Can we design our own website?

What are the key factors to keep in mind?

Choosing between designing and building a website yourself or hiring a professional to do the job for you is often simply a matter of what you can afford. Fortunately, for budget-conscious nonprofits, there are cost-effective options that allow you to design and build your own website with little or no coding knowledge.

Popular tools such as WordPress and Intuit offer website templates that allow you to pick a design and add your own graphics and text through intuitive interfaces made for users with little technical experience. These tools are typically low-cost, purchased for a one-time fee, or “rented” on a monthly basis. Some are even free.

Do-it-yourself web building tools are an ideal choice for shoestring nonprofits without a need for complex site features such as robust search functions or interactivity.

That said, if you are tech savvy or have the budget to hire a professional, starting with a website template and modifying it to suit more complex needs can also be a cost-effective alternative to designing and building a website from scratch.

If you don’t have a web designer on staff, but want to design and build a custom website from the ground up, you’ll definitely want to seek professional assistance. A good web designer will help you plan, create and launch an accessible, attractive and easily maintained site that hits the mark.

Before you start, here are seven key factors to keep in mind:

1. Develop a plan. Determine your website objectives. Define your users and build to their needs. Start by researching your market online. Visit competitor websites. What are they doing that you like; what could they do better? Draw inspiration there.

2. Think about site architecture. How many pages do you need and how will they be structured? Map your content to each page and, if content runs long, consider adding subpages to create visual breaks. Develop five scenarios of who might come to your site and what they might want to do. This will help you develop site architecture based on what your visitors will be looking for. It’ll also help ensure you’ve considered all of your audiences.

3. When in doubt, choose simplicity over bells and whistles. Busy sites can confuse users or even turn them away. A good website is clean and functional. It’s easy to navigate, consistently organized and succinctly written in plain language.

4. Maintaining your site is as important as building it. Before you build, consider a content management system (CMS). A CMS is the back-end of your website that site visitors don’t see. It’ll allow you to maintain your site without professional intervention. Web builder tools typically offer a user-friendly CMS built right into the product.

5. Build your site search-engine friendly. If you’re choosing a do-it-yourself tool, ensure the product you choose allows you to optimize your site for search engines. Be careful of sites that feature too much Flash, as these can inhibit your chances of being found in engines like Google.

6. Build your site to be donation-friendly. Nonprofits usually rely on donations, so it’s essential that your site makes it as easy as possible for a donor to give. This means highlighting your “donate now” option on your homepage. For more information, check out Fundraising.

7. Test your site before you launch. Recruit staff, clients or colleagues to review your site for functionality and errors. Remember, your website is your face to the world and often the first place people will turn to learn about you.


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