Keeping Non-Profit Websites Beautiful

non-profitMaking a tough job easier with updated Content Management Systems

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. I’m not sure how to tweak this old saw to make it express the importance of replacing outmoded Content Management Systems for Non-Profits with Web 2.0 solutions…but the analogy is there. To use another slightly cheesy metaphor: if your non-profit is still fiddling around with graphics and updates on a static HTML or ‘brochure-style’ site, you may be polishing the brass on the Titanic. That ship has sailed.

The economic downturn and the slow crawl to recovery has been a galvanizing and sometimes frightening time for most of the Non-Profits that I’ve talked to in the past few years. Private contributions tend to decrease as personal incomes take a hit, government funding gets cut, and endowments get soaked as the market jackknifes. On the other hand, downturns can concentrate talent, passion and commitment just as they tend to force innovation.

During this last downturn there has been a kind of revolution in Content Management Systems that has been especially critical for Non-Profits and small businesses. This shift in the way that websites are managed has been about putting the power to control a company’s web-presence into the hands of ‘normal’ managers and employees—not just tech-guys and web-contractors.

As envelope-stuffing and e-mail blasts become less effective as stand-alone strategies for Non-Profits to solicit contributions, search engine optimization and fluid, easy-to-use, easy-to-update websites become more important.

Updates to CMS on non-profit websites can also dramatically change daily operations , transforming daily struggles into smooth, almost automated side-work. One non-profit told us that we’d shaved off half of the hours previously required to manage their volunteer registration and reduced in half the number of phone-calls and e-mails that they received about their recycling program. Nora Spitznogle, the Director of Operations at Second Helpings, confessed that at the start of the project she, “couldn’t tell the difference between a wire-frame and a wire-hanger,” but she explains that Smallbox took the time to make sure that she was comfortable with the process. By the end of the project, her ability to manage and update the Second Helpings site had definitely been ‘revolutionized.’

How does this CMS transformation work in laymen’s terms?
Try to imagine the difference between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ models of page and content organization and being like the difference between a collection of numerous Microsoft Word Documents and a single Microsoft Excel Document. If minor thematic or informational changes need to be made in your collection of Microsoft Word documents, you’ll need to change them one by one. You might have to hire a guy to do this. Either that, or you’re likely facing an organizational nightmare that’s going to suck hours out of your work week and take a toll on your psychic-energy and morale. If you change one cell in an Excel document, on the other hand, the corresponding changes that need to be made happen automatically. By rough analogy, this is kind of the way that Web 2.0 works for you.

At our web-design business we have to wake up and go to work in the community every day just like everyone else. Non-profits are an important part of the culture and quality of life in the community that we belong to. Part of our job as web-designers is to help you make it easier to make life a little better. A new CMS for your website is likely to be a part of that process as our century speeds up.

Thomas Swanson is the Content-Manager & SEO Consultant at SmallBox Web Design , an Indianapolis-based, full-service web design, marketing and SEO firm. Founded in 2006, SmallBox has worked with more than 175 clients. Our passion is building and marketing Websites that are easy to find in search engines, easy to use and easy to update.