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Developing a website content strategy for a new nonprofit site: elements to include

Developing a website content strategy for a new nonprofit site

Are you planning a new website for your nonprofit? How do you make the right website content decisions? You start with a website content strategy.

As you plan your website, you need to make decisions about what content is most important, what you need to develop and what you can reuse or repurpose. To plan properly, you need to develop a website content strategy first or at the very earliest stages of your website development project.

But website content – like so many other types of content – tends to get considered at the very last minute. After decisions have already been made about navigation and site structure. After a design has been approved. Often, after the entire site has been built and is in the final stages of testing and tweaking.

Leaving content until last is backward – and that’s not just my opinion as a writer. To get a better explanation of why your developer wants you to create a content strategy for your website, I asked Mike Mella of Be Like Water to weigh in on this topic:

“As a Web designer, I’ve always said that a website’s content is the thing that gets designed. Receiving a content strategy from a client at the outset of the project helps to drive not only the design of a website, but also its development. Having predetermined key audiences, messages, and brand personality for the organization adds focus to the design of a site. It helps the designer to establish a visual hierarchy for elements on the screen, which will improve the user experience.

And the organization’s primary objectives and priority content for the site can drive the site’s development by helping to determine how content should be organized in the back-end, making it easier to manage your website. If I know that objectives A, B, and C are a priority for your nonprofit, I can arrange the administrative part of your site so that the areas that reflect those priorities are front-and-centre for you.”

A website’s content is the thing that gets designed #nonprofit #websites #contentstrategy #NPMC Click To Tweet

Convinced? Ready to get started?

Here are the elements to include in your nonprofit’s website content strategy

1. Your website’s purpose

You should have more specific communications objectives than “we need a new site.” What is it you want your new website to achieve?

Since your website exists to advance your organization toward achieving your vision and mission, you need to connect it back to specific organizational goals. Find those broader strategic goals in your nonprofit’s strategic plan.

Then, articulate the communications objectives you intend to accomplish through your website content. Examples might include building your community of new and potential supporters (in the form of blog readers and email subscribers) or raising the profile of specific programs and increasing registration rates.

When you’ve defined what success will look like for your site, you’ll  have parameters for what you need your content to achieve – the types of content you need and how each piece can support your objectives.


From Mike:

“The question of what you want to achieve should be answered not only for the site as a whole, but for each site section. I believe that every page in a site should have a defined call-to-action; something you want the visitor to do there. With this information, your developer can visualize the visitor’s experience as he/she navigates the site.”

Define success for your nonprofit's new website: know what your content needs to achieve Click To Tweet

2. Your priority audiences

You shouldn’t be making any content decisions until you’ve identified your priority audiences (yes, you’ll need to ditch the “general public” and narrow this down). The number of audiences you prioritize depends on the size, scope, and complexity of your organization, but try to narrow this down as much as you can. Be honest with yourself about which relationships you will and won’t facilitate and strengthen through your site.

Then, create marketing personas for each audience. Spend time developing and thinking about your audience to understand their motivations and priorities:

Why are they visiting? What are their information wants and needs? What questions are they trying to answer and what tasks do they want to perform? To give them what they want, you have to get to know them. And all of this work increases the likelihood that you’ll create content they’ll actually read and act upon.

  • Why are they visiting?
  • What are their information wants and needs?
  • What questions are they trying to answer?
  • What tasks do they want to perform? 

To give visitors what they want, you have to get to know them. Doing this work increases the likelihood that you’ll create content they’ll actually read and act upon.

Also important: when you’re clear and specific about your audiences, you’ll avoid the mistake of being too inwardly-focussed when making website decisions. You need to have your ideal visitors – not your board, senior management team or colleagues – at the forefront of all of your website decisions.


From Mike:

“Creating personas for your audiences puts you and your developer on the same page as far as knowing how to present your website’s content. Everyone has the same clear examples of what your target audiences look like. Visualizing this helps your developer to present navigation or content in a way that’s appropriate for each visitor’s journey through the site.”


3. Voice and tone

What will the voice and tone of your website copy be? Conversational copy works well for the web in general, and you should write in a way that reflects your organization’s specific brand personality.

In her article on the Neilson Norman group blog, The four dimensions of tone of voice, Kate Meyer states: “Tone of voice is the way we tell our users how we feel about our message, and it will influence how they’ll feel about our message, too.” Funny vs. serious? Formal vs. casual? Respectful vs. irreverent? Enthusiastic vs. matter-of-fact? Have a look at Meyer’s framework of four dimensions that you can use to analyze or plan your site’s tone of voice (she even includes examples illustrating how these dimensions can be applied to website copy.)


