What's the best way for a nonprofit to hire a web developer/coder?
November 27, 2013 8:23 AM   Subscribe

Our nonprofit has a ~$20,000 budget to spend on a web coder for our new website. We're developing our wireframes/design in-house. Where/how should we hire a web developer/coder?

The nonprofit is based in DC and we would prefer the coder to be local for face-to-face meetings, but it's not a deal breaker if he/she works remotely.

We're developing the wireframes in-house on Adobe Illustrator and have limited experience with HTML (know nothing about CSS etc). We know that we want the new website to be hosted on Wordpress. We would also like them to code a mobile-friendly version (we can do the mobile designs in house). Basically we just want to fork over the designs and have them build a website to match.

Where's the best place to advertise this job? We were thinking about idealist.org but that was about it.

Is $20k reasonable? Is it too little? Too much?

And since we've never done this before, what do you think we should include in the description or watch out for when we're interview prospective coders? We'd definitely need to see their portfolio before hiring.

posted by bluelight to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Depending on your wireframes $20k might be plenty (like way too much) or it might not be enough. It really depends on the complexity of your design and what functionality you are going to have on the site, aside from presentation of information. (Forms, fundraising, PR tools, etc, etc).

As a programmer, I find that clients often make a lot of decisions that probably should have been made with the coder around the table. But if you do plan on finalizing your designs before working with someone then be aware that inflexibility with your requirements might result in higher costs. However, if you are open to changes that might save the coder a lot of time, then you might save a lot of money by heeding a coder's advice...especially if it's just an "If you put this here instead of there..." type of thing...

Having worked with several nonprofits, I would also suggest that you make yourself aware of the tools and resources out there for your organization to use for fund raising or forms or whatever other functionality you desire. It will not make sense to pay a coder to rebuild the wheel if there's a $20 a month service (or sometimes a free service for non-profits) that can do the trick. A few that come to mind -- Wufoo for forms, Constant Contact for email lists, stayclassy.org for fundraising, etc. There are many more.

Also, if you plan on collecting donations online, please do the math when it comes to processing/credit card/bank fees. If you aren't raising a lot of money online then please don't pay a fixed monthly fee (like $100 a month) to collect $200 in donations. Go with a % based service. I have seen bad math happen too many times with small non-profits.

If you are going to work on Wordpress, then you will definitely want to find someone who has experience with building custom themes since you plan on using your own design. Alternately, if you work with someone who has familiarity with some of the Wordpress frameworks then you could work hand-in-hand to create a design that easily fits a framework and save some money as well.

Lastly, if $20k is your absolute web budget for the next year or two, I would say save part of that (like at least $5k) for updates and changes. You are likely going to find that after you launch, you will want to make changes that go beyond posts, pages, or media content and you don't want to be stuck without funds.

Hope the above helps in some way shape or form!

EDIT: Also, make sure your org has one contact person to funnel the requests and info to the coder. This helps your org to keep requests and demands organized but also keeps the coder sane.
posted by thorny at 8:52 AM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is basically what RFPs are for, even though I'm not a big fan of the process in general. $20K is a lot of money if you're just handing over wireframes and asking the developer to deliver a responsive version of that design. If you memail me I'll send you a solid RFP that I think has a lot in common with your situation, so you can get a sense of what it might look like if you go down that road.
posted by Jairus at 8:53 AM on November 27, 2013

Idealist is good. Does this have to do with cities? If so, maybe it's worth talking to Code for America.

If you want a site that works on mobile, I would not get too attached to any designs you make in Illustrator. Instead, focus on the user experience aspect of the design – what you want each page and control to do and what the goals are.

$20K could be enough or too little. It really depends on the details and scope.
posted by ignignokt at 8:55 AM on November 27, 2013

As far as $20K, it really depends on the design and functionality. When I do freelance WordPress sites, it's usually by the hour and they come in way under $20K. Again, depending on scope, $20K might be more of a budget if you hired an agency.

