Today, most organizations in both the nonprofit and for-profit worlds have websites (and if you don’t, stop reading this article and for the love of all that’s holy, contact a web developer!). That’s great because it’s how the majority of Americans get our information.
Gone are the days when the telephone book reigned supreme in helping you find people and businesses.
Gone are the days when simple word of mouth was enough to get people to attend your event.
In today’s world, you need a web presence.
But for those nonprofits who have a presence on the world wide web, there’s a hidden pitfall that I see come into play far too often: outdated websites.
Usually, when a website hasn’t been updated in a while there’s a solid reason behind it. Staff are busy and only have limited time to devote to the website. Funds are limited, so paying a web developer or other contractor to make updates can’t be done every week. Or maybe there’s been turnover and now you don’t have anyone on staff or any contractors who even know how to update the darn thing.
I get it. And truly, I’m sympathetic. So today, I want to examine three reasons why you need to keep that website up-to-date and give you some ideas for how to do it in a way that doesn’t devour time and money.
3 Ways Your Outdated Website is Hurting Your Nonprofit:
Lack of Credibility
When a website isn’t kept up-to-date it can be pretty obvious. (Think of websites displaying old events that happened a long time ago, referencing people who have moved on, emails that no longer exist, or look like they were designed in 1998.)
And when people come to a site and notice that it’s out of date in one way or another, the website and the associated organization lose credibility in the eyes of the website visitor. They can’t be sure that any of the information on the site is still true, they may be frustrated, and many will assume that keeping the community/patrons/donors in the loop is not a priority for that organization.
That may sound extreme, but these are things I’ve heard expressed by real people in reference to outdated nonprofit websites.
Loss of Opportunities
It’s now an expectation that when you visit a nonprofit arts/culture website you will be able to find out about upcoming events, buy tickets, RSVP, register for classes, make a donation, or otherwise interact with the site to instantly get what you need.
If your website is purely informational (what we call “static”) or worse, it has these features but they don’t work well, then you are missing out on opportunities each and every day.
Of course, there are still people who will pick up the phone and call you or come to your facility to get what they need, but their numbers are shrinking. Younger generations in particular (the ones who will soon determine the success and viability of nonprofits) want to get what they need online and will resist picking up a phone or making an in-person appearance.
Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is debatable, but in this case our opinions on it don’t matter much. People will continue to want and expect to be able to conduct many of their interactions with your org online. If that’s difficult for them to do, many will gravitate to another organization which makes it easy and painless.
The ultimate outcome is a loss of opportunities to bring in needed revenue and build lasting relationships with the patrons and donors who will sustain our nonprofits in the years ahead.
Lack of Inclusiveness and Risk of Legal Liability
When I see outdated websites, it’s often not just the text, dates, and contact information that is problematic. It can often be the structure, layout, and hidden features of the website itself. In the past, you could throw up a website with some text and pictures and call it a day. People with visual or other physical impairments may not be able to view or use the site, but that’s just the way it was.
Today, there is an expectation that business and nonprofit websites will be developed professionally with accessibility and inclusion in mind. The technology exists that makes it possible for those living with a variety of impairments to interact with websites and access their full functionality.
However, in order for them to do that the website itself must be set up to facilitate it. This is one reason (among many) why I’m not a fan of website builders like Weebly, Wix, and SquareSpace. They allow people to build websites themselves (which is not a bad thing in and of itself), but these platforms don’t typically build in accessibility functions and DIY website builders often don’t know that this functionality exists or how to implement it.
Although to-date no one is under any obligation to make their websites fully accessible and inclusive, it’s rapidly becoming an expectation. And why shouldn’t it be expected? As I said, the technology exists and why shouldn’t everyone be able to use the internet, especially since it’s so integral to functioning in today’s world?
In fact, there has recently been a spate of lawsuits filed against arts and culture nonprofits because their websites were not fully accessible (you can read more about it in this article by Claire Voon on artsy.net). Although the outcome of those suits is still uncertain, I think it’s safe to say that accessible websites are fast becoming the benchmark.
Besides, is the risk of getting sued and alienating would-be patrons worth it?
If you are reading this article and thinking “yeah, we should really update our website”, but are still apprehensive about time and costs, let me point you towards a few solutions that can help:
If you intend to update it yourself:
- Make sure the website is built on a platform that makes it easy for you to make updates without needing coding knowledge or special software. My recommendation is WordPress.
- Most non-proprietary platforms have features that allow you to save drafts of pages and blog posts and even schedule when an update or a new page/post will be published. Using this functionality, you could complete lots of updates at once, but then schedule them to publish on the dates and times you need. This will eliminate the need to log back in multiple times over the next few days, weeks, and months to publish manually. A huge time saver!
- Decide on a schedule on which you will make updates to the site. Let’s say that you choose to update it once a month or once a quarter. That will make it easier to identify what needs to be updated, get all of your materials together, and get it done. Then you won’t need to think about the website again for another month, quarter, or whatever. And you won’t lose days updating a site that hasn’t been touched in years.
- Consider assigning update duty to a tech-savvy intern or volunteer. Assuming that the updates are mostly text and not updates to the look and layout of the site, they should be able to do this quite easily.
- Consider taking a course which can teach you to build and/or update websites the right way. You will pay a bit upfront, but in the long run, this will still be much more cost-effective than hiring a developer.
If you need to hire someone:
- Shop around for a good rate (but of course, be aware that bargain basement rates often result in sub-par work).
- If you think you will need regular updates, ask a web developer if they would consider offering you a reduced, flat monthly fee. This gives them income security and you know that you can send them anything you need each month and it will get done.
- Although not all web developers will be amenable, you can always try negotiating for a trade. For example, they might be interested in offering you a discount in return for a free membership, tickets, a class, or advertising space.
- Do most of the work upfront to save costs. For instance, if you need to update your events calendar, don’t leave it to the web developer to write descriptions of your events because that adds to the amount of time they will spend completing your update. If they charge an hourly rate, it will increase your fee. Make sure you write out everything you need and gather any images, graphics, or PDF files in advance to help reduce the amount of billable time.