Revised with new information as of June
Basic Web Site Construction & Content
For Mission-Based Organizations
This advice is written with small nonprofits in the USA, Europe, etc., and
tiny NGOs and government programs in developing countries, in mind.
Your organization's first
web site should be ONE page, and from start to finish, it will take you less
than an hour, maybe two:
- Register a web address - a homepage URL, or domain name - with a
service that does such. The URL of my web site's home page is coyotecommunications.com.
Your nonprofit, at least in the USA, will want a URL that ends in .org
rather than .com. You don't need a web site to register a web
address. Register your web address by making a list of URLs you want
and then looking at the Who
Is database to see if any of your desired URLs are available.
The web hosting service you choose may be able to do this for you, but
make sure that, as a result, your organization owns the URL, not the
web hosting service. My hosting organization is hostgator.com,
FYI. I've used Network
Solutions and Dotster
as well for domain registration, but they also offer web hosting.
Here's much more detail about Choosing A Web
Site Host & URL. When considering your Web address, your Web
address should be:
- not use an "underscore" (my_nonprofit) or a "tilde"
(my~nonprofit); it's difficult to say such addresses over the phone,
and many people will get your address VERBALLY from a staff member
- as short as possible
- easy to say over the phone (sometimes, this is more important
than keeping it short)
- easy to spell
- Pay a web hosting service to host your web site, if you haven't
already. As I noted above, I use hostgator.com.
I've used Network
Solutions and Dotster
as well for domain registration, but they also offer web hosting.
Here's much more detail about Choosing A Web
Site Host & URL.
- Write and put up one web page immediately as your home page, that
has only your organizationís logo and:
- organizationís name
- organizationís address (including city, state and country)
- organizationís phone number
- organizations main email address
- organizations nonprofit registration number
- a message that says your full web site is coming soon
It is super easy to find a volunteer that can do this one page in HTML
WARNING: do NOT let a company donate web hosting to your organization
for free. Too often, a nonprofit or NGO agrees to this and, months or
years later, the company just deletes the pages one day, because the
person that was the key contact leaves the company. Or, months or years
later, the nonprofit wants to build a more robust web site and,
therefore, wants to move the web site to a web hosting company, and the
for-profit company refuses, even says that they own the web address, not
the nonprofit. Avoid all of this altogether: just say no to donated web
space. Web hosting costs less than $5 a month. Here's
much more detail about Choosing A Web Site Host
You now have one page on the web. Anyone who types your URL into the
web will come to this page, and see your key information.
Now, you can do the next, more full, version of your web site. You want to
keep it as simple as possible. It needs to be simple, designed and launched,
and not have to be updated daily or weekly for the next six months, while
you work on something much more advanced. After that basic setup,
you can build a much more comprehensive web site with more content and
advanced features (more graphics, more pages, searchable databases, dynamic
content such as blogs, etc.).
Your organization's initial, starter Web site may only exist for a few weeks
months before it is changes or even completely revamped; however, it is
better to get on the Web immediately with your basic information (which is
what MOST people want anyway) than to be invisible on the Web for many, many
months/years waiting for your fancy, comprehensive Web site to be ready for
The development of an initial Web site can be broken down into four very
It starts with CONTENT
Web site construction for nonprofits, NGOs, civil society organizations,
public sector organizations, and other mission-based organizations starts
with CONTENT. No outside person can develop the content for your
organization's Web site better than your organization's own staff -
whether employees or volunteers. You may use one staff person or outside
consultant to design your site, but your organization's entire
staff should all contribute to the determination of what information goes
on the site and provide the material for the site.
The answers to the staff's identified Frequently Asked Questions
(FAQs) from clients and the general public should determine what will go
on your organization's home page (the first page people see when they surf
on to your Web site).
What are "FAQs?"
FAQs are Frequently Asked Questions and their answers. Determining
what the FAQs are for your organization is crucial in the development of
your Web site. I started saying that back in 1995, and now, almost
20 years later, I believe it more than ever!
The best person to define the FAQs is the person who answers the
phone the most. Yes, that's right -- not the marketing manager, not
a consultant, not a web designer, not the IT staff, but, rather, the
receptionist. Ask that person the top 10 - 20 reasons people call or stop
by your organization. Also ask this person to whom he or she transfers the
most calls, and then talk to that person/persons as well, asking
him/her/them what the top 10 reasons are that people call them.
The answers to these questions create the content and structure for your
initial web site (and should always influence further incarnations of your
web site). The answers to these FAQs should be made easily accessible on
your Web site via your home page. If you use an outside consultant or
volunteer to design your site, that person should be well-aware of your
organizations FAQs. Remember: people in your target audiences will
visit your Web site for the same reasons that most people call your
Home Page Suggestions
For a simple, initial site, the following is suggested as content for
the home page:
NO LINKS to pages that are not part of your organization's web site on
your home page, except to social media or blogs! No links to donors or
sponsors or partners from your home page! Doing so encourages people
to leave your site before they've read any information about you. You can
put links to partners, sponsors, etc., on secondary pages; these secondary
pages can link to other organization's sites, but NEVER from the home page!