Look for people that have experience in lots of WordPress customization, obviously, but also building any features that are similar to what you are looking for especially if you are doing money related things. Also experience in responsive design. Honestly, if your team doesn't have much experience in web stuff, I would try hard to find someone who you can work with you to help figure out the best design (especially for responsive) rather than just developing some potentially complicated system just to match spec. Also, you said that the wireframes are in Illustrator. Will the final design also be Illustrator? I guess that could work, but seems a little odd. Usually Photoshop is the way to go for that.

As for where to advertise, I'd suggest, of course, MeFi jobs, Authentic Jobs, and Idealist. I hate saying Craigslist because there's so much garbage, but there's a good amount of gems, too. So it might be worth it. And it should be picked up by job site search aggregators like Indeed.com so hopefully that's enough. I don't have much experience advertising for jobs, but that's where I look, as a web dev.
posted by wintrymix at 9:12 AM on November 27, 2013

You can find great talent and specify a budget on the following:

and 99designs.com

You put up a job description and people bid for your job, and you can interview and choose them online. Each member of the site has a profile with samples of their work.

Good luck!
posted by tessalations999 at 9:53 AM on November 27, 2013

I’m a content strategy consultant who works exclusively with nonprofits, so I have some knowledge in the area. The price depends entirely on your needs and timeline. (Good, fast, and cheap: choose two.) How much does it cost to build a website is a surprisingly accurate tool for calculating the cost. Assuming that you are building a relatively basic site, $18k–$22k is about how much your project should cost if you go to a professional shop, design included. Yes, others may quote you lower prices, and they may do good work. But without knowledge of your exact needs (what sort of fundraising tools you need, whether you need Salsa/Convio/Salesforce integration, designs for email newsletter/campaigns, &c) I am very hesitant to say anything definite.

I cringe when non-web folk design by fiat (aka “this is the design you are to implement”), at best it results in a mediocre site, at worse: a useless one. If you do not have a basic understanding of modern web design techniques and best practices (such as responsive design, which renders mobile-specific sites unnecessary for many basic sites) you will make a lot of interface design mistakes that make your site less usable. Continue building your wireframes, but do not bother polishing them up too much (I personally prefer pen and paper wireframes and design sketches), they can be a really good starting point, but realize that much will change when you go from static design comps to real.

Key phrases you should make sure your developer understands: Content strategy (basically: the design process is based on your content needs), user experience advocacy, responsive web design, with HTML5 and CSS3 (these are key to any modern design, but I’ve noticed that there are a lot of folks in DC are a bit behind the times), Git version control (this will make future updates—which are inevitable—a lot easier). PHP (which is the language WordPress is built in, though this isn’t as critical if you’re building a rather simple site).

Bonus: SASS/Compass or LESS (These are CSS preprocessors and can help make your CSS more manageable for anyone who works on it in the future. Some designers like them, others don’t.). Designing in the browser (not all designers do this from the beginning, but seeing the design in the browser should not be at the end of the design process).

Words and phrases that scare me: SEO (people who concentrate too much on SEO sound like spam to me), expert, ninja, rockstar, jQuery expert (knowing how to use jQuery or any other javascript library is fine, but a jQuery expert is like being an expert at screwdrivers).

Other: If you’re hiring a sole developer, some knowledge of javascript (or javascript libraries) will be enough for your project. Unless your project has odd needs, your developer will not need to have a lot of MySQL knowledge, though it is useful.

(By the way, Code for America works specifically with government entities. Not NGOs.)
posted by thebestsophist at 9:53 AM on November 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Actually, don't rule out talking to Code for DC, the local CFA brigade, if only to meet up informally with civic-minded tech folks who can provide referrals and/or sanity checks on your project. We're meeting up again in a couple of weeks, so feel free to drop in then!
posted by evoque at 10:23 AM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing/seconding some things above, esp. what thebestsophist said. I do some website work, know Wordpress fairly well, and my main bit of advice is to not get too hung up on your wireframes to the point of not taking suggestions (ESPECIALLY if responsiveness is important, which it should be), and don't reinvent the wheel. There are lots of modules and plugins already built for most tasks like building a mailing list (or it may be better to outsource it altogether).

