A free resource for nonprofit
organizations, NGOs, civil society organizations,
public sector organizations, and other mission-based agencies
Jayne Cravens, www.coyotecommunications.com
Basic Web Site Construction
& Content Suggestions
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 it should be put up the moment you have
a web host. Creating this page will take you less than an hour. The
entire process - registering a web address, paying a web host and
creating the page - should take less than two hours:
- 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, most likely. 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,
for a fee, but make sure that, as a result, your organization owns
the URL, not the web hosting service. I've used Network
Solutions and Dotster
for domain registration, but they also offer web hosting. I think my
web host, hostgator.com,
does too. The URL (web address) you choose
can be pointed to whatever server where your web site resides. My
web site, coyotecommunications.com,
has had two different web hosts over the years, but my web address
never changes. 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
- as short as possible
- easy to say over the phone (sometimes, this is more important
than keeping it short)
- easy to spell
- easy to remember
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 go with a for-profit that wants to 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 the company is sold to another company that has no
commitment to the nonprofit. 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 from
for-profit web sites. If a nonprofit offers a free web space to your
nonprofit, get a written contract for this free space that spells out
the nonprofit's commitment to you, and make your own plans to be off
that free web space and onto a web host you pay within six months. Web
hosting costs less than $5 a month. Here's much more
detail about Choosing A Web Site Host &
At the end of this process, 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 on that one page.
Now, you can do the next, more full, version of your web site. You want to
keep it as simple as possible, one that you don't have to update daily or
weekly for the next six months, while you work on something much more
advanced and you get the systems in place for staff to provide this info.
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
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 launch.
The development of an initial Web site can be broken down into four
very basic steps:
Web Development 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,
more than 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
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. 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!
- 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 your organization
- 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 location
- link to how to support the
agency (how to donate money, how to volunteer, how to become a
- link to a page of FAQs (frequently asked questions and their
answers), even if as those questions are answered across other pages
- 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
- 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,
Instagram or any other social network
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, like a list of
donors; these secondary pages can link to other organization's sites, but
NEVER from the home page!
"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.
- 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 page.
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:
- 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
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!
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
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
Virtual Volunteering Guidebook
for purchase as a paperback & an ebook from Energize,
Disclaimer: No guarantee of accuracy or suitability is made by the
poster/distributor. This material is provided as is, with no expressed
or implied warranty.
Permission is granted to copy, present and/or distribute a limited
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The art work and material on
this site was created and is copyrighted 1996-2017
by Jayne Cravens, all rights reserved
(unless noted otherwise, or the art comes from a link to another