Challenge, Meet Solution
Jackie King is the Executive Director of Ramona’s Way, a non-profit based in Washington, D.C. that provides services for women who are survivors of emotional and physical abuse. Without a doubt, the mission that Jackie and thousands of other non-profits like hers stand for is a noble one. There was just one problem: her organization’s website. “When people were going [to the website],” Jackie explained, “it was so old, they would think that we were out of business. That was one of the reasons why we needed a new website.”
Although the challenge of standing out from thousands similar to you is felt by all kinds of organizations, non-profits have a unique set of difficulties. While larger companies can afford the resources and time to invest in intensive website overhauls, small staffs and limited budgets pose as common barriers to non-profits.
“There are thousands of non-profits and thousands of non-profit websites,” Dan Caporale, Executive Director of Hire Our Heroes told me, “and you can tell the ones that show there’s something actually standing behind the organization.” Unfortunately, Hire Our Heroes’s previous website was not one of them and Dan knew it: “I started reaching out to developers seeing if they supported non-profits, and most of them said, ‘No.’” After several tries, Dan had a breakthrough when one digital agency referred him to GiveBack DC. “I was excited to get engaged and couldn’t have been engaged with a better group.”
When WDG launched GiveBack DC in 2012, our social responsibility was focused on those praiseworthy non-profits like Jackie’s whose mission was there, but lacked strong brand presence because of outdated websites. The brainchild of our developer, Grant, GiveBack DC was created to give back using our skills in design and development. Two years and over $300,000 worth in pro bono services later, GiveBack DC and WDG have continued to help strengthen the non-profit community.
Let’s Get to Work
When Corrine Cannon, Founder and Executive Director at the DC Diaper Bank, was informed that her organization was one of the chosen non-profits, she felt more excited than nervous about the redesign process: “We’d seen what WDG had done and we had a good sense of what you were capable of.” And with a difficult to navigate website not designed for the way they used it, Corrine knew that “whether it was an overhaul or a quick redo, it was going to be better than what we had.”
The design and development process starts weeks before with an initial discovery phase, where WDG sits down with the non-profit and identifies its goals for the new website. This initiative is not about building beautiful websites without considering the non-profit’s challenges, and discovery allows the designers and developers to create a functional, and visually appealing, website to help the non-profit grow its online presence.
Transparency and open communication are essential elements of this process, and previous non-profits have felt confident that their unique needs were being addressed. As Jackie elaborated, “When I had complications, they were willing to go back, tweak it, and present it to me so that I was comfortable with what the final result was.”
The Final Solution
Almost a year after GiveBack DC 2013, the non-profits’s websites are up, running, and working wonders for their online presence and branding. The new websites have helped support these organizations’s missions, affirming to themselves and demonstrating to others the importance of the causes they serve. Corrine told me that GiveBack DC “took us a hundred miles forward. We’ve got an incredible mission, we’re working with amazing partners, and absolutely incredible volunteers. The redo that was done created this amazing presence and really changed how people perceived us and what they assumed we could do.”
Dan, in the same token, expressed that their refreshed website helped put them on the map: “I continually get compliments [on the site]. Every time someone comes across our website, the first thing they say is, ‘Hey, I’ve been to your website. Outstanding job.’ I don’t think we would be as successful as we are today without our website.”
Non-profits looking to invest in updated websites should keep a few things in mind. As Deirdre Bagley, Executive Director of Mentors, Inc., advised, non-profits should “expect to devote that time and be intentional about moving through the process.” The process, in its entirety, can take a lot of time and resources, and should not be an afterthought. “We had to put other work aside and jump into it,” Deirdre said. “We knew it would be time-consuming, but we had complete confidence in the team that was working with us. They really cared for what we do, and that was meaningful.”