firehost for a nominal surcharge.

We truly recommend avoiding the budget providers like GoDaddy and BlueHost as they have rampant downtime and service issues.

Concluding question: So, do I need a maintenance plan?
Most likely, your organization will be fine without a maintenance plan. We take a lot of steps upfront, most importantly our recorded training videos, to ensure your website can thrive without us. We’ll always be around for those one-off tasks that you may need an extra hand with. Maintanence plans are best suited for those organizations that are outgrowing their existing staff but do not have the budget to make another full hire just yet. We can be your integrated team filling your needs in the interim.

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What is the Process for Building a Nonprofit Website? Here is how we work with our clients:

Every nonprofit website is different and unique however our proven non-profit web design methodology delivers quality results over and over. Below is how we approach each nonprofit website we develop:

1. Intro phone call
  • Introductory call to see if at a high level we are a right fit for each other
  • This call typically takes around 10 - 15 minutes
2. In-Person Meeting or second phone call with executive team
  • A more in depth conversation to see if our experience and work is a good fit for your needs
  • This meeting typically takes around 45 - 60 minutes
3. Phone call to go over scope of work
  • Assuming that we're a good fit, this phone call is to go over of the scope of work to be performed, price and a timeline of the project
  • This phone call typically takes 10 - 15 minutes
4. Kick off meeting
  • In person meeting or group teleconference to discuss goals of website, define target audience and for us to learn about your organization.
  • This meeting takes around 1 - 2 hours
5. Needs Analysis
  • Internal survey sent to your staff
  • Web Content Evaluation
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Content Architecture
  • Wireframes (blueprint of website)
  • This phase takes ~1 - 2 months depending on the complexity of your site
6. Creative
  • Color Palette
  • Design Mockups (actual design of your website)
  • This phase takes around 1 month with revisions
7. Implementation
  • Install Content Management System (CMS) such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal or Sitefinity
  • Convert design to HTML and integrate with CMS
  • Install any custom modules or 3rd party tools
  • Migrate over content
  • This phase takes around 1 - 2 months depending on the complexity of your site
8. Training

We ensure you’ll be able to manage your website using a personalized training video and a webinar style one-on-one training. In person training is also available.

3 Elements of Successful Web Design for Nonprofits

1. The Building Blocks for Long Term Value - Websites for non profit organizations have evolved into powerful tools in charge of collecting donations, motivating supporters and helping organize events. Beyond the look of your website it’s important to consider the long term value a multi-functional website can have. Websites for non profits now-a-days should be search engine friendly, easily updateable with a content management system, integrate with event registration and donation tools, as well support social media engagement through use of a blog, newsletter, twitter feeds, or Facebook. Considering the long term marketing impact will enable your organization to build a marketing machine that will last for years to come.

2. Design That Drives Action - An engaging and focused website design for a non profit can do wonders. First, design should quickly inform visitors about the mission of your organization, doing so with engaging images and copy. Second, good web design for non profits should incorporate simple navigation that highlights key pages helping visitors locate the information they are searching for within seconds. In terms of navigation another best practice is to include a sitemap which will help users and search engines find every page within your site. Perhaps, the most important aspect of successful web design for nonprofits is making sure every site page incorporates a call to action. For example, large buttons that drive newsletter signups or social media engagement. Other instances of a good call to action are making sure upcoming events are mentioned on every page, donation buttons, and contact information. Reinforcing these elements reinforces action from every visitor.

3. Reliability and Uptime - Behind any good website for a non profit is a reliable hosting provider, and peace of mind that your website is always there for you 24/7. Attacks and viruses are a real threat to any site. A hosting solution should include regular website backups, and someone to call encase downtime does occur.

How to Prepare for Working with a Nonprofit Web Design Firm

A good non-profit web designer will have a specific process for working with clients; they also bring a fresh perspective to your project, along with advice from past projects. Even if your project is still up in the air a good nonprofit web design firm can help sort out answers, and provide direction. One of the best ways to start identifying how to address website needs is to survey. A step a good nonprofit web development firm can help setup. Using a tool like survey monkey, you can create a series of questions for your visitors to answer once they are about to leave the website, these survives will deliver relevant takeaways regarding what information people are trying to obtain for your current site.

Another area to address with a non profit web design firm is who will host your website. A good hosting company should be available, provide security updates, and backup the website for about $50/month (what we offer). Hosting can be found cheaply elsewhere, but really consider the cost if something goes wrong with your website. If this is a brand new website for your organization it’s critical to decide on a domain name. It is a good idea to consult with a non profit web development firm because a well chosen domain name can play a large role in how your website is able to drive traffic from search engines.

For non profit’s that are transitioning from an old website to a new website it will save time and money to discuss what content will be moved to the new website. Non profit website design firms with experience in SEO can usually provide good advice for tweaking existing copy to improve keyword relevance that will drive search traffic. A good first step is to create a list of all the pages on your website that will need kept intact and converted to the new website design (custom web design).

In terms of getting to a final design, nonprofit web designers typically work with clients by presenting multiple mock-ups of a new website layout, these are called wireframes. Generally after a design is agreed upon the non profit web designer will allow several rounds of revisions as the site is being built.

Finally, one of the most overlooked aspects of building a new website is preparing for its lifetime. Ensure that you speak with your non profit website design firm about how the website will be updated. Ask about training materials, or videos, and most importantly make sure the website is built on a content management system that will make it easy to add new pages, widgets, and adjust published pages.

Serving Washington DC Nonprofits, and The Entire Country

Washington DC is thriving with many non-profits, we are located near 17th and K Street downtown. As a DC non-profit web design firm we have helped local organizations like YMCA of DC, The Association of Military Comptrollers and The Foundation for Due Process of Law build beautiful websites. Our proximity to the DC nonprofit community allows us to stay in touch with new trends, and questions that leading non-profit organizations have regarding web development and design. Look no further for the best DC non-profit.