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Use your website to empower supporters and drive donations

How would you or others describe your nonprofit's website?

If the words inviting, informative and easy to use come to mind, your website is likely doing its job — helping your organization achieve its mission by engaging the community. If, instead, words such as confusing, hard to navigate, or out of date popped into your head, it might be time for a website overhaul.

What you need to know before you design (or revamp) your website

Your nonprofit's website is more than an online brochure — and determining the design and content flow can be challenging. As you get started, consider how to integrate the website with your overall marketing strategy and ensure that it's aligned with your nonprofit's goals. Then, remember that your website must cater to the needs of your target audience. Creative design and imagery may drive traffic, but that isn't necessarily helpful if you're mostly attracting people who aren't likely to support your work.

Characteristics of a winning nonprofit website

An effective nonprofit website:

  • Has a clear and obvious purpose. Make sure your website is easy to read and understand. Your vision and mission should be reflected in the site's branding, images, content and navigation.
  • Covers the logistics. Make it clear to readers what specific services you provide, including how to access them and how much it costs. Prominently display contact details for more information or assistance, as well as office hours, directions and links to maps. List a staff roster with job titles and areas of responsibility.
  • Moves the audience. Beyond explaining what your organization does and how your mission changes lives, use your website to feature stories and opportunities that will inspire people to get involved.
  • Makes taking action easy. Is your online donation process easy to complete? Try to keep supporters just one click away from your donation form. If you require donors to fill out forms, don't ask for information you won't use. If you need volunteers, make it easy for people to click to join.
  • Links to social media. Make links to your Twitter, Facebook and other social media accounts visible throughout your website. Make it easy for people to share your content and increase awareness about your mission by adding share buttons on every page.
  • Is mobile-friendly and up to date. Optimize your website for mobile accessibility so that potential supporters can easily access your content on any device. Routinely check the site for anything in need of updating or repair.
  • Uses analytics. Monitor who's visiting your site, which sites are referring them, how long visitors are sticking around, which pages are the most popular and who's donating. Keep track of who's signing up for your newsletter, who's commenting on your blog posts and how many people are sharing your content on social media. Use this data to improve your site.

What about navigation?

Navigation helps you organize and categorize the contents of your website. It's a road map for your users that needs to be clean and clear — or it could drive people away.

First, consider what information should fall under primary navigation. This is the content that users are most interested in and garners the best placement on your site. These navigation titles might include donate, volunteer, mission, impact and about us.

Next, determine your secondary navigation or content of secondary interest. These navigation titles, which should appear less prominently, might include log in and social media icons. Keep your navigation titles short and think about their order. If you have more than 8 navigation items, you might favor a vertical navigation on the left side of the page, as opposed to horizontal navigation.

To learn more about navigation best practices and find website design resources, including templates and guidelines, check out usability.gov — a site maintained by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Tips for managing multiple pages

If your website has at least a few pages, realize that visitors might not initially land on your homepage. A search engine could bring visitors directly to a blog entry or a specific campaign page. Consider ways to make sure your organization's mission statement and charitable status is clear on every page of your site, such as by including it in a sidebar or in the footer.

As you create additional pages for your website, make sure the goal of each page is clear — whether it's getting someone to donate, volunteer or spread the word via social media.

Also think about:

  • What types of content you might feature, such as blog posts, articles, new campaign pages, videos, infographics, podcasts and webinars
  • How much content you'll produce (aiming for quality over quantity)
  • How — and when — the content will be produced
  • How the content will be managed once it's been published (as in, how project information will be kept up to date, how blog comments will be handled and so on)
  • How the content will be promoted, such as through a newsletter, social media or paid social promotion via Google or Bing

Remember the human touch

Don't be afraid to appeal to the humanity of your website's visitors. With appropriate consent, feature at least a few images of people in your site to convey emotion. Likewise, include stories of or testimonials from clients or participants.

Give your supporters the chance to learn more about your staff and board by including bios and headshots. In addition to providing a mailing and email address, include a phone number in your "about us" or "contact us" section so visitors have an avenue to a live conversation.

Don't be daunted by the work ahead. By thinking of your website as an important tool that supports your organization's goals, you can develop a site that helps you empower loyal supporters, attract new champions and drive donations.

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Disclaimer

MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

Disclaimer

References

npENGAGE: 10 tips to drive your nonprofit's website from good to great by Raheel Gauba (2014)

Wired Impact: Characteristics of a truly effective nonprofit website by Britt Vogel (2015)

Wired Impact: Nonprofit website navigation: Tips and best practices by Alex McQueary (2014)

Salsa: 7 tips for creating an awesome nonprofit website by Jennifer Gmerek (2014)

NonProfit PRO: 25 nonprofit website musts by Kevin Lee (2015)

The NonProfit Times: 3 website tips that build traffic and dollars by Michael Gastaldo (2013)

Wired Impact: 5 questions to ask to improve every page of your nonprofit's website by David Harstein (2013)

CharityComms: Turning our website from a tortoise into a hare by Emma Gunby (2015)

References

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Writers and editors working together to elevate social impact worldwide — one paragraph at a time