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Executive Director's Web Planning Guide

Are you the manager of someone who will be putting out an RFP for a website? What role do you plan to play in the website development process?

Hard Questions Only Management Asks

When tasked with creating a website that meets certain short-term needs, it's easy for the project manager and the contractor to leave out longer-term, behind-the-scenes questions that make a huge difference in years to come. Be sure to ask about:

  • Long term maintainability, backups, updates and security? What if everyone involved in the project quits? Important: if you don't understand the technical part of the answers, that's likely to be ok. Just ask, and make sure the experts you've hired are looking up at the forest and not just the trees.

    Popular, open-source content management systems are often a good answer. Especially for web 2.0 sites that include user generated content, you will always need someone keeping an eye on security updates.

  • Extensible -- can it grow with the web?
  • How will the website meet your audiences' needs?
  • What are the management level design decisions? How will existing design elements be integrated? And when does your favorite color as executive director not matter, and the designer should be the only cook in the kitchen?

    SpaceShare asked our team's artist to use the angles of the logo, aim for a professional look fully appropriate for conferences and less importantly for festivals -- these are management-level decisions. But since we hadn't settled on colors, left that to her.

Easy Questions Management Asks, But Probably Shouldn't

Here are some easy ways to be a back-seat-driver.

Color and design.

Is the web team designing for you, or for your nonprofit's target audience? What are the real design requirements, and when are you getting involved in the details?

At SpaceShare, management's decision was for a professional look that's only a little fun, more designed for conferences than festivals. The logo was to be used as a major design element, especially the angles. But since we didn't have a consistent color-scheme, the decision on colors was left to the artistic designer.

Direct Communications

Interactions with the techy might need a translator -- but even if they need a translator, do them live anytime things are complex. Don't leave a project manager in the middle, trying to implement specific requests because you asked for them, and a web developer making alternative suggestions to someone not empowered.

Building to a Facade Instead of Blueprints

Getting lightly involved as a manager creates challenges for a development team. The most obvious part of a website is how it looks. But getting a design implemented on the web takes a lot more work than implementing one in graphics software. So it's important to keep design, content and structure separated: if you want to build cleanly and on a budget, keep the design in graphics software while you work out the details of the underlying "how it works" of your site. [For even lower budget, accept "it will look like such and such when I'm done.]

Always know, and make clear to the people you're working with, when you are the "lead cook in the kitchen" providing a management requirement ("please weight the design preferences of potential donors who tend to be professionals and prefer simplicity, more highly than the student crowd who love busy, whiz-bang interactive sites"), and when you're just suggesting and brainstorming ("I like this shade of green").