Avoiding a nonprofit website “failure to launch”

So your marketing agency is building a great new website for your nonprofit, and up until now, the timeline has been staying right on track. The design process is complete (everyone on the board finally approved it!), your agency is moving into the technical development phase (WordPress what, now?), and your project plan says it’s time to start working on that parallel task called “Content Writing.”

Despite some back and forth at the beginning of the project, you decided to keep the website’s content writing responsibility in-house for two primary reasons:  

  1. You believe you know your own content best.
  2. It’ll cut down on budget (why pay my agency to do this when we can handle it ourselves?)

Sometimes this logic works out great: you know exactly what you want to say, knock it all out swiftly, enter it into the CMS (Content Management System), the project stays on timeline, and everyone is happy.

Unfortunately, that’s not usually the case, and the end result is a deadly slowdown in the project plan that pushes out all of the rest of the activities–including a lengthy and frustrating delay in getting your site ready to launch.  

In my 12 years managing complex digital projects, including some massive web and platform builds, I’ve seen some common pitfalls occur time and time again:

Underestimating the time it will take to write everything.  

When building out the project plan with your agency, you agree that you’ll need 6 weeks to get everything written and approved. But you didn’t take into account the three board members who’ll have strong opinions about everything from your mission statement to the bios on the About Us page, leading you to rewrite everything four times.

Writing too much content.

Within the walls of your organization, every word is critical, and more is better. You want to include all the whys, the technical explanations, and the insider jargon that’s part of your internal culture. So you’ve drafted pages worth of text, and later realize that it all needs to fit into a little box on your homepage to accommodate the wireframes, word count requirements, and attention spans of your audience (they don’t need to, or WANT to, know as much as you do on the inside). Now you’re stuck doing multiple rounds of revisions once you can see your original approach isn’t working.

Content not aligning to the site structure.

You wrote something that’s useful and informative, but don’t know where it fits into the content organization. Now you’re rethinking the whole sitemap to try to fit one piece of information in there, which opens up an entirely new can of worms.

Inconsistent language or tone of voice.

One CTA says “Read More,”  but the next one says “Click to find out where else to see this cool thing.” One paragraph is written about your organization in the third person, the other as “we.” Confusing, right?

Trying to make it “perfect” takes time.

You may want to launch with all 50 pages of content completed, but realize too late that you’ve been a little overambitious–and that trying to accomplish your original goal will push your launch date by two additional months. Do you adjust expectations, or readjust your go-live date?

Nonprofit website design doesn’t have to be stressful.

If all of that sounds like enough to make you throw your hands up in the air and go take an extended holiday vacation, the challenges aren’t as hard to overcome as they sound. If you set your team up for success from the get-go when you first kickoff the project with your agency, you’ll be well positioned to avoid the frustrating pitfalls. Here are a few suggestions for where to start:

  1. Work with your agency partner to define a strong Content Strategy at the very beginning of the project–ideally before any UX or design works even begins. Once you know what content exists, how it should be edited, and the best way to organize it for your end users, you can then develop Information Architecture and Page Design that addresses the right audiences with the appropriate volume and type of content for each situation.
  2. Establish guidelines for tone of voice, length, language, and formatting conventions (capitalization, CTAs, punctuation), etc. to use across all areas of the site, ensuring that anyone who jumps in to help write or edit has clear standards to follow.
  3. Rather than writing in Word and importing copy into your CMS later, consider using a specialized tool like Gather Content to organize content according to your sitemap, and help you stick within customizable word count limits as you author the text.
  4. Measure your writing workload against your site launch timeline so that expectations can be set realistically. You always have the option of publishing your content in phases instead of trying to get everything perfect on Day 1. It could even give users a reason to keep coming back!
  5. Consider letting your marketing agency take the lead on content. A good partner can not only facilitate the physical writing, but also set the strategy, manage timelines, and wrangle stakeholders, inputs, and revisions–keeping everything on track so that there will be fewer opportunities for delays. Yes, there’s likely an additional investment needed upfront, but the trade-off between spending a little more money at the outset—and spending a whole lot more time at the end when something delays your launch—is often worth it. By inviting your agency to play a bigger role in content development, you’re also empowering yourselves with an outside perspective on your messaging. Specialized copywriters and content strategists know how to get into the minds of your audience to ensure you’re communicating in the most impactful way, arming your beautiful new site design with effective messaging to match.

Ultimately, despite the visual design of a website making the strongest first impression, content and content organization is what makes the most lasting one, and has the greatest impact on whether or not your end user takes the actions you’ve intended.

However you choose to tackle the work of creating your content, it’s absolutely worth taking the time to get it right. With effective planning and the support of a great partner, you can help avoid many of the website pitfalls that lead to confusion, delays, frustration, and an unexpected failure to launch.

Ready to talk about nonprofit website design? Get in touch with us!


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