I may be misreading you, but I get a bit of a sense that you or someone in your org may be feeling "well, we're making the design; how hard can it be to just implement it?" That may be an oversimplification of your view, but either way - just be aware that this is kind of like saying "I have an idea for a book; you just need to write it." Not a perfect analogy, but the point is - the devil is in the details, and there are a lot of decisions and coding involved in turning a wireframe into a working site.

It would probably be cost-effective to find the firm, hire them, and bring one of their people into some of these meetings before too much is set in stone. I just got off the phone with a client who is making me a little crazy because he wants me to DO SOMETHING to get his site development moving again (he hired me to take over from another developer), and yet I have this sense that he's afraid to let me perform tasks (like participate in design decisions) because he's afraid of the meter ticking. An hour of time sitting in the design meeting and letting their project manager influence your decision makers might save 5 hours of coding around a big problem created by one of your people (in ignorance) asking for something to be "exactly like "___."

This is one reason I prefer the hourly rate model, rather than the "RFQ, take the best bid, and try to make them conform to the vision" model. In any project like this, things just develop along the way, and it creates tension between the client who tends to think ideas that surface should have been in scope or "the developer should have known..." and developers who think they've been added on and that should be a big add-on. Both sides are often guilty of abuse in these areas.

As to your budget, I am a web developer, but I am not your web developer, and I have not reviewed your requirements. However, $20K or so sounds like a reasonable budget to build a typical non-profit Wordpress site, esp. if you are providing some or all graphics. As has been said, try to hold a healthy % in reserve, because no matter how you slice it, a few months from now you'll want to make some tweaks - that's just part of it.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:08 AM on November 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Good answers in this thread.

+1 to this: “clients often make a lot of decisions that probably should have been made with the coder around the table … inflexibility with your requirements might result in higher costs.”

Code for America works with local governments so we can’t help you here, but we are in the process of redoing our own website. The biggest decision we made was to decouple the information architecture from the design and the implementation. We’ve got a current Wordpress-based site that’s creaky and old, but it’s good enough to keep around for a short while longer. That means we can do our information architecture work now, before the visual design ever starts, by moving pages around and carefully watching Google Analytics to see how they perform. The new /cities page, for example, is a visitor from our future website that’s been placed in the current one so we can see if it’s doing the job it’s supposed to. The information we provide and the way we talk about our programs is important as I imagine your non-profit’s own message is, so we own the navigation, content, and IA.

The visual design and HTML implementation is what we’re handing off to an outside firm. Our deliverables to them are in the Google Docs drawing tool, which translates to rough wireframes and content samples, giving a general idea of page placement. Our vendors do visual comps in Photoshop for each page in three responsive modes (desktop, tablet, and phone), moving things around liberally and adjusting for possible outputs as thorny suggests. They translate those comps into HTML and CSS. They deliver a pattern portfolio of components that we can use as a Lego set of page parts, to recombine at will as we work on our site in the future.

The final CMS implementation and deployment is back to us, because we have our own in-house skills in this area and because our HTML and design vendor doesn’t do CMS or hosting work. We’re on the fence about what to do here, deciding between sticking with Wordpress and moving to a static site generator such as Jekyll or Apache SSI. The advantage of a WP-style CMS is ease of editing for our marketing and press staff, while the advantages of a static site generator include simpler hosting (no database), easier creation of custom pages (no WP themes), and the ability to keep everything in one place under revision control. This is the cuspy, advanced option but it’s ultimately easier to experiment with than a live site with a database—it’s just a bunch of dumb files in folders like websites are supposed to be.

The split between the visual & markup parts and the final deployment means that we have a technology in two different places, but I think these two skills are quite distinct, and hard to place under the single heading of “coders.” If you could split your budget in two and worked with two people, this is how I’d do it, with a sharply-defined and lean process for the first designer/developer and a more open-ended, implementation + hosting arrangement with the developer/administrator.

Feel free to memail me if you want more details on our ongoing project.
posted by migurski at 8:42 PM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

progressiveexchange.org is a mailing list for lefty techs, and there are RFP and job offers there regularly
posted by klangklangston at 10:56 PM on November 27, 2013

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