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3 Tips to Assessing Your Nonprofit's Digital Infrastructure

Posted May 27, 2021 04:29 PM
Your nonprofit’s website is one of your most valuable tools for interacting with supporters and spreading the word about your organization. However, your website is more than a collection of text blocks and images! Proper website management requires more than updating old information; it necessitates taking a look at and improving your digital infrastructure as a whole.

What is digital infrastructure? Consider not just the content on your website, but the software that allows you to create, post, and share that content. For example, if your website has a donation page (and it should!), the payment processor that allowed you to create your donation portal and collect donations is part of your digital infrastructure. This is also often referred to as your “tech stack.”

Digital infrastructure is rarely top of mind for most busy nonprofits, but failing to properly maintain it can lead to unclean data, scalability issues, and other problems down the line. To help your nonprofit assess key aspects of its digital infrastructure, this article will explore how you can:

  • Connect your website to other engagement platforms.
  • Examine your plugins.
  • Integrate your software.

Our guest contributor, Cornershop Creative, have served thousands of nonprofits through their nonprofit website maintenance services. Some aspects of digital infrastructure require more technological knowhow than others, and it’s normal to experience errors along the way. The guidance in this article will put you on the path towards optimizing your website on your own, but if you need more hands-on assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out to an expert to get back on track.

1. Connect your website to other engagement platforms

Your website is the heart of your nonprofit’s online strategy, but if your presence begins and ends there, you’ll only reach a fraction of your potential supporters. Some nonprofits shy away from social media due to the limited control offered by third-party platforms. While this is a valid concern, you should view external online platforms not as competitors for attention but as an extension of your website.

Your website can connect to other engagement platforms, increasing your nonprofit’s reach and creating a more robust digital infrastructure. Additionally, these opportunities can boost traffic between platforms, giving users more ways to interact with your nonprofit online. A few external platforms to consider using are:

  • Social media. As mentioned, social media connects your nonprofit to a wider audience. In addition to marketing your nonprofit, you can also use social media to run fundraisers, generating excitement among users as they see their friends and family publicly give. As GoodUnited’s guide to Facebook fundraisers explains, “Direct donations are invisible and lack the social motivation associated with public Facebook fundraisers. When people see other people giving, they want to give as well.”
  • Microsites. Microsites are external websites that are hosted on your website but use a distinct variant of your base URL or domain. These sites invite visitors to focus solely on what the microsite was created for, which can be especially useful for guiding supporters towards fulfilling a specific task. Many nonprofits use microsites for virtual events and other time-bound activities such as fundraising campaigns that require more space for content and features unique to the microsite.
  • Peer-to-peer pages. Peer-to-peer pages are individual fundraising pages created by volunteer fundraisers, campaigning on your nonprofit’s behalf. Similar to microsites, peer-to-peer pages are an extension of your nonprofit’s website and fundraising tools, allowing a higher degree of control over their presentation as compared to social media fundraisers. These pages can also be customized by your volunteers, letting them show off their personality to help encourage their friends and family to donate.

As your nonprofit expands its online presence, take your brand identity into consideration. Branching out gives your brand more exposure, which can lead to more recognition. However, it can also get lost in each website transition if fundamentals such as logo, colors, and tone aren’t established. Create a brand style guide and ensure all of your volunteers have access, so they can help promote your nonprofit consistently.

2. Examine your plugins

If you use WordPress as your content management system, plugins are useful software that can be added to your website, allowing you to expand its functionality in ways that improve both front and backend usability. For example, you might add a plugin that creates a pop-up message asking users to subscribe to your newsletter, then add another plugin that helps you track how users engage with that pop-up.

However, finding the best WordPress plugins requires research and a thorough understanding of what your website is trying to accomplish. In other words, while you likely can find plugins to accomplish almost anything you want your website to do, your website does not necessarily become more effective because you have added a plugin.

When assessing potential plugins, ask yourself the following questions to determine if they’re worth the investment:

  • Is this plugin secure? There are two types of insecure plugins: plugins that no longer have active developers (and thus will be vulnerable to potential data breaches) and plugins that are scams. Before downloading a plugin, check its reviews and ratings to see what other users have to say. Less popular plugins with few reviews are suspect and should be avoided. Additionally, check when the plugin was last updated to make sure the developer is still around and fixing security vulnerabilities.
  • Will this plugin improve user experience? Some plugins have trade-offs. For example, while many add new features and provide users new ways to interact with your website, they may also slow down loading times. This also applies to backend plugins that help run your website. Some plugins like this one can help improve loading times by removing unnecessary data and assets that can accumulate over time.
  • Do you need a plugin for this feature? As mentioned, just because you can add a plugin to your website doesn’t mean you should. Plugins provide easy ways to add new features, but sometimes there are other, better software solutions that provide more robust functionalities and won’t slow load times.

Above all, as you add plugins, make sure that your website doesn’t inadvertently become less accessible to users. For example, more plugins can mean more clutter, which makes your website harder to navigate. Longer loading times and using a lot of interactive multimedia can frustrate users with slow internet connections, as well.

This doesn’t mean you should place a hard limit on how many plugins you can use. Just be judicious about what plugins accomplish specific tasks that improve your website, and gather data before and after adding plugins so you can best determine a plugin’s effectiveness.

3. Integrate your software

Nonprofit software has come a long way and continues to advance, providing new ways for organizations to reach and engage supporters. With hundreds of providers, make sure you check your software’s integration options before adding it to your website.

Some software solutions are add-ons to other software, which means that if they lack compatibility, you can waste your money purchasing something you can’t actually use. For instance, if you want to install matching gift software, you’ll need to make sure your donation form is customizable and can integrate with your chosen provider.

Other common nonprofit software integrations include:

  • Databases. Nonprofits can store all of their data in one central location using databases like Salesforce or Blackbaud's Raiser's Edge. Integrated databases allow this information to flow seamlessly between your software solutions.
  • Event software. Event software like Eventbrite manages your event registration, check-in, and even event features such as live streaming and ticketing. Integrating your event software allows you to add event attendance information straight to your donors’ profiles, keeping you updated on each supporters’ history with your organization.
  • Email. Email service integrations such as Mailchimp and Constant Contact make it easy to get in touch with your entire supporter list through automated emails. By integrating your email platform, you can populate your messaging templates with specific data about each of your supporters.
  • Fundraising. In addition to matching gifts, you can earn more through each donation by using fundraising software such as donor prospecting tools. Connecting these tools to the rest of your tech stack ensures your nonprofit is making the most of every contribution while setting yourself up for future fundraising opportunities.

Each software solution you purchase is an investment of time and money, as software takes time to learn and can be expensive. Ask providers ahead of time if their software can integrate with solutions you are currently using and how easy the integration process will be.

Assessing your nonprofit’s digital infrastructure can help improve your nonprofit’s website’s functionality and your online presence as a whole. These benefits can help you generate more engagement, leading to deeper donor relationships and more support for your mission. If you’re ever unsure if you’re making the right decisions about your website, don’t hesitate to reach out to a nonprofit tech consultant, who likely has experience with software integrations, plugins, and platform extensions.

About the Author

De’Yonté Wilkinson is a late-80s baby who found his passion for web design and development during MySpace’s heyday, when he helped his friends create awesome profiles. He’s spent the last three years specializing in WordPress and conversion optimization, and is an active proponent of coding guidelines.

In his off time he enjoys cooking, rugby, and hanging out with his wife.