Mark Root-Wiley is a member of the faculty for NTEN’s online trainings and is leading Anatomy of a Website Redesign in January, 2018. A version of this article first appeared on The Nonprofit WordPress Guide and is reprinted here with permission.
When you’re in the planning stage of a website redesign project, it’s important to involve lots of people from your organization. Every nonprofit staff person is a wealth of institutional and experiential knowledge! Your coworkers may rely on your website for important back-office functions or they might interact daily with the people your organization serves online. Hearing these things early in the planning stage will improve the result of any website redesign project.
Collecting feedback from staff serves two key purposes:
- Compile information from different perspectives across the full spectrum of your organization.
- Generate buy-in for the project by making sure people feel heard and know their needs will be addressed.
These questions will help get that information and start moving your website redesign forward.
[Important caveat: It’s common for organizations to only collect feedback and ideas from staff and other internal stakeholders. That’s a mistake—it’s critical to learn from real users of your website since you’re building the website for them. As the classic saying goes: “You [and your colleagues] are not your user.” That’s all just a topic for another day…]
Once staff have answered these questions, you’ll have valuable information rooted in your organization’s back-office needs, anecdotal stories about the people who use your website, and useful examples successful and ineffective peer websites. Most of these questions work with board members, too, with only minimal modification.
Your goal is to focus on both the work your organization does and the big-picture needs for the website. Avoid getting too specific with discussions on how things look or exactly how a feature will work during this early planning stage.
- Why do we need a website?
- How would your job be harder if we didn’t have a website? What are the key ways it supports your day-to-day work?
- What questions do you get asked by email, phone, or in person most often? Who are the people asking these questions? Can the website answer (or begin to answer) any of those questions?
- What are three websites you wish our site were like? What are the specific ways our site should be similar and different?
- What are three websites our site should not be like? What key problems with these sites do we need to avoid?
- What are the good things about our website that we should be sure not to lose?
- What are the worst parts of our website? How would fixing those things make your job easier?
- What decisions made about the last website lead to the need to replace it now? How can we avoid making the same mistakes?
Collecting the feedback
Once you pick which questions you’ll be asking, you can collect this information in different ways. The right choice for your organization will depend on the number of staff and how you normally communicate with your colleagues. Gather ideas using:
Online or paper surveys
- Phone calls
- Video chats
- Lunch or coffee dates
Finding the right format can be tough, but it’s worth putting a bit of effort into. Find a way to help people feel comfortable and give them the space required to focus on thinking about these questions. If you’re an organization with lots of one-liner emails, that’s not the right format for this activity.
This isn’t the time for focus groups. Make sure you collect this information individually to avoid “groupthink” or arguments over “what the website should do.” It’s much too early to make decisions about the design, features, or content for the new website.
Once you’ve collected everyone’s input, standardize and analyze your findings. Put it all in one place and share your big picture takeaways with everyone. Your goal is to make sure you accurately heard what people said. Sharing this information with everyone is a good transparent practice that helps people understand the wide range of needs and ideas for the future site.
The information you collect, synthesize, and report will be a valuable resource for whoever builds your site (even if that’s you). Immersing yourself in your organization’s needs—not just your ideas about websites—puts you in a perfect place to get started on your next website that will help you improve people’s lives!