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Nonprofits: Never Hire a Web Designer Without Asking these Questions

Posted on 29th January 2011 by Gray Digital
By Admin |January 29th, 2011

This tip is worth at least $3,000—and several months of embarrassment.

At least that’s how much it would have saved the ED of a local Nonprofit.

For months, his website looked so bad that he had to ask new clients and donors not to visit the website when he handed them a business card.

He could have prevented this if he had only known the right questions to ask before he hired the web designer.

You need to know that your web designer really knows what he/she is doing.  You’ll want to weed out the ones who use do-it-yourself web design software that will leave your website hopelessly trapped in 1998. (If that means you have to weed out yourself, don’t feel bad.  The internet has made so many advances that it’s impossible to make a professional grade website on an HTML editor.)

Therefore, rather than add one more duty to your job description, your organization will be better served if you focus your attention on knowing how to find good professional web design help.

There are several important questions (besides cost) that you need to ask a web designer before you give them the job of re-designing your website.  These questions are basic and should not trip up any competent web designer.

  • Can you email a portfolio of your work?

This is an excellent screening question.

Before wasting a lot of time with anyone, find out if the prospective web designer has the skills to create what you want.  A good web designer is going to proudly email you his portfolio and let the work speak for itself.  If he can’t provide you with a strong portfolio, it may be time to Google ‘nonprofit web design’ and look for another web designer.

  • How much experience do you have integrating Content Management Systems?

A Content Management System or CMS allows you or your staff to update the website without the need for computer coding skills.  A Content Management System is a “must-have” for any Nonprofit organization.

Some common Content Management Systems are:  Wordpress, Drupal, or Joomla. There are hundreds more CMS’s out there ranging in price and capability.   For a good article to learn more about choosing the right CMS for your organization, you can click on the link here.  Additionally, you should discuss which CMS would best suit your needs with your web designer.

A red flag would be that your web designer or volunteer does not know what a Content Management System is.  If they don’t know what a Content Management System is, find someone else.

  • How long are you going to take to build our new website?

Of course, this depends on how big or small your goals are for the website.

If you are looking for a website that allows you to update content easily through a Content Management System and has an online donation feature, an online event registration system, and a basic membership management system, 90 days is a reasonable expectation for the time to complete the task.

Most of the time, delays are because the Nonprofit needs to get approval from the board on a design options.   Those delays are common and should not be held against your web designer.  Sometimes it’s best to have the board create a small committee that will be available readily with the authority to approve design options.

  • What are your references?

Ask for some of the web designer’s references.  And then call them.  Any reluctance or stalling in getting you references is a red flag (example: “I’ll need to call my old clients to see if it’s OK before I let you call them.”)

  • How much work have you done with Nonprofits?

Nonprofit goals and culture are different from the corporate world.  There are software tools and special discounts unique to Nonprofits.  For example:  Vertical Response (an email broadcast platform similar to Constant Contact offers up to 10,000 emails for free to Nonprofits) You may miss out on money saving discounts and online tools working with a designer who does not understand the Nonprofit industry.

  • How much do you require upfront at the start of the project?

Never pay for the whole design in advance.    A standard percentage to pay for a design to a professional web development firm should be no more than 50% of the total project cost.

Of course, weeding out the inexperienced and less qualified web developers will likely mean that you have to pass on the lowest bidder.   But how low is the bid if you have to pay $3,000 once for a bad website (like our ED friend did) and then have to pay someone else even more to do it right.  In an age where, rightly or wrongly, a growing number of people judge your organization by the website, it’s always less expensive to get it done right the first time.

Armed with these questions, you will save your organization thousands of dollars, months of time lost, and certain embarrassment.


  1. Hi Sean, I have read your blog and find that all questions are relevant to hiring a web designer. Thanks for sharing this blog.

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