The Single Point of Failure On Your Nonprofit’s Website

by | April 15, 2020

A lot of attention is given to the journey of launching a website (and rightly so). But there is an additional step that, when botched,can cripple your web efforts both now and in the future.

The crucial step? Getting your staff trained and comfortable actually using the website.

To some, getting staff to use the site seems like a matter of course—a minor last step quickly addressed as the site is rolled out. The typical assumption is something like, “this site was built on a popular website platform by a team of professionals, so it should be easy to figure out.”

Well, yes and no.

Apple, a brand famous for its user-friendly technology, spent $13 billion on product development in 2019. 

Yet despite a massive investment in beautiful, intuitive products, here’s their stance on training: “Designing world-class technology is only part of our job. Teaching you how to master it is the other.”

Apple recognizes that even world-class technology requires training to master. It’s no different when it comes to your website—especially when you aren’t using an off-the-shelf solution.

Without proper training and support, you risk a sluggish adoption of your new website by internal staff. When that happens, your new site starts to fall out of date, you struggle to meet the goals you set for your site, and you never realize the full potential of what you paid for. 

How website training falls short

There are a few common points of failure around website training:

  1. Not providing staff with any kind of formal training on how to use the website (i.e. having them figure it out by themselves and come back with questions).
  2. Not providing follow-up support after training to ensure staff are mastering the finer points of the website capabilities.
  3. Not having a plan for training new staff in the future.
  4. Trying to solve all the above problems by assigning responsibility (officially or unofficially) to a single person.

In my experience, most nonprofit leaders are aware they need to provide staff with some kind of website training and support. In other words, they are aware of the first 3 problems on the list above.

However, what I’ve observed over time is many organizations end up with an unofficial “website guru” who knows the most about the site and becomes the default person to answer website questions or train new staff.

This can become a serious time-sink that competes with that person’s other responsibilities. It also makes them a single point of failure when they leave your organization.

It’s good to make a single person accountable or responsible for the website, but it’s dangerous to have only one person truly knowledgeable about the website.

A distributed training model

So, let’s set a new goal here. You want to create a method to store and distribute working knowledge of the website in a way that:

  1. Gets it out of someone’s brain
  2. Is not funneled through one person
  3. Doesn’t require one-on-one time with another human

It sounds like a tall order at first, but the easiest way to do this is to create a library of basic training videos for staff members. This solves a couple problems:

  1. It’s not tied to any specific person, nor does it require any particular staff member to give up their time to provide basic, repetitive training to new folks
  2. It can be referenced on-demand both now or in the future when people forget how to do something
  3. It can be added to over time as website capabilities are improved or updated

Of course, there are some caveats that come with this:

A video training library is not a magic bullet that will solve every problem. But it does make it so that follow-up questions are more specific and targeted, requiring less time from a real person.

Some people will still need hand-holding to get up to speed on the website. That’s okay. For every person that needs to be walked through the training videos, there are 2-3 others who bypassed the need for person-to-person support entirely.

This also doesn’t account for different learning styles. That’s okay too. The goal is not to eliminate the need for person-to-person training and support but reduce the amount of time it takes and increase the number of people able to provide it.

Implementing a video training program

This sounds great in concept, but how do you do it?

Here is the process I suggest:

  1. If you haven’t already, designate one person responsible and accountable for making final decisions around the website. This is the person who will lead the implementation of the video training program. 
  2. Depending on the size of your organization, have that person designate 2-8 “website champions” including themselves if they choose. Website champions should be tech-capable people who receive training first and will provide support to the rest of the organization as video training gets rolled out later. 
  3. Make sure your champions know how and when to escalate issues or questions to the primary person responsible for the website, or to an outside support partner. This ensures they are properly equipped to help others in the beginning when they receive a question or problem they cannot address. 
  4. Decide which champions will be involved in recording training videos. If you have an outside company helping with your website, make sure to involve them too in areas where you may lack knowledge. 
  5. Determine how you will record and store the videos for future reference. Make sure whatever tool you choose allows you to record your screen. Loom is a great free option that will allow you to group videos into separate, shareable folders. 
  6. Record one or two intro videos that introduce a new staff member to the main areas of the website, assuming they know nothing about it or the underlying website platform (e.g. WordPress, Drupal, etc). 
  7. Record a series of short (3-5 minutes apiece) videos that demonstrate how to perform common tasks on the website. Keeping the videos short helps keep people’s attention and makes them more reusable later. 
  8. Distribute these videos to the rest of your staff, provide them with the necessary tools (such as accounts on your site) and instruct them to watch the videos and go to your website champions with any additional questions. 
  9. Have your website champions update or re-record individual videos as necessary to clarify common questions or problems.

This process will quickly and efficiently circulate training within your organization while reducing the demand on individual staff members to provide training and support to the rest of the organization.

The idea is that the website champions become your new “website gurus” (which is why you need to choose more than one) and the videos serve as the first line of defense to protect their time from the basic questions they spend time answering more than once.

Maintaining your video training

Every organization evolves over time—as do most websites. You are probably thinking that this sounds like a good idea, but it will fall out of date and be difficult to maintain.

Well, yes. Except if you have a plan to prevent that from happening.

Here’s the process I would suggest to keep your video library up to date without too much work. I originally got the idea from the book Clockwork. It goes like this:

  1. Have the most knowledgeable person record the first video for a particular task. 
  2. Eventually, someone will watch the video and discover parts of it are out of date, or wrong, or they’ll have some kind of question. 
  3. Have a website champion communicate the correction or clarification to the person, and have the recipient re-record the video with the updated information. 
  4. If a website champion receives a question more than once, have them create a video to answer it and upload it to your training library. 
  5. Similarly, when a new feature is added to the website, have one of your website champions record a training video for it. Or even better, if an outside partner did the work, have them record the video for you.

That’s the secret to an up-to-date video training library: it has to be maintained by the people doing the work, otherwise it will fall out of date. 

And since it’s usually newcomers who will catch the discrepancies, making them re-record the videos forces them to really learn the material because they have to teach it to someone else.

A training library is not the solution to all your problems, but it’s certainly a solution to a few big ones. It eliminates the dangerous website guru. It frees up time for your most knowledgeable staff. And it increases organization-wide knowledge and adoption of your website.

And with that in place, you are able to get back to the 99 other problems on your plate.

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