Last month I outlined three ways for nonprofits to maximize design firm relationships: Leveraging Simple, actionable strategies to leverage their experience to help with the budgeting process, planning together for stakeholder input, and collaborating on project success metrics. Today I’ll dive a bit deeper into how an experienced design firm provides valuable insights as you’re putting together a budget for your nonprofit’s web redesign project.

Over the past decade, industry trends and advances in web technology have brought us to a place where “website redesign” usually means more than just a face lift. It might include the re-organization and conversion of years of content, the design & development of new interactive tools, and deep integration with back office systems. With so many moving parts and involvement of various business units, properly planning and budgeting for such a project is no small task.

Factors that Impact Budget

Your interactive design firm should be able to provide a realistic range based on their experience with similar projects, while shedding light on some of the variables that are likely to push that number up or down. Such factors include:

– Scope: How much content are you changing or adding? Are you building new features or re-skinning existing ones? Do you need to integrate with external systems or internal systems?

– Timeline: Do you have a specific deadline in mind for launching the new site, and if so, is it a reasonable time period considering the scope of your project, or will it be a “rush job?”

– Legacy Systems: How old is the current site, and how well is the data organized? Is it database driven, or made of static web pages?

– In-House Staff: Do you have internal staff that will contribute to the project? Do you need your design partner to provide copywriters, content strategists, branding experts, front-end coders, trainers, business analysts, and network/hosting specialists?

– Process Complexity: How large is your team, and how many people need to sign off? Do they share a common vision or are there conflicting views that may require your design partner to act as facilitator?

Discussing these and other factors with your design partner can help indicate, at least at a high level, what size budget you may need.

Treating “Chicken-Egg” Syndrome

New nonprofit design projects are often financed with grants or restricted funds, leaving project managers with a chicken-egg sort of conundrum: planning activities represent a significant portion of the total cost, but the remaining costs are uncertain until planning is complete. So, how do you put a concrete number on the whole project before you’ve actually started planning it?

There are a few ways a design firm can help you with this. First, consider breaking a large project down into smaller chunks. Many organizations attempt to do this by building a small set of features first, and then adding new ones over time. This can be effective, but it may lead to a lot of re-working. It also may undermine your efforts to make a splash for your organization with a major re-launch instead of incrementally trickling features in over time.

An alternative way to break down a project into more manageable parts is to separate the discovery and planning phase from the design & development phase. This way, a fixed budget can be allocated for discovery and planning in one quarter, and a high-level estimate for design and development earmarked for the next. Part of the planning process is to define and prioritize all system requirements. This allows you to allocate funds based on a much more complete and accurate vision of the final product than would have otherwise been possible. The nice thing about this approach is that should you need to scale back due to budget constraints, you’ll already know exactly what can be cut—and you’ll be in good shape to move quickly on it should additional funding become available.

Focus on Meeting Organizational Needs

With shiny new tools and features cropping up online every day, it’s tempting to try to incorporate all them into your project. After all, if you’re investing the time and money to build a new website for your nonprofit, you might as well have all the bells and whistles, right?

Not necessarily. Live video chat, social/mobile apps, and animated 3D renderings may all be very useful in certain situations, but do they add value for your organization? If it’s not evident, a design partner looking out for your best interests will ask, “What business need are trying to meet with this feature?” If the answer to that question doesn’t spring to mind right away, consider whether it’s really necessary to effectively engage audience. If there is a good business reason, but you find yourself struggling with the potential cost-benefit ratio, your design partner may be able to suggest lower-cost alternatives that can be just as effective in meeting your organizational needs.

In the end, by including a trusted design firm up-front in the budgeting process, you’ll benefit from their experience and perspective when it matters most, ultimately maximizing the value for your dollar. Next month, I’ll discuss how to work with your design partner to efficiently incorporate stakeholder input throughout the project.