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Foundation Operations: Communications-> Web Sites

Creating Web Sites That Further the Work of Foundations

Foundation Web sites serve many purposes, from static sites with basic information to highly interactive sites supporting a variety of user interests. As funders strive to leverage their grantmaking, support learning, and keep pace with Internet technology, foundation Web sites should be periodically evaluated for their ability to strategically further the work of the organization.

Grantmakers may want to consider updating their Web sites if:

  • staff are having difficulty updating and maintaining the current site;
  • the foundation has started a new initiative or wants to respond to a crisis, but cannot add any new content areas to the site;
  • you want to better promote grantees and their work but are unable to do so with the existing site;
  • users are directed to something on the site but can't find the item; or
  • you see great features on other Web sites, but your Web administrator tells you that it will not work on your site.


If you decide that your foundation’s Web site needs to be redesigned, start by looking at the foundation’s mission with the communications and management teams and determine how a Web site can help with that purpose. All of the foundation’s staff can then be surveyed to find out what they want in a new site that isn’t available on the existing one – capabilities, features, interactive tools, etc. What would make it easier for them to communicate with their grantees and foundation partners? Also, consider doing a survey of your grantees to find out what they feel would be helpful to have on your new site. Review other foundations' Web sites to see what you like about them. Meet with colleagues in other foundations to see how they are using their sites and what updates they have planned.

Some possible features include:

  • on-line application for funding;
  • searchable grants database;
  • discussion forum for visitors;
  • streaming video, blogs, podcasts;
  • photo galleries highlighting the work of grantees;
  • interactive timelines showing the history of the foundation;
  • searchable resource libraries; and
  • interactive calendar of events.


In redesigning a Web site, there are myriad steps, and the process can become frustratingly drawn out. Here are some important steps to keep in mind:

  • Review and update all of the copy on your existing site. You’ll want all the copy at the launch to accurately reflect the work of your foundation, and some of the existing copy may be out of date. This step requires the help and participation of the entire staff.
  • Refine the staffs’ Web site wish list to be in line with the project budget. Keep track of anything that falls off the list due to budgetary reasons and try to budget for those features in the future, ensuring that the site remains current.
  • Determine how the site is going to be updated and maintained - do you want to hire a webmaster?
  • Send out a request for proposals to Web design firms and have firms show what it would cost to do all of the items on the wish list.
  • Designate one staff member to oversee the project. Commit to completing the work in a specific time period.
  • Test every part of the new site carefully and roll it out to staff to get their input and make necessary changes before signing off on the redesign.
  • Once the site is publicly launched, keep a list of comments, suggestions, and ideas for future refinements.
  • Regularly review your site to see which pages are most visited, which files are downloaded, how users enter and leave the site, etc. Make any necessary adjustments.

 As you design a new site, consider the following questions:

  • Can the site be easily managed and updated by the foundation? Is it flexible enough for your needs – can you easily add pages, text, or photos whenever needed?
  • Is the navigation simple and user-friendly?
  • Does the homepage provide a clear picture of the foundation and an obvious path for more information? Are users drawn into other sections of the site?
  • Will your home page contain a section that can act as a “crisis communication” area or as a bulletin board for featured events?
  • Does the site allow for foundation transparency? Is it easy to find and contact the appropriate staff member through the site? Are your foundation’s financial statements available?
  • Can the pages be easily printed by users?
  • Does the site contain a resource library where users can download items of interest? Is it easily searchable?

  

Resources

Boron, Carrie, “Thinking about redesigning your organization’s web site? Read this first” Communications Network, www.comnetwork.org/downloads/Tips%20on%20Website%20Redesign.pdf

Benton Foundation, Strategic Communications in the Digital Age (Washington, DC: 2001). The Benton Foundation’s capacity building project documented best practices and lessons learned by nonprofit organizations about the impact, successes, failures, and struggles in using strategic communications. This toolkit catalogues valuable lessons and models for peer learning and reference purposes. Available at www.benton.org/publibrary/toolkits/stratcommtool.html

The California Wellness Foundation, Reflections: On Communications Strategies That Accent Grantees (Woodland Hills, CA: February 2003). This issue of Reflections shares what the foundation has learned about communicating its mission and tailoring messages to reach specific audiences through the use of compelling stories.

The Foundation Center, Communications for Social Good (New York, NY: 2004). This publication examines foundation opportunities and techniques to leverage social change goals through the use of communications media. Available at http://foundationcenter.org/gainknowledge/research/pdf/practicematters_08_execsum.pdf 

Goodman, Andrew, Storytelling as Best Practice (Los Angeles, CA: 2004). Written expressly for public interest communicators, this booklet includes articles on why stories are your most powerful tool, seven questions that can turn you into a better storyteller, how to build and use a story bank, why story memos make program officers better communicators, and how stories can make you a more effective presenter. Available at http://www.agoodmanonline.com/publications/storytelling/index.html

Huang, Judy, Foundation Communications: The Grantee Perspective (Cambridge, MA: The Center for Effective Philanthropy, 2006). This report is the first in a series of issue papers designed to provide practical and actionable research on communicating effectively with grantees. It examines how, by clearly communicating goals and strategies, a foundation can improve its chance of achieving its desired effect.

Interactive Applications Group, Foundations for Success: Emerging Trends in Grantmakers’ Use of the Internet (Washington, DC: 2004). This guide focuses on four major trends in grantmakers’ use of the Internet.

Technology Affinity Group, “Web Site Survey,” 2006. This survey looks at the structure, design, and maintenance of foundation Web sites.

 

 

 

 

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