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Eliciting website requirements for non profit organisations

Following on from the Making Links conference in November last year, one of the conference delegates raised a question with me regarding eliciting website requirements. So that everyone can benefit, I’ve attempted to answer the question here;

I think where we need the assistance is clarifying exactly what we want/need, from a website point of view, and help determining this.

Understand your organisation’s objectives and strategic goals

A website is a business tool. It helps to deliver the objectives and goals of your organisation. For example, a company that manufactures Widgets may have a website which provides information on Widgets (which is a pre-sales function), compares Widgets to  Blidgets (also a pre-sales function), allows customers to log a support request (a post-sales function), and uses the company’s branding to enhance market position (a marketing function). The website may also allow customers to pay bills  online (an accounts payable function) and network with other users of Widgets (a community building function).

A non profit organisation is no different – it still has goals and objectives, and your website should support this. For instance, if one of the objectives of your organisation is to raise awareness  about a particular topic – then this will be an objective of your website. This is the ‘what‘ – or the objective. The ‘how‘, or the implementation details – then become part of the discussion between your organisation and the web developer.

Some other common requirements of not for profit organisations (and thus requirements of their websites) include;

  • Facilitating donor relations and fundraising: Many non profit organisations are dependent upon donations and a donor base. One of the objectives of their web presence is therefore to foster relationships with donors. This may be implemented as simply as having a Paypal donate button on the site, or having something such as CiviCRM allow donors/members to register their interest online. Other functionality that can help meet this requirement includes the ability to subscribe to RSS feeds (which are done automatically using something like WordPress) so that donors can keep abreast of news, or allowing people to submit their email and subscribe to email newsletters. Again, don’t confuse the ‘what’  – ie facilitating donor relations – with the ‘how’. The ‘what’ for organisations may be the same, but the way in which they are implemented is likely to differ based on the the nature, ethos and community that the organisation serves. Another example
  • Raising awareness of issues and influencing behaviour or choices: Many not for profits are focussed on a particular area or cause. Often, one of the aims of the organisation is to raise awareness of the cause by informing the general public. This is the ‘what’. The ‘how’ can differ from site to site – for instance some may use story telling, by providing real life accounts. Others may opt for a ‘brochureware’ style site offering clear and concise information to help influence behaviours or choices.
  • Brand awareness: This is an area that non profits are traditionally not strong at. The bigger not for profits, such as World Vision and Oxfam have very good ‘brand awareness’. Their logos, colours and name are easily recognised by the general public. This is the ‘what’. ‘How’ this is done on a website comes down to having a standard logotype, standard colours and branding for your organisation, and ensuring that your web presence reflects this. (As a side note, part of ensuring brand awareness is also about having a Web Style Guide which is adhered to by the staff charged with maintaining web content).
  • Building communities of practice: Some organisations seek to build or support communities which share common values or a common ethos – for example those interested in the environment, support groups for those with a particular disease or affliction or groups sharing an attribute in common – for interest those who are HIV positive. Building the community is the ‘what’ – and a forum, wiki, blog or other tool is the ‘how’.
  • Providing services online: There are some services provided by not for profit organisations which may be time consuming, expensive or otherwise cumbersome to administer using a manual process. They may be candidates for automation via the website. The ‘what’ here is providing the service online – and the ‘how’ is the method used to implement – for instance an online form or instant messaging system.

Your organisation’s business plan, strategic plan, annual plan or annual objectives document (if it has one) is a great place to start eliciting which functions your website needs to support.


Prioritising requirements when developing a new web presence is vitally important. Having a strong strategic or other business plan is a huge advantage here, as it will already outline priorities for you (and hence priorities for the website). If you do not have this type of document to refer to, then there are other methods to prioritise requirements;

  • Return on investment: Return on investment can be measured in many ways, such as labour savings (by automating a manual process online), income generation (by facilitating online donations or donor relations) or brand awareness. Which of your requirements is going to give you the greatest return on investment? Which return is the most important for your organisation
  • Effort: Some web site features are harder than others (in terms of effort, cost, overhead to maintain etc). Your web developer will be able to indicate which features are high effort or high cost and which are not. It may be in your interests to get some ‘quick wins’ on the board – those features which provide a good return but which are low cost/low effort.

It may be useful to map out requirements and the effort they will take on a graph with two axes – one for return and one for effort. Those that are high return/low effort or high return/high effort should be prioritised higher.

Measuring whether the website you are designing will meet your objectives

When identifying requirements (the ‘how’), think about how you will measure whether the objectives that your website is supporting have been met or not. This takes us into the field of website metrics – measuring the success of your website. This can be as simple as measuring how many ‘Contact forms’ have been received or how many times someone has downloaded Brochure X. Focusing on website requirements in this way again helps to align them to the objectives of the organisation.

(NOTE: The best book I’ve found in this field is Hurol Inan’s ‘Measuring the success of your website’ – highly recommended)