Only a few nonprofits had websites before the late 1990s. Those that did were pioneers, hiring “webmasters” to build and maintain them, often using early code bases and proprietary software. Boy, have things changed! Or have they?
Many people in an organization should meaningfully contribute to making an organization’s website clear, helpful, and useful. Programs staff and fundraisers need the site to be relevant and help advance their department’s goals– at a minimum. But who is actually responsible for the website on a day-to-day basis is still a point of discussion — maybe even tension — in some nonprofits. This article explores the teams that are most likely to be responsible for a nonprofit’s website and some of the inherent opportunities and challenges that come with each option.
If your organization has an annual operating budget that’s greater than a million dollars and less than 10 million dollars, odds are good you’ve got up to five people with “communications” or “marketing” job titles, and these people are responsible for all things website. That means they oversee any big builds or special projects, produce and update all content, and more.
Communications people understand an organization’s overarching goals and objectives and are beautifully positioned to bring those ideas to life online. They are also likely to be excellent at producing content that’s strategically aligned for your organization. Communications people sometimes struggle, however, with the technical side of website maintenance and management. Learning the ins and outs of website accessibility, software plug-ins, security, and privacy, for instance, is often on their wish-list, but not necessarily something they realistically have time to tackle. Partnering your communications team with a top-tier partner who can help support your website technically (yes! Like Advomatic!) can help fill that gap and allow them to focus on what they do best — communicating on your organization’s behalf.
Working in a very large nonprofit organization? Odds are good you’ve got a dedicated digital team. That team is likely to have dedicated people who are content producers, SEO experts, digital campaign managers, or possess other awesome super-powers. They are rock stars!
Digital folks are excellent at managing the website — but they can become silo’d internally and therefore lack access to decision-makers or overarching organizational goals that can be useful to help them shape their work. Be sure they are regularly briefed by communications, development, and programs team members who can give them what they need to succeed.
Fundraising, programs, and operations staff
When there’s no dedicated communications folks and/or in organizations with smaller budgets/less than 10 people on staff, odds are good that someone with other primary responsibilities also oversees the website.
A strong administrator, fundraiser, programs person, or other staff person can learn the ropes and keep things up-to-date, but they must prioritize their primary job, so the website’s management will be secondary — or an afterthought altogether. If that’s the case, this person will be likely to agree to updates their colleagues want to make with little scrutiny, time to apply strategy to the site, or to make overarching changes that address bigger needs. Set realistic expectations for how regularly updates are made, how the site’s overarching strategy and content keeps pace with the organization as it evolves, how tech issues are tackled, and scale things to be both realistic for the individual and the organization.
The IT team
Although it’s increasingly rare these days, the IT department may still have some role in your website — for instance, setting up and managing servers — or more.
If the folks on your staff are largely hardware pros responsible for keeping computers up and running in the office, they may be less likely to understand the content and communications-related goals and objectives for the website and more focused on hardware and software. Consider partnering them with someone with more communications expertise — and resist the urge to host your own website internally if you can.
Volunteers and pro bono partners are most likely to manage the website in tiny organizations where there’s no staff capacity or role at all for this work. Good news: it’s free! Bad news: it’s free! If possible, set up a back-up plan for things that may come up where you need someone to swiftly step in and fix something just in case they are unavailable or unable to do so.
Want more help thinking about how to structure your organization’s communications team for success? Our sister agency Big Duck published this handy ebook on this topic.