A Guide to Updating Your Nonprofit's WordPress Website

Thursday, March 11, 2021

No matter how perfect your website’s current design is, you’ll need to update it at some point in the near future. Regularly updating your nonprofit’s website is part of running a website, but sometimes nonprofits aren’t sure what they should be updating.

In addition to WordPress’s routine system updates, you should take the time for routine cleanup and content updates to ensure your website remains both relevant and secure. No matter how much your supporters believe in your mission, they need to see that your nonprofit is active before they contribute either their time or money.

For major updates or website overhauls, don’t be afraid to reach out to a nonprofit web design consultant. However, for more minor and routine changes, you could very well handle your nonprofit website maintenance yourself! To help you get started, this guide will explore three core components of updating your website:

  • Staying Active
  • Running Regular Maintenance
  • Seeking a Consultant

For each section, we’ll first go over why the step is important, then we’ll get into best practices you can apply to your own website. Have a goal in mind as you update your website—what do you want your update to achieve? These tips are structured to both suggest goals and then to give you advice on how to achieve them. Ready? Let’s dive in.

1. Staying Active

Why it Matters

An active website represents a healthy nonprofit. If you want to engage supporters, you’ll need to show them that your nonprofit is conducting engaging work. Websites that have their most recent news or blog posts dated months (or sometimes years!) back can make it look like your nonprofit is no longer operational and can cause supporters to worry their donations will not be put to good use.

Regularly adding new content, archiving old content, and removing outdated content will also reduce clutter on your website. Outdated links and information, especially, can create a confusing website that might scare away visitors who will see a lack of fresh content as a sign that your organization isn’t well maintained.

Consistent activity also shows search engines that your website is worth interacting with, causing them to rank your website higher on their search results pages. Regularly posting new, valuable content appeals to search algorithm criteria, which can then drive more organic traffic to your website over time.

Best Practices

The obvious answer to creating an active website is to regularly add new content. The obvious question, then, is what kind of content should you add to your website?

Creating valuable content that your supporters will engage with takes creativity and time that your team might not always have. Fortunately, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel by adding new pages to your website every time you want to update your content. While you should feel free to experiment, a few common methods nonprofits have adopted for showing regular activity are:

  • Keeping a blog. Blogs are your go-to place to host valuable articles, interviews, and other written content about your field. You don’t need to update your blog every day, but weekly (or even monthly) posts show your supporters that your blog is a well-maintained, consistent source of expert information.
  • Integrating social media feeds. Your website shouldn’t be your only method of online outreach, and your marketing team might find Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter’s constantly renewing feeds more freeing to add news updates to. Fortunately, you can create a newspage on your website or integrate your social media profiles directly into your website so your supporters can see your activity on other platforms.
  • Hosting virtual events. Running virtual fundraising events from your website will drive more traffic and attention towards it during the event’s run as supporters check your campaign page for updates, live-streams, and other content hosted on your event page. Consider implementing additional engagement tools like a fundraising thermometer to make your website responsive to real-time interactions.
  • Creating evergreen content. Evergreen content, by definition, does not need to be constantly updated. However, creating a series of evergreen content, such as webinars, helps your nonprofit continually engage new supporters while occasionally adding new content to the series for your current audience.

In addition to these practices, update other features of your website such as images, spotlights, and mission progress statements as new information comes in. For example, switch out the photos in your homepage’s image carousel after an event or major program completion to show your donors having fun or your volunteers in action.

2. Running Regular Maintenance

Why it Matters

If your website isn’t maintained, you’ll run into performance issues, unhygienic data, and security vulnerabilities. Poorly maintained websites can create a bad experience for users who can see performance issues such as long loading times and broken media as reasons to exit out of the page.

According to AccuData’s guide to data hygiene, 12% of your revenue can be lost due to unclean data. Unclean data can appear naturally over time from non-standardized data collection forms, entry errors, and unsynced storage systems. Common data hygiene and site organization problems such as duplicate images can lead to long load times, while the collection of unusable data can severely impact your reporting capabilities.

Worse yet, a security breach can put both your nonprofit and your donors’ information at risk. WordPress and other web building tools often create updates specifically to combat new vulnerabilities, and failing to update in a timely manner can leave your website at risk to attacks. Even if you’re able to mitigate the damage of a data breach, it’s likely you’ll lose your donors’ trust and their contributions along with it.

