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Refresh and Reset: A Pro Bono Website Upgrade

By Emily Patrick | November 22, 2021

Team Consulting with America Needs You and Fidelity Investments

This is the second in a series of blog posts tracking a long-term skills-based volunteering project with America Needs You and Fidelity Investments to upgrade the nonprofit’s website. Read the first post here.

Where it Started

The number of first-generation college students enrolled in degree programs has increased by 25% over the past decade. Despite this growth, drop-out rates for low-income, first-generation college students remain among the highest in the nation at 89%. Students who make the connection between college and career are six times more likely to graduate. Hiring managers report that even students who graduate need additional training beyond the classroom to be successful in careers.
There is a strong need and high demand for America Needs You’s programming.

A few weeks ago, we began to share about a skills-based team consulting project with Fidelity Investments and America Needs You (ANY), a nonprofit that fights for economic mobility for ambitious, first-generation college students by providing transformative mentorships and intensive career development. The goal: redesign and upgrade ANY’s WordPress website to make it more accessible, user friendly, and representative of the organization’s values and expanded footprint.

“We had a not ideal situation with our website in recent years. It was band-aid solutions,” said ANY Chief External Affairs Officer Emily Ashton. “Our goal was to spend time where it matters and to think about the user experience.”

The Fidelity volunteers came to the (virtual) table from across the Northeast U.S., never having worked together, but looking forward to the exposure to new colleagues and departments. Between them, they had several decades of experience in project management, user interface (UI), user experience (UX), quality assurance (QA), database engineering, and IT. While they had the transferrable skills needed to conduct ANY’s website assessment and upgrade, the volunteers did not have previous exposure to WordPress specifically. This made for an exciting exercise that challenged them to gain new competencies over the course of the partnership. The volunteers dedicated a few hours every week to teaching themselves and each other how to best navigate, customize, and optimize WordPress for the project at hand before passing on their learnings and recommendations to the ANY staff.

Collaboration Roadmap

During the discovery phase of the project, the ANY staff and Fidelity volunteers aligned on the story they wanted to tell through the website and their vision for enhancements and integrations. “The team really listened to us and thought to learn about how this supported our work organizationally in order to create a platform that will work for us and grow with us,” Emily said.

The Fidelity-America Needs You team brainstorming audience personas and strategy for their website redesign project.
The Fidelity-America Needs You team brainstorming audience personas and strategy for their website redesign project.

The Fidelity volunteers went on to present ANY with a prioritized list of website enhancements and developed a high-level plan that included the phases of the project, the distinct work streams, a timeline, and ownership, taking into account how they could best leverage the unique skills of each team member and distribute leadership opportunities. “It was great to have a timeline outlined in advance. It helped to understand what we were getting into and what we should expect from all parties,” Emily commented.

With the project kickoff and discovery phase complete, it was time for the Fidelity volunteers to conduct a more detailed assessment of ANY’s WordPress platform in relation to the website structure enhancements and improvements to user experience. After familiarizing themselves with the structure and capabilities available, they confirmed a WordPress upgrade would be the best path forward, as opposed to migrating to a different content management system. From there, they identified and developed requirements for the key enhancements and documented the updated plan to include, implementation, and training. They then presented the plan to ANY and confirmed alignment on the priorities and requirements. Emily was quick to share the ANY team’s enthusiasm for the proposed solutions, even going to ANY’s CEO after just the second call to convey how much clarity the project had already given them. The volunteer team was “really good at explaining the decisions that they made. It was helpful context and allowed us to feel confident in the decisions,” she remarked.

Upgrade and Upskill

At this point, the Fidelity team was eager to begin implementing the website upgrades, which they did over the course of a few months, meeting weekly to share their progress and platform learnings as well as receive feedback from the ANY staff. Toward the end of the work plan, the team stopped to look back on their progress. Rachel Duprey, a Fidelity Director, Project Management, and the volunteer team lead for the project, was proud to share that they had made design and UX improvements including updating custom CSS and global styles to better reflect ANY’s branding, adding content filtering for users to more easily find what they’re looking for, and integrating social media feeds and like and share capabilities. Additionally, they created or updated 40+ pages of content, 40+ News section posts, 85+ staff and board member profiles, and 9 events with new filtering capabilities and calendar views.

This brought Fidelity and ANY to one of the final phases of their collaboration: testing and training. The Fidelity volunteers took care to familiarize the ANY staff with the new WordPress features and processes throughout the project. This extra effort ensured that the ANY staff can sustain the changes, navigate the platform, and edit content, formatting, and templates even after the project had wrapped. Then, the ANY staff conducted internal user testing and gathered feedback from their colleagues, including leadership. Emily previewed the new website in a directors meeting and sent screenshots to the C-Suite, all of whom were thrilled by the updates: “People love the simplicity of it.”

Look out for the third and final edition of this series where we’ll reveal the final project outcomes and the ANY staff and the Fidelity volunteers’ reflections on the experience.

Reach out for more on how Common Impact’s skilled volunteering models and services – including team consulting projects like this – can align your employees’ skills with the needs of social impact organizations!