Nonprofit Website Maintenance: Tips for Your Organization

How much do you think about your nonprofit website maintenance? Many nonprofit organizations will spend hundreds of hours perfecting their website through a redesign process.

However, after you launch your website, that is when the real work begins. You need to keep your site updated, secure, and stable to make sure your site is relevant for your users, isn’t outdated, doesn’t get hacked, or doesn’t go down unexpectedly.

The following tips detail everything you need to know to maintain and update a WordPress website.

  1. What is nonprofit website maintenance?
  2. Does everything work?
  3. Is your information current and accurate?
  4. Are your visual aspects appearing correctly?
  5. Is your site safe?
  6. Maintenance best practices.

What is nonprofit website maintenance?

Owning a website is similar to owning a car: regular and preventive maintenance is required to ensure it’s secure, reliable, and stable.

All public and popular open source CMS, such as WordPress or Drupal, have periodic security holes and bugs, and there are always ne’er-do-wells actively looking for exploits (along with conscientious community members looking to close those holes).

Whenever WordPress core or a plugin needs a patch – regardless if it’s for added security, compatibility, or functionality – WordPress will notify all administrators on the administrator interface.

If plugin updates aren’t updated in a timely manner, your site could get hacked or could break.

While you can run plugin updates and WordPress versions yourself — much like many people change their own oil, headlights, etc. — sometimes it’s worth having the peace of mind to have an experienced expert perform those upgrades for you.

But maintenance is not just confined to code updates. It’s important to keep your website updated with accurate information, content, images, and functionality.

Why is maintenance important for the health of your website?

Simply put, it’s a lot easier and a lot less stressful to perform regular maintenance than it is to deal with outages, site slowness, hacking, or site errors.

Keeping your site updated is important for many reasons.

  • Security – As mentioned above, security is the most important reason for keeping your site updated. If a plugin has a vulnerability, you are opening your entire website data to potential hackers. If you store any sensitive information in your database, this could be a major issue and cause concerns for your organization.
  • Stability – When performing website updates, you always want to be on the most recent version to avoid compatibility issues. These updates will ensure that your website is more stable and running the latest and most up-to-date code. If your website is running older code, the website may start running slower, have more server outages, and possibly crash your site regularly.
  • Relevance – Website maintenance isn’t all about security and stability, it’s also about providing relevant and reliable information. If your website content is outdated and isn’t showing the dynamic work of your organization, then visitors and donors will likely be turned off.
  • Reliability – Keeping your website regularly updated means that your site will be more reliable for your users. Be proactive about maintenance for fewer unexpected outages.

Nonprofit website maintenance: Does everything work?

Many organizations will just test their full site once after launch and assume that it will continue working in perpetuity.

In all platforms, code is constantly changed through regular development additions, plugin updates, or even platform updates to use more reliable code.

It’s important to regularly check your website and ensure everything is functioning properly, especially after upgrades are performed.

We always recommend checking your key functionality to ensure that it continues to function, such as donation forms, menus, videos, search, and other interactive features.

This type of review can be done manually by visually reviewing the website, but can also be programmed through unit tests and other testing platforms. We like the platform Ghost Inspector to create automated tests on your website.

Donation and registration forms

Forms are the lifeblood of your website. If users cannot complete forms to contact you or donate, then you will lose valuable supporters.

We encourage that you regularly test all forms on the website to ensure that:

  • Forms display correctly
  • Information can be submitted
  • All notifications and confirmations work as expected
  • Any integrations with third-party CRMs work correctly

Menus and links

While it’s often easy to identify when a menu isn’t working correctly, it’s harder to know when links are broken on menus and elsewhere on the site.

As a site grows and evolves, content will grow and evolve with it. Often, links and pages need to change and are no longer relevant to your site. When you remove a page from the site, it can create a 404 link.

404 pages are bad for SEO, as it tells search engines that your site is not being maintained.

We recommend two WordPress plugins to address this problem:

  • Broken Link Checker. This is a plugin for WordPress that identifies broken links on the website. While it does a fantastic job at this feature, it is very resource intensive and can slow down your site. We recommend that you activate this plugin only when you’re using it to remove broken links. Alternatively, there are a variety of free broken link scanners such as https://www.drlinkcheck.com/, https://www.brokenlinkcheck.com/, and https://www.deadlinkchecker.com/ that don’t run on your WordPress site.
  • Yoast SEO Premium. Yoast SEO is a popular WordPress plugin that lets you configure your site to be more SEO friendly. One of the many amazing features in the premium version is that it will automatically create redirects any time you change a page URL. This plugin ensures that you don’t have broken links by fixing them before they become a problem.