Best Practices

Your maintenance should be regularly conducted and always completed after a major WordPress update (which you shouldn’t wait to install!). Run through your website as if you were a user by navigating to your most important pages, testing links, interacting with content, and filling out forms. Prioritize pages such as your donation form to make sure visitors never experience interruptions with vital content.

Here’s a more thorough breakdown of elements to consider as you plan your routine maintenance:

  • Update plugins. One of the advantages of WordPress is the variety of plugins available. Like WordPress itself, you’ll also need to run updates for your plugins to fix bugs, prevent security vulnerabilities, and generally improve their usability. This guide offers more detailed information about what to look for in a plugin if you decide to outright replace one of your current ones that hasn’t been updated in a while.
  • Check images and videos. Images and videos encourage interaction and make your website seem more lively. They’re also some of your most likely suspects when it comes to long loading times or broken content. Remove duplicate images, compress or resize images that are too large, and make sure videos don’t get taken down on whatever platform they’re hosted on.
  • Update links. As you add new content to your website, change page URLs, or move content around, you’ll need to update your links so visitors don’t get redirected to a 404 Error page. Click through your most common links, and ensure internal links on your website are relative. Relative links are links that don’t contain your root URL, which your website will automatically populate when clicked on. For example, a relative link to your About Us page would be written as /about-us/. This way, if your root domain ever changes, the internal links you’ve built will remain functional.

You don’t need to be a tech expert to make sure your website is running smoothly. A basic understanding of WordPress should help you account for most errors you’ll encounter on a regular maintenance checkup. However, if you do find an issue beyond your knowledge level, reach out to a tech expert or other resource rather than risk breaking your website.

3. Seeking a Consultation

Why it Matters

Sometimes your website needs an update or overhaul that’s more time-consuming or complicated than your team can manage. For example, complete redesigns or persistent coding errors require time and energy to sort through that your team could better spend on fundraising or completing your mission.

In addition to providing assistance for complex tasks, web consultants are also an invaluable source of information and guidance. A nonprofit consultant with years of experience working with organizations similar to yours already knows the pitfalls and opportunities that await you as you update your website and can point them out to you along the way.

Best Practices

While investing in the right tech consultant is absolutely worth the cost, your nonprofit does have a limited budget and will need to make strategic business deals in order to be sustainable. Choosing the wrong consultant can set your nonprofit back both in time and money and may result in your website going in a different direction than what you envisioned. The best way to mitigate this risk is to very clearly define your needs and goals before reaching out to candidates. With a clear sense of exactly what you do and don’t need, you’ll avoid investing in services that aren’t directly related to your immediate tech concerns.

Cornershop Creative’s guide to nonprofit consultants outlines a few key points to consider and discuss with potential partners:

  • Price model. Consultants’ price models vary between flat prices, subscriptions, and hourly rates. When you approach a consultant, have your requirements outlined as specifically as possible so you can get an accurate price estimate to compare against other consulting firms’ proposals.
  • Trust. While your relationship with your consultant is a business deal, it’s also a connection that you should be able to speak openly to about challenges your nonprofit is experiencing. Reach out to nonprofits and other organizations you trust to get referrals, or make sure your potential candidates can offer full portfolios of their past projects.
  • Service standards. How does your consultant operate? Sometimes nonprofits feel like their consultants just stop staying in contact after a while, but that might be due to a misunderstanding of expectations and communication styles. Ask questions to gain a full picture of what you can expect from your relationship and look critically at your nonprofit’s need to assess whether it makes sense for your organization. Consultants who prioritize long-term support and partnerships will generally be the best choice.

Before approaching a consultant, be sure to know what you want your consultant to work on and what your budget for their services is. Your plans may change as you investigate your problems, but coming into a consultation meeting with a limited understanding of your own needs won’t be very helpful for either you or your consulting firm.

WordPress is a popular choice for nonprofits for a reason. Its ease-of-use and customizability allow nonprofits to build creative, well-designed websites. However, your website needs regular maintenance to succeed, so don’t let updates fall by the wayside.

As you update your nonprofit’s website, keep in mind what you want your website to accomplish. Along with being one of your most useful tools for providing information and engaging supporters, your website represents your nonprofit. Branding, design choices, and making sure you’re presenting a healthy, functional website will encourage further supporter interaction and financial support. Supporters will feel safe donating, will check back regularly to read updates on your mission, and will enjoy the high quality content they know they can expect from your website.

Author: Ira Horowitz

With 15 years’ experience, Ira is an expert in nonprofit online communications and online fundraising. His work has resulted in increased funds and resounding supporter engagement for hundreds of organizations.