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Hiring a web developer: a guide for non-profits

Nonprofit organizations come with their own set of challenges. It's no different when it comes to hiring a web development firm. Recommendations below aim to make the process more streamlined and less painful. The first steps of the process is to do your own homework and get a clear sense of what you want and needs to get done.

1. Determine your goals

We are no longer living in the days where a phrase "new website" accurately describes anyone's web needs. Just like to building a new house, building a website often calls for different professionals. If you set clear goals you will always see the light at the end of the web development tunnel. Here are a few questions to get you thinking about your organization's goals.

  • Do your constituents find your site easy to navigate?
  • Do you have a clear marketing strategy for your site?
  • Are you happy with your current conversion rates?
  • Does your site provide desired level of engagement?

2. Determine your needs

After you determined your vision by setting goals it's time to look at what you organization really needs. The following list of questions should help you start to identify your organization's web needs. I would recommend that the needs are also prioritized, it's a good way to communicate importance of tasks to the web development firm and can come in handy if the project scope needs to be modified.

  • Do your constituents & internal stakeholders happy with the graphic design of the site?
  • How does your website look on mobile devices?
  • Are you happy with how your site shows up in search results & in social media?
  • Do the current web technologies meet your organization's needs?

3. Determine your limitations

What you don't know might hurt you. However, admitting that you don't know what you don't know is not a fault. Knowing your organization's strengths and weaknesses enables you to find the right people to hire. Here's a list of questions that help you figure out what limitations your organization might have.

  • Do you have a web/technology team?
  • Do you have a strategy/marketing team?
  • Do you have a graphic design team?
  • Can any one of the teams execute any part of the project independently?
  • Which one of the teams can use help?

4. Set realistic budget

image source: wikimedia

Many non-profits have very tight web budget, but it should still be realistic. Don't hire a web developer based on low price or low hourly rate. Low hourly rate does not mean the total price will be low, often low rate means much longer hours and bigger final price tag. It can also mean longer project timeline and/or lesser quality. All projects are subject to the triple constraint, demonstrated with picture & summarized as:

  • Fast + Good = Not Cheap
  • Good + Cheap = Not Fast
  • Fast + Cheap = Not Good

Your organization has to determine what are its true two priorities and choose them. If the firm you like is expensive, but competent, consider revising either the budget, requirements or doing project in stages. Hiring professionals who really know their craft will always be a good investment and save you a lot of headache, time and money in the long run.

5. Look at company's website

In today's day website is a face of any company, more so for the company that makes websites. Look at the websites of the firms you are considering. You don't necessarily have to be in love with the website. Check and make sure it is professional, easy to navigate and communicates clearly what the company does. If a website is still fully coded in Flash, it might be wise to hire someone else.

6. Look at company's portfolio

Looking at each candidates' portfolio will help you get a better sense of what each company can do for you. Evaluate the graphic aspect of each site, but more importantly pay attention to the functionality of sites included in portfolio. Is each site easy to navigate? Does it display "Donate" link prominently? Is there any broken functionality on the site? Take that with a grain of salt also, as it's always the owner not the developer who has a final say in the site.

7. Ask for a quote or send a Project Requirements Document

Once you have done your homework it's time to start shopping around. A good way to start a conversation with a web development firm is to ask for a quote or by sending a project requirements document (PRD). If you are sending a PRD, make sure it includes your goals and needs from step 1 and 2. Take your time and evaluate the responses that you get from the company. Does the proposed solution actually address your requirements? Is it written out in a language that you can understand?

8. Ask for references

Ask for project references that you think are comparable to your organization. Spending a few minutes on a call with a former client can give you deeper insight into company's skills, customer service and culture. Here's a list of questions that might be helpful to ask in a reference interview:

  • Did the company deliver what it promised (in writing)?
  • Were interactions timely and professional? (If that is important to you)
  • Were there any delays in delivery timeline that was not based on your organization's delay?
  • Were there any revisions in the project?
  • How did the company handle those revisions?

9. Pick for aptitude in the field as well as skill sets.

Much of the CRM software that non-profits use, like the Salsa Platform or Luminate Online are full of complexity. Be sure that web developers you choose know and understand you software niche. A good web developers for non-profits know their web basics , but are also savvy in one or more non-profit CRM software suites. Keep in mind that it’s not always easy to find someone who knows your specific software suite. Look for someone who has a knowledge of similar software. For example a person with extensive experience in Luminate Online or Salsa is likely to be able to figure out Engaging Networks or Bloomerang fairly quickly. Have additional pointers? Put them in the comment section

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