Foundations face some special challenges when it comes to websites. There is no simple “fits all” formula for balancing traditional grantmaking procedures, limited technical skills, and the expectations of an increasingly web-active nonprofit sector.
These 10 articles explore a variety of approaches to foundation websites, how to improve existing websites, and new ways foundations can use their websites to support their grantmaking. It's fair to say most of these articles aren't about websites, so much as they are about the impact good web sites can have on the operations of various types of charitable foundations.
Each article begins with a statement which expresses a hypothetical foundation staff or trustee point of view, with regard to their website. The idea being, if one of these statements seems to fit with your organization, it's a sign you should probably invest in a better website.
For those who want the gist, but not the entertaining details, I've summarized each article below. If you think it's time your organization invested in a better website, take a moment to get in touch with OpenSourcery .
Whether you like it or not, your Foundation is already on the Internet, and has been since at least March of 2000. If the 990 on GuideStar.org is your Foundation's only website then I'm here to tell you, It's time your foundation had a better website.
A well-made foundation website should be at least as colorful, warm, and inviting as the annual report your foundation currently publishes. Print discourages any content changes or additions, punishes tiny mistakes, and the process is always extremely time-intensive. With web-media you are rewarded for keeping content fresh and punished for choosing weak or out-dated tools. Investing in a better website will save you time.
A well-built foundation website can actually increase the impact of your grants on the causes you support, reduce the number of unsolicited requests, and cut down on phone calls to your foundation administrator.
4. We have a program to engage the next generation of philanthropists, where young people get to decide which projects we fund, but we haven't devoted any resources to showcasing this work on our website.
Giving young people a voice on your program's website is a great way to instill a sense of ownership over philanthropic work. If it isn't on the Internet, it didn't happen.
It's time to measure your paper avalanche. Any foundation which currently scans paper grant applications or accepts PDF files in lieu of paper, should consider switching to a well-designed digital application process. It can open up a whole world of possibilities for streamlining your organization's grant-making and grants management process.
6. Our old website was too hard to update, so lately we've been using (wordpress, blogger, google sites, squarespace, myspace, yahoo sites, facebook pages, etc.) as our website instead. We love how easy it is to update, and that has made all of the difference.
Getting familiar with how modern content management systems for websites work is a good first step in evaluating where you want to go with your new website. It's OK to try out one of these services, to experience first-hand how much easier a modern website is to use. When you're ready for something that fits your organization, a web developer can build a site with the tools you like to use.
An online grant submission system needs to function properly if you expect people to be able to use it. Warnings about the difficulty of your grant submission process may deter smaller charities, and those with limited development resources, from presenting your foundation with highly relevant proposals. Busy people don't have time to spend in the labyrinth.
By pairing a well-designed on-line application with a full-featured grants management system your foundation can achieve greater organizational capacity, while maintaining the same staff size and administrative overhead.
The work flow bottleneck for generating grant stats is undoubtedly getting the relevant numbers into a computer. Your staff really shouldn't have to re-type numbers which have already been entered into a computer, at least once, by a grant applicant. Your online grant application should collect the figures you need and store those figures in a database. A traditional foundation can still reap the rewards described in this article. You can move to an online grant summary page, without giving up the paper application.
Older websites face two problems: outdated appearance and outdated infrastructure. If your website looks old, chances are that your infrastructure is outdated as well. Even if your foundation recently had the website totally redesigned, it's still worth taking a look at what your web designer may have missed; a fresh design won't fix a rusted undercarriage.
I've seen several foundations who have abandoned their well-designed, but out-dated, websites and moved to one of the simple website services listed above. It's easy to understand why these organizations choose to abandon a difficult to use website, in favor of an easy to use website. Clearly they want the ease-of-use a blog, content management system, or social media page offers.
Sadly the professional look of a well-designed website doesn't seem to translate to websites which use these services. The good news is, the features that make these website services easy for anyone to update are available for your next website. If you find that you like using the new tools, then it's time your foundation invested in a website which has those tools and also looks professional.
Getting familiar with how modern content management systems for websites work is a good first step in evaluating where you want to go with your new website. It's OK to try out one of these services, to experience first-hand how much easier a modern website is to use. Once you know the features and tool-sets you want for your website, you can get a web developer to build it.
I wouldn't recommend abandoning your existing website just for the purpose of evaluating new tools. A better practice would be to keep your existing website, and try creating a separate blog site for a month or two, just to see what it's like having a site that's easy to update.
Be up front with visitors to the blog, let them know you're considering making a change, and that the blog site is something you are trying out. Direct visitors to back to your main page, so that they continue to see that web address as the official site for your foundation.
Some blog platforms and simple website services can be configured to act as private journals, which means you can try out the features of a modern blog or content management system without showing everyone on the Internet what you're up to. For evaluation purposes keep your experimenting private, away from prying eyes, search engines, and website caching engines.
Speaking of privacy, I've noticed that Google Sites makes the entire revision history of your website available for anybody to see via a link off the front page of your Google Sites page by default. This means every time you change anything Google Sites makes a record of what you did and when you did it and then tells everyone. This wouldn't be a problem if Google kept this information private, so that only you could view the revision log, this the normal thing for content management systems to do; I have no idea why Google Sites chose to share this information by default. This strikes me as a major drawback for a foundation website.
Your choice of what website your foundation “wears” will depend on many factors. Very small foundations might do well to use a one-size-fits-all type system, like the ones mentioned at the beginning of this article. Remember that most free website hosts and blog-sites make their money via targeted advertising, so expect to see little advertisements alongside your mission statement and trustee profiles, etc. Don't expect these sites to support an on-line application process, or support your work-flow. The best you can hope for is that the free website will stay out of your way and not look tacky. You get what you pay for.
If you want the comfort of modern web-authoring tools, in a professional website which conveys the value and impact of your philanthropic work, then it's probably time your foundation invested in a better website. I'm Noah Kleiman, Nonprofit Ambassador for OpenSourcery; contact me for a fitting.