Posted by Jay Wilkinson

I understand how difficult it is for a nonprofit organization to do a proper amount of planning and research. Budgets are tight, resources are limited, your staff is small—I get that. But planning and research is crucial before building a new nonprofit website.

Here’s what I typically see happen when a nonprofit is ready to take their website to the next level. The marketing director, the executive director or someone else in the organization will call a meeting and they’ll pull together all the key employees, a couple of volunteers and maybe a few board members. Everyone will congregate in the same room, and then the brainstorming starts. “No idea is a bad idea,” right?

They go through the process of writing everyone’s ideas on a big whiteboard. One person says, “I saw this on a website the other day—let’s do that.” And somebody else chimes in, “How about this, that or the other thing, because that would be really awesome to have on our site.” This meeting can take hours, maybe even days. Once the whiteboard is full, the director looks at the designated tech expert in the room and says, “Okay, what can you do for us? Can you build us a website that incorporates all these ideas?”

So then the main question becomes, “What are we capable of building?”

In all of this, there’s one very critical factor that’s being left out of the discussion—the actual users of the website.

All too often we forget to ask, “What do our constituents want from our website?” Instead, we get hung up on what can we do, what can we build and how can we get a nonprofit website up and running that incorporates everyone’s ideas. But we forget to even consider the very people who will actually be using the website.

I understand why this happens, but it’s not the right approach. Building your website from the inside out won’t get you what you want: A fully engaging website that’s equipped with the tools and functionality necessary for all of your online users.

Research, planning and working with a team of people who understand what your end users want is a much better approach to building a website than to simply brainstorm with a whiteboard and hope that your local techie can work his magic to make it all happen.