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  Building a Web Site Potpourri

Canadian FundRaiserBUILDING A WEB SITE
Start with the basics, take it in stages, work up to the complex

Development of a web site is a logical process, which should work through from such basic questions as who’s in charge/who’s paying/what is the nature of the audience/how do we attract the audience to the site, to complex questions of adding some of the "tomorrow" elements of technology ... after all the ducks are neatly in their row.

So says Marden Paul, Director of Strategic Computing, Office of the Vice-President and Provost, University of Toronto. And he should know, being in charge of one of the web’s more interesting and complex sites, which recently had a makeover.

Speaking to Fundraising Day of the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Paul notes that having got the who-are-we and who-are-we-talking-to questions out of the way, the next step is to develop a set of principles to guide the design and architecture of the site – how its information is to be organized and what information is to be included/excluded.

The template can be set up with wire frames, he says. One possible software for this chore is MindJet. Having set up a simple wire frame with a page per block, each with its title and purpose, the webmaster can add content without layout or colours to validate the text is in the right place, then add layout placeholders.

Intuitive navigation

Navigation through the site, and its menus, should be consistent and intuitive, he notes. There should be “bread crumb trails” to guide the user through, and the site should work for people with disabilities.

There should be a style guide to control the content and tone, especially if more than one person is inputting material.

It is important to have a realistic timeline which in effect creates a deadline for the site’s launch, to reduce “scope creep” and minimize tangential behaviors, says Paul. The site doesn’t have to be in its final form for a launch; use of the “Agile” concept will enable it to be flexibly managed and take in additional components at later dates.

Those involved should list and achieve the outcomes in phases, making Phase 1 highly achievable, “or you’ll never get to Phase 2”.

It’s a good idea to have a preview mode, where the site is posted somewhere other than its final location, and perhaps its pages are printed out on paper and hung around appropriate walls, so all stakeholders can be asked to comment on the content and structure before it is finally launched. Focus groups and usability studies are useful here, too.

Nail down infrastructure issues

The infrastructure has to be nailed down before the site goes live, he says. If the site is being hosted by an outside vendor, such issues as security and defence, and speed of getting back online in case of its going down must be reviewed and satisfactorily determined.

The conversation should include concerns about backup and recovery, mirroring, equipment purchase and maintenance, and software patching and upgrades.

The simple “good old days” when activity on the web involved some files being passed through one server to the world at large are gone, he says. The simplest web presence now involves complex systems of data storage, database servers, web servers, and load balancers before the message gets out, and the price which might once have been about $5,000 is more likely now to run in the $200,000 area.

“It just begins when the site goes live,” notes Paul. Getting the technology right is just the first step. From then on, it is important to make sure the content is constantly updated.

There should be people other than the webmaster who are responsible for updating and adding content, probably using software which makes the translation to HTML simple and seamless. The organization should have page review and archive dates and set refresh periods when out-of-date material is thrown out.

There are many content management systems which can help in this process, simplifying the bottlenecks and reducing the level of technical skill required of people dealing with the site.

Governance, good practices

Governance and good practices are important in managing a web site, says Paul. There should be a steering committee to review issues as they arise, with a decision-making process which is transparent and written down.

The principles document should be on-hand and adhered to, the site architecture/rationale should be documented, there should be emergency communications procedures, and there must be a site continuity plan which involves maintaining duplicate files elsewhere in case of disaster.

Finally, the decisions should be made on what to monitor on the site and how to measure hits. Again, there are many tools available for this task, including WebTrends and Google Analytics.

Having done all the right things, designed and developed a good working web site which puts the organization’s chosen messages and information across, is user-friendly and possibly interactive, the organization can start looking at the “future is now” tools, he says.

Web 2.0 is more interactive, lets users change things and get involved in sites, he says. It includes such developments as wikis, blogs and vlogs; AJAX; service-oriented architecture; Really Simple Syndication (RSS); content management; podcasts and vodcasts (you can Google them).

For further information: Marden Paul, University of Toronto, 416/946-0440, [email protected].

Canadian FundRaiser
Canadian FundRaiserSince 1991, the Canadian FundRaiser™ newsletter has been updating nonprofit managers twice-monthly on news, trends, tips and analysis of developments in the fields of fundraising and nonprofit management.

Our service, originally simply a twice-monthly newsletter, has expanded over the years to include workshops, books, back-issue search and Special Advisories for our member/subscribers. And the complete package is now the Canadian FundRaiser™ Nonprofit Sector Management Information Service.

Current Members can search back issues here, renew their Membership, or correct their address information in our secure files.

Through the generous support of a number of Supporting Sponsors, at the head of them our Lead Sponsor, UNxVision Internet Fundraising Solutions, we have avoided price increases for many years, and been able to provide some services at no cost.

Please take a look at the current issue of Canadian FundRaiser™ eNews, and if you haven’t done so already, sign up ­ at no cost ­ to receive future issues. Visit our Key-To-The-Sector Workshop Centre. Ask about Advertising & Sponsorship opportunities. Or send us an article suggestion. We’re waiting to hear from you.

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