Videos and other interactive media

Interactive elements, such as video hero images, animations, maps, and online forums, are among the most common elements of a website to break during maintenance updates. Moreover, what is dangerous about these features is that it is often easy to miss when this functionality breaks.

Setting a regular schedule for when to check this functionality is key. When possible, create automated unit tests or use a platform like Ghost Inspector to ensure key functionality is always working.

This also goes for third-party tools, like Google Maps. Recently, Google made a change requiring a credit card be on file to display maps correctly. If you haven’t updated your payment information on Google, then you will see an alert displayed on your map.

Nonprofit website maintenance: Is your information current and accurate?

The website could be functioning great, but if your content is out of date, donors and supporters will be less likely to engage with you and your website.

Here are some areas that donors expect to see the most updated content:

Project Status & Impact

The most important thing to any donor is if you are making an impact. Your content needs to show the donor what you are doing with their money and how it is making an impact.

On your website, you can provide regular updates about core programs and projects. This doesn’t have to be too involved, but sometimes just a sentence or two about a project status can go a long way in ensuring that donors know how you’re spending their funds.

Events and volunteer opportunities

Visiting a website that has outdated events is frustrating and makes you lose faith in the organization’s activities. Keeping your website updated with the latest events, volunteer opportunities, and other timely content, will show to donors that you are professional and trustworthy.

Tax status and form 990s

The often forgotten tax information is a must for any nonprofit organization. This is often the first stop on a website for donors, foundations, and grant seekers. Delays in providing this information to donors can also impact the perceived professionalism and trustworthiness of the organization.

Since tax information can come out at any time, it’s often a good idea to include updates on your 990 page that lets donors know when the next form will be available. This transparency can be really helpful.

Contact information

We’ve all had the frustrating task of attempting to find contact information on a website, but failing to find the right information.

Every website should have a clear and simple path to contact the organization. Not only should this include a contact form, but also how to connect via address and phone number.

If you have multiple offices, list them all. If you have multiple staff that field incoming requests, make sure all those individuals are represented.

Nonprofit website maintenance: Are your visual aspects appearing correctly?

This is often the easiest item to check: is everything displaying correctly?

Images

Creating images for the modern web is difficult. Visitors might be looking at your site on a seemingly infinite number of screen sizes, which makes it difficult to find images that look great for all users.

Adding images to your website depends a lot on how your theme is built. While you should talk with your developers about your specific image requirements, we often recommend finding images that the focal point is in the center, middle of the image. If the image is then cropped or changes based on the screen size, users will still be able to see the focus on that image.

In addition, you want to ensure that all images are contributing to your visual brand.

Videos

As long as you’re embedding videos from a third-party site like YouTube or Vimeo, then you shouldn’t have many issues. However, we always check to ensure that all videos are still active on a regular basis. In addition, sometimes embed code from Youtube can include fixed dimensions, which can create a bad experience for mobile visitors.

The branding has remained consistent

If multiple people are working on a website together, it’s inevitable that the branding will start to move away from your tested brand.

When building your website, add guardrails that will prevent other administrators from going off brand. You can define colors and fonts, so only those choices are available to use by others on your team.

If that isn’t possible, create a robust review process to test all new pages before they goes live.

Nonprofit website maintenance: Is your site safe?

As mentioned, security is the number one priority for website maintenance.

If your site is vulnerable, you are potentially allowing hackers to access your customer and donor data.

HTTPS certificates

This is commonplace these days, but all websites should have a secure certificate. In addition, your website should enforce SSL, making it impossible for visitors to access the unsecure version.

HTTPS is an encryption method that securely connects your site visitors’ browser and your web server. This small change on your website makes it harder for hackers to eavesdrop on the connection.

Nearly all modern hosts offer a free SSL certificate, typically with just a click of a button. To enforce SSL, we recommend you use the Really Simple SSL plugin. This great plugin does a few simple things, including:

  • Checks to ensure there is an SSL certificate
  • Sets up WordPress to use https in URLs
  • Sets up redirects from HTTP to HTTPs
  • Finds URLs in your content still loading from insecure HTTP sources and attempt to fix them.

