Your website - particularly if it is your primary means of communication - can make an enormous difference to your grants program. It can affect the quality of applications you receive, the amount of time you have to spend responding to grantseekers' queries, and the general perception of your organisation. It's not too hard to get it right.
Where do we start?
Whether you're designing a new site or revamping an existing site, the first thing you need to do is look at your audience.
- Have you received feedback from site users? Make sure you have a good understanding of what they think.
- If you haven't received feedback from site users, but you would like some, ask for it. There are free online survey tools you can use - you can link to your survey from your website, or from an email to stakeholders, or both.
- Do you have a clear picture of who your website visitors and your target audience are? You need to know who they are so you can style your site accordingly - it represents your organisation, but it needs to connect with your target audience.
- Look at other sites that cater to a similar demographic. What works well and what would you like to emulate? You don't need to limit your appraisal to other grantmakers' sites; you might get your best ideas from news and entertainment sites.
Who else do we involve?
- If you're lucky enough to be part of a big organisation with its own IT team, you will need to work closely with them.
- If you have an in-house designer, they will be invaluable too.
- If you don't have the relevant people on staff, you might need to outsource your web development.
- If you are a small operation with limited funds, you might need a do-it-yourself option such as WordPress.
What can we do to make our site great?
- Have an easy-to-see and easy-to-use index on your landing page.
- Avoid the feel of an online brochure advertising your program. Instead, aim to help visitors find what they came for. Also show them the other resources you have to offer that they may not even be aware of.
- Try to see your website as a living organism - again, it's not a brochure that you publish and let stand. It needs to be a dynamic forum for communication.
- Ensure your website is accessible to people with disabilities.
- Be prepared for your website development to be a long process, and even for it to take considerably longer than you initially anticipated. It's a big project, but in all likelihood it will be worth it in the end.
- Allow the resources to do it well.
- Respect and learn from the wisdom of others - website experts and non-experts.
- Know your purpose and your objectives well - this will help to keep you on track and get you to where you want to be.
- Be open to the possibility that everything you expect at the outset - even the language you expect to use - might be changed during the design process.
- Make sure a visitor can find what they're looking for in just one or two clicks.
- Consider using your website to maximise your organisation's transparency: list not only all of the grants you offer but also all of the grants approved, and provide an overview of income and expenditure.
- If you receive applications online, make sure your IT system is up to the strain, particularly at the time of a deadline.
- If users must register for your website, ensure the process is straightforward. The application process itself probably takes up more time than they can afford.
- Ensure help is readily available by telephone - or email at the very least - for anyone who has trouble using the site.
- Ensure that it is clear who within your organisation is responsible for the website.
- If you have a limited number of grants available, consider adding a counter to your home page that lets grantseekers know how many available grants remain.
- Ensure your site is updated regularly. A website that features outdated information is a big turn-off.
- Add a button to your site that enables users to opt in to email updates. When you update your website or add important new information, you can let stakeholders know with a quick email.