Budgeting for long-term sustainability

So you’re a non-profit or small gov agency and you’ve just received a technology grant to revamp your website. Score! While undoubtedly it’s a boon, it’s equally essential to project beyond the initial overhaul and consider the long-term implications.

At Rhizome, we’ve worked with numerous non-profits and small government agencies on website revamps and digital transformation projects. While these organizations are often thrilled with their new and improved online presence, there’s a common oversight that we’ve observed time and again—the underestimated amount of budget needed for advances in technology and staying up-to-date beyond regular WordPress maintenance.

One of the key challenges organizations face is the ever-evolving nature of software and plugins. While we choose tools that are heavily vetted by our developers, and may have initially delivered great functionality, it’s not uncommon for other companies to develop similar or superior products over time. The allure of newer features, enhanced security, and better user experiences can lead to a dilemma for organizations that may find themselves stuck with outdated solutions.

To illustrate the importance of long-term budgeting, let’s consider a hypothetical scenario involving a non-profit organization that has just received a technology grant to revamp its website. They partner with us, and together, we create a cutting-edge website using the latest technologies and plugins. The organization is delighted with the immediate results and the improved online presence.

However, fast forward two or three years, and the digital landscape has evolved. New security threats have emerged, user or admin expectations have changed, and the plugins used on their website are no longer fully supported or compatible with the latest web standards. The organization now faces a dilemma—continue to use outdated tools with potential security vulnerabilities and diminishing user satisfaction, or invest in another costly website overhaul.

This scenario is not unique; it’s a situation that many organizations find themselves in when  planning for the future. Unfortunately, most operate on shoe-string budgets and often have to choose between paying for technology upgrades or paying staff. Recognizing the need for a “contingency fund,” is easier said than done.  However, there are some ways non-profits and small government agencies can better prepare:

  • Long-Term Technology Planning: Organizations should view website development as an ongoing process rather than a one-time project. Regularly assess the website’s performance, security, and user experience. Plan for future technology updates, upgrades, and enhancements. 
  • Start the process of looking for another technology grant or sponsor for ongoing improvements. Right after you launch your new website is the perfect time to make sure any new website work is covered.
  • Budget for Maintenance: Allocate funds for website maintenance and updates in your budget. This should include not only routine WordPress updates but also keeping plugins and software up-to-date. Regularly review your website’s performance and identify areas for improvement. 
  • Budget Beyond Maintenance: Your maintenance budget may only get you so far. Do you require more training or monthly assistance? Ask your agency what the cost would be to upgrade your maintenance contract to include a few more hours a month for technical assistance. 
  • Set Up a Contingency Fund: Find a way of creating a savings account that you use only as your “website rainy day fund.” For example, let’s say for every larger sponsor check that comes in, you set aside a percentage of that check or a base minimum amount and stick it in that fund. It accrues fast. (As a small business, we employ this same practice at Rhizome to cover our own unexpected costs).
  • Vendor Relationships: Establish strong relationships with your web agency or technology provider. They can provide valuable insights into the latest industry trends and recommend updates or changes as needed. In some cases, they may even help you write the technical details for a grant. (This is a service we offer our clients, because it’s in all our best interests to see org’s we work with stay current).
  • Stay Informed: Become knowledgeable about the latest advancements in technology and web development. Attend conferences, webinars, and workshops to keep up-to-date with industry best practices. 
  • Scale Back a Feature or Other Unnecessary Costs: Make sure any features you wanted initially in your website are still working for you. Is something getting stale? Check your analytics, maybe something you thought was going to be useful is not anymore. Save that yearly fee if there is a one and put it into your contingency fund.  Another place to look is unused URLs or hosting fees for website landing pages no longer in use. Do an audit and ask yourself what things are really needed. 
  • Flexibility: Be prepared to adapt and evolve with the digital landscape. Sometimes, it may be necessary to make small changes incrementally rather than a complete overhaul.

Budgeting for long-term sustainability, staying informed about technological advancements, and maintaining flexibility are key strategies for navigating the digital maze and ensuring your online presence remains effective and secure for years to come. Ask your agency to partner with you to chart a course and budget so you can continue to build a resilient digital presence for your organization.