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Book Introduction

About the Book

You want to change the world, and we want to help you succeed.

This is already a formidable partnership in the making. Before we dig into the nuts and bolts of how to create a successful website for your nonprofit, we should introduce ourselves.

We’re Jay and Randy—a couple of marketing and website geeks with big hearts for organizations like yours. We’ve both been extensively involved with nonprofits, personally and professionally, and have spent thousands of hours talking to nonprofit professionals about how to make their websites work better.

And you are someone who wants your organization’s website to work better. Our first clue? You’re reading this book.

If you’re looking for help with your website, join the club. You’re not alone. Did you know that most nonprofits start over on their website about every two years? This is, in part, due to go-to geeks—and we use this term with the utmost in affection. Many nonprofits look around, find the nearest tech geek with ties to their organization, and say, “You’re good with technology. Can you help us build a website?”

Sound familiar? That’s okay. The majority of nonprofits do this. When it comes to their organization’s website, many nonprofit professionals take a hands-off approach because they feel undereducated. So they pass off the website responsibility to a techie.

But here’s something to consider: Your website is about your mission, vision and cause more than it is about technology. Yes, you need technology to build a viable website. But even your go-to geek would agree that vision and purpose are what create an engaging online experience. No programmer can manufacture those components.

They have to come from the people who are at the heart of the organization.

If you happen to be one of those people, we want to talk specifically to you for a moment about a dangerous fallacy we’ve seen permeate the nonprofit world when it comes to spending market-ing dollars.

The Fallacy of Doing More with Less

This fallacy has cost too many organizations too much money. It’s a misdirected philosophy that says you should make marketing decisions based on cost, not on value—“go with the cheapest solution” or “get as much as you can for as little as possible.” It’s a philosophy that focuses on the price tag, not the return on investment. Unfortunately if you buy into it, you may end up watching your precious marketing dollars slip down the drain with very little to show for them in the end.

Your beloved go-to geek could be anyone from a board member’s spouse to a volunteer’s nephew to a paid staff member who happens to know how to code. Many organizations take a leap of faith and trust someone like this to set the strategy of their website because, let’s be honest, it’s typically a cheap way to go. Go-to geeks are affordable and available, which sounds like a great thing. But statistics show that they typically have a short shelf life. We love them, but they’re not always your best option, and we’ll talk more about why throughout the book.

Another way we’ve seen the “do more with less” fallacy play out is with organizations that choose a free or low-cost platform that they hope will deliver big results. Wix, Weebly and Squarespace are a few of those platforms, and granted, they look like adequate solutions on the surface. But you ultimately end up with a website that limits your ability to evolve the content and functionality. These platforms are cheap or even free, but all you end up with is an online brochure.

The single biggest problem with these platforms is that if something is not working there is no one you can hold accountable. You simply end up with an ordinary website that doesn’t accomplish much—and there’s no one to either blame or consult with. 

By far, the most used platform we hear about is WordPress. In fact, it’s estimated that nearly half of all nonprofit websites are built on the WordPress platform. We understand the appeal from a cost perspective, but the WordPress platform creates as many issues at it solves. The only way to add functionality to a Word-Press site is to plug in modules and widgets that are either no cost or low cost, and when those tools don’t work, like the “free” platforms we just mentioned, there’s no one to hold accountable. After all, they were free. We’ll talk more in chapter three about why WordPress is a challenging platform for your website and the problems to be wary of if you choose that solution.

The bottom line is this: The “do more with less” fallacy just focuses on cost, which is a poor way to make a purchasing deci-sion. The ultimate objective for your marketing dollars should be to impact your organization as much as possible. Therefore it’s important to think about your website as an investment, not a cost.

And this brings us to the very reason we wrote this book.

We’ve been helping organizations like yours create and leverage successful websites since the internet was born. In working with thousands of nonprofit professionals over the past twenty years, we’ve collected hundreds of stories of what works (and what doesn’t) on the web. These stories come from people who are working in the trenches every day at nonprofits like yours—not from the huge organizations with piles of money and seemingly endless resources to get things done.

We’ve discovered what it takes to have an online strategy that works, and this book will tell you what we’ve learned through years of hands-on experience and research. We love go-to geeks, but they can’t always deliver the kind of website you need.

Creating a great website nearly always involves a team approach where key players contribute to the online content. And the best content is all about the people you serve, meaning your donors, your volunteers and the people who benefit from your services.

In short, we’re here to help you make your website the center of your nonprofit’s universe. Your website should be the hub of your communication efforts.

Of course, we totally understand that nothing will ever replace face-to-face human contact. We’ve been there, as volunteers, board members and advisors. As nonprofits, we need to stay connected to our communities in a very personable way. But we also believe that your website is a tool that can help deepen and strengthen the important relationships you build offline.

Your website can also become an expensive, time-consuming boondoggle. Who wants that? Not us. And since you’re still here, we’re going to assume not you, either.

Stick with us. By the end of this book, you’ll know just what you need for a successful website that ultimately decreases long-term expenses and increases donations or revenue. It starts with building your website the right way, creating content and tools relevant to the people you serve and connecting all the people in your nonprofit universe who are passionate about your cause.

And along the way, we’ll provide plenty of opportunities for R&D—or as we like to call it, “rip off and duplicate.” We want you to R&D as many ideas as you can from this book. In fact, we’ll even call your attention to ideas that are worth stealing. Watch for that in the case studies that follow each chapter. 

Are you ready? An effective and dynamic website can help you change the world. Let’s get started.


Foreword | 1
Introduction | 5
Chapter One: Structure | 9
Chapter Two: Design | 17
Chapter Three: Content | 27
Chapter Four: Functionality | 37
Chapter Five: Vitality | 51
Chapter Six: Voice | 57
Chapter Seven: Thought Leadership | 65
Chapter Eight: Landing Pages | 75
Chapter Nine: Search Optimization | 89
Chapter Ten: Social Media | 97
Conclusion | 107
About the Authors | 111
About Nonprofit Hub | 115
About Firespring | 117
About Nonprofit Hub Press | 119
Book Randy or Jay to Speak | 121