From Mike:

“Voice and tone can affect everything from font selection to colour scheme. What works for one organization may not work for another. This can be particularly important for micro-copy: the small (and often overlooked!) messages that assist the visitor while engaging with the site, like the thank you message displayed after submitting a contact form. Some websites have a more serious tone than others, and it’s important to consider this when crafting those messages.”

Voice and tone can affect everything from font selection to colour scheme. #webcontent #nonprofit Click To Tweet

4. Website key messages

You’re probably used to articulating key messages for your communications campaigns. Take the time to articulate a few website key messages for each of the audiences you have identified.

Answer this: if your website was a person speaking to a member of your priority audience, what would you want it to say? Keep it simple: write down a sentence or two for each audience.


From Mike:

“Articulating website key messages is a valuable exercise. Often we get caught up in the technical aspects of creating a website. Seeing your site as a person helps everyone involved in the project to remember its purpose: to deliver your message to real people.”


5. Desired actions/outcomes

Thinking about each audience, one at a time, consider: what actions do you want visitors to take on your site? Decide what truly matters – which actions will support your objectives. You can use these decisions to include calls to action throughout your website copy and in your microcopy.


From Mike:

“Some people think Web design is a form of art, but it’s really about problem solving. Every website should have an objective, and that should break down into smaller objectives per-section or even per-page.

Presenting your website to your visitors is not your goal; once a visitor arrives, your website’s job has only just begun. Make your website work for you. Decide what you want the visitor to do on every page. If a client gives me a plan that includes desired actions site-wide, I’ll have a head start at deciding how much visual weight to give each element. I can also plan to build in functionality that prompts the visitor to complete those actions, and allows them to do so easily.”


6. Priority topics/content

With the work you’ve done so far, you’ll be able to make smart decisions about the content you need: the priority topics or content “buckets” you’ll need to feature on your new site.

What topics related to your cause or issue do you need to feature? What content do you need to create to explain your organization, the work you do and programs and services you offer? To explain how people can support that work and get involved? What do you need to write about your people, partners and other supporters? What else?

Make a plan for the main content you’ll produce, revise and repurpose, as well as the new and ongoing content you’ll need to produce, such as updates and blog posts.


From Mike:

“I often say there’s no such thing as a small website, because the nature of a website is to grow. Establishing priority topics helps you and your Web developer to see the “big picture” of how your site will grow over time, where it’s headed, and what’s needed to get it there.”


How do you develop a website content strategy?

A strong website content strategy is built on research and consultation, both internal and external. Here are a few top-level steps:

  • Start with a content audit, so you know what content you already have.
  • Consult your organization’s strategic plan and have one-on-one conversations with internal stakeholders.
  • Review any available, relevant data you have such as website and email analytics, reader surveys and program evaluations.
  • Research your site visitors, creating the marketing personas I mentioned above. And if at all possible, have one-on-one conversations with people who are members of your ideal visitor groups.

Next step: create your detailed content plan

Once you’ve identified priority topics, you can use your content strategy to create a detailed content plan (which can be a document, a table or a spreadsheet). In your plan, you’ll identify each topic or content category, the content you need for each, its purpose and the user needs it meets.

Make realistic plans based on the time and resources you have available. Prioritize strategic, useful, and relevant content over “wish list items” – you can always build on your strong foundation of priority content later. You can get as detailed as you need to with this plan, adding timelines, responsibilities, approvals and any other details you need so you can get it ready long before the launch of your new site!

Will you put content first? Will you start with a website content strategy?

Don’t make the mistake of leaving content to the end of your website project. Instead, put content first and start with a content strategy; your researching and planning will help you to achieve your website goals. You’ll have a written guide for the content you develop now and in the future – a guide that you can share with others who create content for you. You’ll create a website that connects your purpose and content with users and their needs.

Need my help with website content strategy?

If you’re convinced of the value but know that you need help pulling it all together, check out my Nonprofit website content strategy package.

Planning a new nonprofit website? Don't make the mistake of leaving content until the end. Click To Tweet

Posted March 21, 2017 / Filed under Website content / 6 Comments
  • Awesome article, Marlene & Mike, thank you!!

  • Brian Jacobs

    Great article! We just completed our new site design and this will be a great resource for reviewing the job we did.