Monday, January 25, 2010

Web Strategy for a Small Nonprofit - Lighten the Load

As a member of the board for a small nonprofit theatre company, one of my challenges is to help the organization connect with - and win support from - its surrounding community.

We operate out of a 96-year-old building, known as Town Hall, which has a rich history in the area. Tons of people drive by it every day. It's even by a stoplight.

That said, it can be a challenge, even in a relatively small town, to really reach people. Sure, there's the cross-section of folks who are always involved, who bring their kids to classes, and who attend shows, but to many many people, there's this historic building on the corner and some stuff happens there but we're not sure what that is.

So what we need is a way of communicating that opens that building up for all to see, and makes them feel welcome. That's where the Web comes in.

There is really nothing more sad than a website for a nonprofit that clearly hasn't been updated for months or even years. I always feel bad when I see that - I figure there's no one to do the updates, or maybe the organization has gone dormant for some reason. Needless to say, this does not help to win supporters, donors or sponsors.

So, we knew we needed to make the Town Hall Web presence vibrant, to show an active company with lots to offer. And when you are a theatre, there is always some upcoming event, something to announce, tickets going up for sale, shows ending and needing to be taken down. It's a really fast cycle.

Sometimes I will hear people say, "We just don't have anyone to build us a site, and we can't afford to hire someone to do it." There's this barrier, which is getting the site built and edited, that stands in the way.

So here's what we did, and maybe it can work for you too: We converted our whole site to a blog.

What did that do for us? Well first, it removed the "website development" process. Our staff can now edit the site on a dime, and all we need to do is make sure that it stays tidy and is written well. There is no middle step between needing to publish something and publishing it, and there are no technical skills involved in getting content up there.

This has had the effect of letting us not only be much more current, but it has also enabled the staff to work together to make the face that the theatre puts out into the community. That ownership is priceless.

One neat tip: In order to maintain the latest and greatest news on our home page, we have one post that always has the most recent date on it. That one has all the "Today at Town Hall" news on it, and it's the first thing you see. So if we make a new post, that has a more recent date/time, we just go back in when we're done and set that "Today at" post to the most recent date and time. That way it pops back onto the home page. So just because it's a blog does not mean you have to lose control of your home page.

We then put all of our information about our staff, board, how to donate, tickets, map, etc. down the side so it's always there.

In this day and age, with all the tools out there, if you've got something you want to say on the Web, and you aren't saying it, it's because you're not using the right tools. In our case, as a small nonprofit, we decided it was much more important to be active and up to date than it was to have some big Flash site or other technically-complex solution. Especially since now, when the phone rings, the staff can point people to up-to-date information on the site and mean it.

If you're operating on low-to-no budget, and you want those who are creating the content to have control of what gets published, a blog-based site might be right for you too. I'm now thrilled when I see new things going up there, and it happens almost daily. If you'd like, you can see it here.

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