- the full name of the organization. Even if your organization's logo
incorporates your organization's name, the full name of your agency
should appear somewhere on your home page, as text, not just in
a graphic, so that it shows up when someone uses a search engine to find
- the organization/program mission statement(s). Not everyone who
visits your web site will know what your organization does and,
therefore, your short, one-sentence mission statement should be the
perfect way to tell them. If your mission statement is more than a
sentence, then it's time for you to work on a new mission statement!
- link to a section that provides complete, detailed descriptions of
your programs, services and resources
- link to a page about the history of your organization (why it was
founded, its major accomplishments, etc.) - and this page should also
include the FULL name of your organization, as text, even if your
organization's logo incorporates your organization's name
- link to a section with the latest
annual financial reports and budgets
- mailing address, physical address (if different), days and hours of
operation, and at least the main phone number and main email address (or
link to a page to submit a question)
- link to a page providing directions to your organization (both as a
map and written out)
- link to information on where to park (both cars AND bikes), and what
mass transit (bus lines, train lines) a person could take to get to your
- link to how to support the
agency (how to donate money, how to volunteer, etc.)
- link to a page of FAQs (frequently asked questions and their
answers), even if some of those questions are answered on the home page
- a "news" link or blurb. Even if it may take awhile for you to update
this regularly, get the place on your home page where people can expect
to find it. Your goal is for this to change at least monthly (weekly and
daily would be even better). It would be a reason for people to return
to your site regularly, and would point visitors to parts of the site
they may not go to otherwise. Highlight a special event, new
volunteering opportunities, a new service, a message or new
blog from the Executive Director or veteran volunteer, etc.
- link to a page of press releases, with the most recent always first
- link to articles from your publications (newsletters, annual reports,
- link to articles and personal narratives (blogs)
written by your NPO staff, board members or clients
- link to your organization's page on Facebook, Twitter, GoogePlus, or
any other social network
"Second Layer" Pages
The pages that link directly from the home page are called "main" pages.
Not every page on your web site can have a link from the home page,
given how many pages your site will eventually generate. However, there is
more information you should post on your Web site than just the main
pages; for instance, the following are some of the "second layer" pages
that could be generated beneath some of the "main" pages. Examples
- complete list of current and upcoming events
- detailed information about your organization
-- list of ALL staff and titles
-- biographies of your Executive Director and senior staff members,
emphasizing their credentials and qualifications in particular
-- list of Board of Directors (and how to be on the board)
-- history of your organization (why was it founded? what has it
-- job openings
-- budgets and financial statements (here's a terrific
example of such a page, and here's why
such a section is so important)
- detailed information about your organization's services
-- the services you offer
-- how a person can access each service
-- information on fees or requirements for those wanting your services
-- hours of operation
- detailed information about all of your organization's education and
-- youth projects
-- publication schedule for your newsletter
- detailed information about the various ways one can support your
-- information for and about financial and in-kind donors
for and about volunteers, both current volunteers and potential
The following document can help you think about where you are now, as
far as online activities, and where you need to be:
Stages of Maturity in Nonprofit Orgs
Using Online Services
This assessment will help nonprofits think about networking tech standards
they should pursue, and possible goals for the future.
It's important to repeat some information from page to page, because
each user will not visit all of your pages. In fact, most visitors will
not visit MOST of your pages. For instance, you may need to put your
organization's mailing address on more than one page, not just a "contact
us" page. You may want to repeat your mission statement on more than one
The information on the Web pages may not always be unique from one
another; for instance, some information on the FAQ page should be repeated
on other pages as appropriate.
Linking pages together
All pages should link together as appropriate; for instance, any time
the words "volunteer" is used on a page, those words should link to the
page that has information on volunteering at your organization. Many of
the links on the home page should be repeated on other pages, so that
users don't have to keep returning to the home page to access new areas.
And EVERY page should have a link back to the home page.
It is recommended that a standard set of links appear at the bottom or
top of every page, so that users can easily and quickly jump from one
section of your Web site to another.
At the bottom of each page, I recommend the same information:
Just as you would want this information on your brochures and newsletters,
you also want this information on any sets of pages a user may print using
your Web site. People WILL print out your Web pages!
- the full name of your organization, in text (not in a graphic)
- postal address
- phone number
- "main" email address (with a link allowing the browser to send an
- a copyright notice
A web site should not be focused only on "one way" communications (from
organization to visitor); visitors should be able to send email to your
organization, join an online group,
leave a message on a blog, etc.
You can also create a simple online form to capture information from
users. A link to this form should appear on most of your "second layer"
pages, but not your home page, as you want people to read at least a
little about your organization before they decide they want more
information. You could note on the page that the form is for people who
would like to be added to the your postal and/or electronic mailing
list(s), and that the information would not be sold or traded to any other
organization (as e-mail advertisements increase on the 'net, it's
important to let people know how their information is going to be used).
It is suggested, at minimum, you ask for the following information from
those who want to be added to your mailing list:
- First Name:
- Last Name:
- Email Address:
- Mailing Address:
- Day Phone:
- Are you currently involved with our organization? If so, how?
- How did you hear about our web site?:
- What did you find most interesting on this site?:
- Other comments you have regarding the our organization and/or our web
For more advanced tips on web site construction and content for
mission-based organizations: the nonprofit TechSoup
(formerly CompuMentor) has a web site designed especially to help
mission-based organizations with computer and Internet issues.
Other related resources that can help you:
Coyote Communications' Web Site Resources
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