There are other methods of enforcing SSL via code, but those require developer skills. If you’re interested in that approach, check out this great article from WPbeginners.

Hosting security

As mentioned, most modern hosting platforms include a free SSL certificate as part of your hosting fees. In many cases, this is as simple as clicking on a button.

Many of hosts provide this, including:

  • Liquid Web
  • Pantheon
  • Dreamhost
  • SiteGround
  • WPEngine
  • GreenGeeks

Donation form and payment processor security

All modern payment processors offer excellent security to ensure your data is encrypted and safe.

If your donation forms are hosted through a third party donation management platform, such as EveryAction, Blackbaud, Salsa Labs, Engaging Networks, Eleo, Bloomerang, DonorBox, ActBlue, or another nonprofit specific service, then you are already in good shape.

If you are using an integrated service, such as PayPal, Authorize.net, or Stripe, you need to make sure that your frontend forms are secure and that data passed through to the processor is done in an encrypted manner.

Most services, like PayPal and Stripe, will now link you directly to their site for processing, instead of allowing you to process on a potentially less secure site. Let’s face it, as much as you can invest in security, PayPal is likely to invest more.

Nonprofit website maintenance best practices.

This is a lot of information and it’s hard to know where to start. Here are a few places:

Hire a professional team to help

Cornershop should be your first and only stop for maintenance. We support hundreds of nonprofit websites to ensure they are secure, stable, and performant.

With the Cornershop support packages, you receive:

  • Regular updates to WordPress and all plugins
  • Daily offsite backups
  • Uptime and security monitoring
  • Visual comparison tool to ensure that updates don’t break the display of your site
  • Discounted development rates

And best of all, you get Fast Tasks, the ability to contact your Cornershop team with any issues you’re experiencing. We can take care of any small bugs or issues on the site, answer your questions, add content, or just be a resource for your team.

Keep a consistent checklist and schedule for checking in on these things

If you are taking on maintenance yourself, then we suggest you make a plan.

Create a long checklist for everything you need to check on your site. This will include the frontend elements that you want to ensure are working and displaying correctly, but also the backend functions to make sure you can still edit everything.

Don’t forget to include SEO, Accessibility, Performance scans, and Mobile Responsiveness to your checklists. It’s not uncommon for one small change to impact these areas without knowing.

Have a process for alerting your webmaster to any critical errors

A bug on your website is really stressful. We immediately start trying everything we can think of to fix it, but in reality, you just need a plan with a designated person who can fix it.

Make sure you know what is supposed to happen when you find a critical error on the site. Do you need to call your web developer – even if it’s after work hours – or do you log a ticket in a support system?

Whatever the approach, make sure everyone knows the process and what expectations are in this situation.

Have a plan for what to do when the site goes down

Websites go down all the time. This can be a supremely panic-inducing fact of the internet, but rest assured that downtime can be solved. And, with the right approach, downtime can be solved with minimal stress!

Step 1: Describe your downtime (and make sure you’re not alone!).

Are you seeing an error message when you should be seeing your homepage? Is there no error at all, just a blank white page of nothingness? Did you recently change a setting or plugin that might have somehow caused this downtime?

Your first goal is to make sure you can clearly describe what is happening. Even better, check your site through a few different devices and networks (and ask a friend or two to help!). This helps you to rule out an issue with your own network.

If you’re in panic mode and all your friends are busy — we get it, this has definitely happened to us — then visit http://downforeveryoneorjustme.com to see if the rest of the internet can access your site.

Ways that your site could go down

There might be a problem with the servers that your site is on.

Server issues could be temporary and quick, requiring a short restart before everything is fine again, or…

There could be something really wrong with your hosts’ servers. This would cause downtime for not only your site but likely many others for an extended period of time.

Something on your site might be causing the downtime. If you have a resource-intensive plugin, for example, high traffic could result in downtime if your host can’t support the volume of activity for any reason.

An innocent configuration change or plugin update could dramatically impact your site in surprising ways. Turning off a plugin that’s actually really important to the functionality of your site, for example, can result in error messages.

