I’m Not Working with Non-Profits Anymore

As a business grows, you really start to discover what is sustainable, and what is not, and who your time wasters are, and who your good clients are. Over time, it is only natural to want to have more of the good clients, and fewer of the bad ones.

About a year and a half ago, we stopped doing HTML sites. Because we discovered that the clients for those sites tended to be some of the more difficult ones to work with. They are less progressive, less decisive, and wanted more, for much less. And they tended to be less able to grasp that the site type they’d chosen had limitations that they did not want (in spite of our having warned them ahead of time). So, lower profit, higher hassle factor, and no benefit to anyone for the extra annoyance. Some quick analysis revealed that of about 20 contracts in progress, the 5 HTML sites we were working on accounted for more than half the time expenditures, but only a fifth of the income. We dropped those services. It was a good decision, we’ve never regretted it.

Lately, we’ve looked at our Non-Profit clients, and have come to a similar conclusion about them – they simply are not worth the hassle.

  • They want more, for less.
  • They are operated by boards which have a hard time making up their collective minds – so decisions take a VERY long time to get.
  • The chief decisionmaker tends to be a director, and the non-profits we have dealt with have had changes to the directors so often that no decision has any degree of permanency. If a director makes a bad decision about the site, WE get the blame.
  • They tend to be run by overworked people who never have the time to do their part of things – so we never have a satisfactory closing to the work we do – instead, it sits there half-finished, and the organization tends to want to blame us for the fact that their website is incomplete, when it is due to their inability to provide their part of things.
  • The board members turn over so fast that nobody ever knows what was set up before, and what the terms were. They are too cheap to pay to have a manual written that would keep a record of it, and too hasty to ask – they are too busy trying to sweep out the old administration and make a clean slate to even try to move forward with what they have, they want to completely redo everything.

We dealt with a local organization, with this experience:

We met with them to discuss their situation. They had FOUR tacky websites out on the web (built in free web space, or donated by other individuals) – all incomplete, all started by one director or another, none of them done intellligently, all of them making them look bad. They stated their intention to make having a functional and useful website a priority.

It took over a year to get the initial contract. We presented the initial proposal in March of one year, met with them in October, and they finally signed the contract and check the following June.

We created the site design, and it was approved by the director and the board – ENTHUSIASTICALLY approved, I might add.

A month later, the director committed suicide. A new director was hired and came in, announcing she had a graphic design background, and stating that the website design just would not do. She redesigned it herself, and we coded it in. No financial compensation was made for our wasted time.

She declared her intention to make the website her FIRST priority, and was given a training session on the site. We gave an extra session, without compensation also.

She then asked us why we weren’t putting things in, and handed us a listing of organization members when we informed her that in order to put things in, we needed things to put in. Kevin spent three days entering them into the database. We told her that according to the contract, that took up the available content entry time. She said she’d never read the contract, so she had no idea what was included or not, and seemed put out that we would expect her to actually do any of the content entry (which makes one wonder just what she thought the training was for).

Two months later, they revised their member list, and sent it to us. We informed them that updating the list was not part of the contract – she again said she’d never read it. She and the office manager seemed shocked that we would not just update the list. We instructed them again in how to do it.

Six months later, no further progress had been made, but the director was let go. Somewhere along the line, they stopped paying their monthly fees. The new director came on board, we had a nice conversation with him about the state of things, and one bill was paid (no past dues were paid, only a single current payment was made). Payments then ceased again, and we learned later that the director went off to hire another web designer to rebuild a new site. Dumb – if they didn’t like it, all they had to do was FINISH it. If they didn’t like the template, it was switchable for a low fee. Instead, they decided to reinvent the wheel because they’d not finished putting the spokes on the first model and they didn’t like that it was crooked.

Eight months after this director took office, he resigned. A new director came in. We met with her, she told us the site was being handled elsewhere, but promised to pay something when we said that if the hosting was not paid we’d have to suspend the site. They assured us they’d never received ANY invoices, and that if they had, they’d have paid them.

In the mean time, our name is vilified because the website we built “doesn’t look good”, when all that is wrong is that they never put the content into the pages where it is needed (the contract stated that this was their responsibility to provide it, and that we would put in part, but they’d need to either put in the rest, or pay for us to do it). When the new director came in, he had a firm he wanted to work with, he never asked us whether there were simple solutions, and the other company just wanted to sell the new service.

They are no better off now than they were three years ago – they are considerably poorer financially, having paid now for two additional websites, neither one of which is fully functional, due to their own inability to focus on what needed done, and to consistently pursue the goal until it was completed. Their board is too short sighted to want to do anything more than slap a bandaid on the surface, they have no desire to actually solve the problem and find a sustainable solution.

The thing is, this is NOT an isolated experience, it is, sadly, fairly typical. We find things in common with all of the non-profits we work with, and it ends up being just too much of a hassle to keep the work, and too much of a risk that bad decisions on the part of one director will take our reputation down with it.

I just don’t have time in my life to have to pursue a contract for months on end, just to get a parsimonious contract where the organization pays less than everyone else, expects way more for it, and then assumes that we should be glad to get their patronage. I don’t have time to monitor their board and their directors so I can jump in every time something changes and tell them all the same thing we’ve already said 20 times before.

I have no patience anymore with trying to help solve problems for organizations that are carelessly causing the problems, and have no intention of ever doing things differently. There is no profit in it, but even if there were, I’d rather be working with people for whom a genuine difference is possible.

I like working with owner operators. I like working with webmasters. I like that they can remember what they have, and that they are careful about how they use it and about making the most of it.

We have one more site migration and redesign to do for a local non-profit, and ongoing maintenance and hosting for them, and for two other non-profits. We won’t be taking on any more.

One Response to I’m Not Working with Non-Profits Anymore

  • Eric says:

    As somebody who sits on a non-profit board, I found your comments about indecision and often frustrating decision making quite on point. Your decision, given your experiences, makes logical sense.

    Thank you for both this post and the prior one on Joomla vs WordPress sites from a web developer’s perspective.

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