part 3 | the volunteer nonprofit
You can’t just hit the update button without knowing who/what you are.
That fact will inevitably announce itself during a site redesign.
I became part of the web update team for a writers’ organization when I joined the board last summer. The group has existed for 50 years, but recently struggled with keeping board seats filled and finding a contemporary purpose that resonates with younger people.
The website shown below dates only to 2009 or 2010 and replaced an earlier version with no CSS. The 2009 redo looked fine at the time. Not exciting, but serviceable. Created on an early CMS program that did not get updated, the site quickly became unmanageable. Only one person had access, and posting was difficult to accomplish. Content frames are set at laptop proportions. The CMS didn’t anticipate changing devices, mobile or big screen, and no one in the all-volunteer group had been able to update the backend.
Although intended for a small organization with one annual event, the main page template didn’t extend below the fold, causing the site to fracture into nearly a hundred pages, as each update necessitated the creation of (a) new page(s), rather than adding to a previous one. By necessity, the menus resembled grocery lists–some short, some long–to try to accommodate these expanding number of pages and general categories they belonged to. In the end, the volunteer maintaining the site posted most updates via pdf, in order to minimize the difficulties.
WordPress seemed like an obvious solution to these problems, and another new board member had a recently launched personal website, whose designer-developer, a writer like the rest of us, offered to give the nonprofit a break on rates, as long as he didn’t need to sit through multi-person meetings or create content.
We made fast progress on creating goals that responded to the obvious issues: redesigning the site’s information architecture–gluing all the little bits into something recognizable and usable, making the site responsive, and tracking down images that would transfer to WordPress from a program that had ground visual content down to single kilobytes whenever possible.
But fundamental issues remain, right up to the review of the redesigned site we are starting to share with the board. Questions of the WordPress aesthetic with its full-width photos and footer widgets and sizing of photos on tablets, as well as Wordpress functionality — for example, understanding the drop-down menu and the fact that what drops down are child, not top level elements, and user interface–scrolling as opposed to clicking as not only acceptable but desirable. Where will the menu be located? Why isn’t there a fixed nav-bar? Shouldn’t the sidebar have a different color? What’s all the extra white space for?
And behind all of the questions of what the new site looks like remain deeper, deferred questions about who this organization wants to become, who it wants to serve, and how it will continue to exist if it doesn’t reach out beyond its roots in the 1960s and a membership that mostly came of age during that decade.