Some of these issues are easily remedied once properly identified. Others may take more time and troubleshooting before they can be fully resolved. Like we mentioned, websites go down for little and big reasons all the time. If you notice your website seems to go down repeatedly, try to keep track of patterns and report these issues to your host or technical support!

Step 1: Ask for help.

If you can’t fix your site’s downtime on your own, of course you’ll need to ask for help. Hopefully, you have a handy list of technical support contacts to consult, but if you’re not quite sure where to turn, start by reaching out to your web host.

Most of the time, downtime is caused by or can at least be corrected by your web host. This is one reason reputable web hosts have 24/7 support hours.

Step 2: Describe the urgency.

It may seem like downtime should always be an emergency, but when you’re working with a technical support contact who sees sites go down all the time for various reasons, it’s helpful to (calmly and politely!) describe how urgent your downtime is for you.

Context such as “We’re in the middle of a fundraising drive” or “We just sent out an email and are expecting a lot of event signups” not only helps with troubleshooting, but will hopefully also help with assigning priority.

Sometimes, your report of downtime is simply added to a list of other affected sites, but depending on the situation, you may be able to request priority treatment and move your report to the top of a support queue.

Step 3: Keep communicating.

Oftentimes, there’s not a lot that can be done while you wait for your site to come back up, but you’ll likely still need to communicate with your supporters and stakeholders to let them know how you’re working to resolve your downtime.

  • Create a communications plan that lists who needs to be alerted about website emergencies, including a list of support contacts and backup team members who can help if others are out for the day. Even a one page document summarizing your process will help as a reference during an emergency.
  • It can be hard to pinpoint an exact time when everything will be fixed. Try to at least provide (and stick to) a timeline for how frequently you’ll share status updates with your team.
  • Don’t worry if you want to check in again with tech support. Even if they end up not having many more details to share, it doesn’t hurt to check.
  • You can ask around. If you’re uncertain about a response that you receive from a support person or if you just don’t know what to do next, try reaching out to one or two other contacts. Important: Provide all the details that you have and that you let everyone know who else is also looking into your downtime. You don’t want to accidentally add too many cooks to your web-kitchen and end up over-salting the internet soup.

It’s stressful when you don’t know what’s going on or when your downtime will end! Prepare your list of support and technical contacts and familiarize yourself with the variety of ways websites go down, and you’ll be able to confront any moment of downtime with more confidence and much less stress.

Need some support? Check out Cornershop’s multiple support options to help keep your website up-to-date and running smoothly.

Plan for your level of site traffic

Nonprofits don’t always get a lot of site traffic, but if you have, you know that high traffic and lots of site visitors can be joy-inducing and terrifying at the same time.

Here are some things to check ASAP:

  • Is your site secure? Are you using security plugins like WordFence and third party services like Sucuri or Cloudflare? Good attention is one thing, but you want to make sure that you’ve enabled monitoring and security features that help guard against spam traffic, too.
  • Does your web host scale resources based on traffic? Pantheon, DreamPress, and AWS all adjust for your site when they see traffic spike, but you’ll want to check with your host directly to confirm how and when this is done. Please note: If you’re on a shared hosting plan, your site will not scale for fluctuations in traffic.
  • Does your content cache effectively? With proper caching configured, you can reduce the load on your web host while still serving static pages as quickly as possible.
  • Do you have a CRM that can handle traffic spikes? Most nonprofits use a CRM platform like Salsa Labs, Action Network, EveryAction, ActionKit, Blue State Digital, Luminate Online, etc., to collect donations or petition signatures. Make sure all files on these forms are pointing to the CRM providers’ servers instead of your web server to reduce the load on your site from these forms.
  • Are you using a Content Delivery Network to its fullest potential? Services like CloudFlare can make a big difference to how quickly users see your site, as well as reducing load on your host. Out of the box, CDNs only handle images, styles, and script files. Make sure that you configure the service to help with more types of content as needed.

Website maintenance is a big job. With these tips, you can provide your supporters with the best experience and allow them to find the information they are looking for. And, if you need a hand, we’re always here to help.

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With 15 years’ experience, Ira is an expert in nonprofit online communications and online fundraising. His work has resulted in increased funds and resounding supporter engagement for hundreds of organizations. Ira oversees our project management team and works with clients to provide our clients with the best possible final product. He also manages all of our strategic engagements and helps guide nonprofits to determine their long-term strategy goals for online communications.