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Emphasize your nonprofit message via website design

Caryn Stein is as passionate about the need for powerful nonprofit website design as she is for her other loves: singing karaoke and protecting animals. As vice president of communication and content for Network for Good, Caryn advises nonprofits on how to turn their websites into magnets for visitors and donations.

With all the online options people have, it's easy for nonprofits to believe that nonprofit website design isn't important anymore. But like that time she chose "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" for karaoke, Caryn is sure you're not thinking clearly.

"Everyone talks about social media, but 55 percent of online donations still come through a nonprofit's website," Caryn says. "You need to make your website a priority."

Consider these dos and don'ts of nonprofit website design.

1. Keep it simple

  • Do: Engage visitors emotionally.
  • Don't: Overcomplicate your site by forcing people to think.

Timing is critical. "You only have a few seconds to engage a website visitor," Caryn says. "If you don't engage them emotionally you'll lose them."

As an animal lover, Caryn likes this example from LEWA Wildlife Conservancy:

2. Stay on message

  • Do: Make it easy for visitors to understand what your nonprofit does.
  • Don't: Fill your site with useless widgets and visual clutter.

Have you ever been to a website and been overwhelmed with all the buttons, widgets and images? There's a name for that.

"'Cognitive load' refers to the amount of energy someone has to expend to understand your website," explains Caryn. "If they have to spend too much time figuring you out they may leave with the wrong message — or leave before they find one."

A Washington D.C. native, Caryn likes this example from the local chapter of the Legal Aid Society:

3. Invite visitors to take action

  • Do: Make sure your website has a clear call to action.
  • Don't: Always make the call to action a donation request.

"Yes, every website should have a 'donate' button," Caryn says. "But there are other ways to get visitors to donate, like buying T-shirts."

A recent call to action on the Children's Miracle Network (CMN) home page invited visitors to share their email for a "miracle band" and to buy a T-shirt via the social fundraising platform Booster.

CMN saw a jump in website conversions. "In less than a month, CMN sold almost 1,000 shirts," says Andrew Moss, president of Booster. "People get asked all the time to donate. But Booster tee allows supporters to donate and wear their support."

4. Make it easy for mobile users

  • Do: Get lots of feedback on your website from supporters, donors, creative types, colleagues, techies and strangers.
  • Don't: Assume that everyone is looking at your nonprofit website design on a desktop.

"Nonprofits need a mobile-mindset," Caryn says. "More people than ever are viewing your website on tablets and smartphones, especially millennials."

For more from Joe Waters, visit Selfish Giving.

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

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Cause marketing expert for do-gooders, nonprofits and businesses