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9 Key Characteristics of Great Nonprofit Websites with Actionable Tips


    Here’s how many nonprofit websites are developed:

    The leadership team gathers and begins brainstorming.

    “Our website should include a lot of information about our programs, especially the statistics, so people know we’re credible,” says one team member.

    “It should show our donors that we’re professional and serious, so let’s use lots of graphs and stock photos,” says another.

    “We should, of course, encourage visitors to donate. Let’s have a form where the visitors can fill in their personal details and we can then contact them to see how they want to donate,” says a third.

    Are you shaking your head ‘no’ vigorously as you’re reading this?

    So are we!

    Your website is one of the most valuable communications tools your nonprofit organization has at disposal for reaching potential donors and other stakeholders and providing them with need-to-know information.

    Your website is your organization’s bread and butter. It’s one thing to know who you are, what your mission is, and what your values are—but having a unified, integrated approach to your messaging is what will make all the difference.

    So, how do you create a great nonprofit website?

    Brief and compelling copy, uncomplicated and user-centered design, and functionality should be your priorities when creating your nonprofit website.

    The average time a person stays on a web page is less than 15 seconds.

    Additionally, a typical visitor only skims headlines, images, and bullet points, usually reading only a quarter of the text. 

    Furthermore, according to research published by Blue Corona, 48% of people determine the credibility of a business by its website design.

    This is important, albeit intimidating, information.

    But fear not, there are things you can do to keep your website users engaged and converting.

    Successful nonprofit websites share certain characteristics. In this article, we share 9 key characteristics every great nonprofit website should have.

    1. Make your website easy to navigate

    Is your website a messy hodgepodge of links, images, and long chunks of text? If so, this is where you should start.

    Even if your website features some marvelous design elements, if navigating it feels like finding your way out of a maze, the design will lose its power. No one is going to donate or sign up for your newsletter. Search engines will be confused too.

    A general rule of thumb that many marketers suggest is that your website navigation structure should allow a visitor to arrive on any page on your website and find what they need within three clicks. This rule emphasizes the importance of clear navigation, logical structure, and easy-to-follow site hierarchy.

    This sitemap can serve as a general outline of best practices for laying out your nonprofit website.

    Here are a few best practices to make your website easier to navigate:

    • Before building or redesigning your website, think about how you want users to navigate it. Building a roadmap will make things easier for you further down the line.
    • Divide your navigation into clear categories, and have only the most important links on the main menu.
    • Make sure that the pages and links you want to showcase, such as your donation page, are easy to find.
    • If your website has a lot of pages, use second-level or third-level dropdown menus.
    • Use accurate navigation titles.
    • Use actual text instead of icons for menu items.
    • Use wide fonts and scripts, with the minimum size for navigation text of 12 pixels.
    • Make sure that there’s a clear color contrast on your navigation menu.
    • Go with what users expect and know. For example, many users expect a clearly labeled and visible menu on the top right page. Mobile users have become accustomed to the “hamburger menu,” a three-lined icon that users click on to expand the menu.
    • Integrate search functionality within your site.
    • Maintain the same location, style, font, color, and type of navigation bar to assist users in locating the next place to go for information on your site.
    • Include a sitemap on your website with text links to the most important parts of your website (a sitemap is like a directory of your website). 
    Image Credit: Dwinawan (Dribbble)

    Pro tip: Before you go live with your nonprofit website, check that your navigation works. Have other people test your website for ease of navigation and give feedback.

    Pro tip 2: Remember why you have a website. You ideally want to funnel your visitors to the most important pages. In the case of a nonprofit website, this is likely the donation page. Directing visitors to important pages can have a big impact on your nonprofit’s fundraising and overall success.

    2. Communicate clearly

    Communication is a key element of a successful nonprofit website. Clear communication is essential to positive user experience.

    Image Credit: Curt Rice (Dribbble)

    It can be difficult to decide on the “right” amount of content and information to share on a website. Having sufficient and comprehensive information is crucial, but too much information can also get in the way and make it difficult to clearly communicate key messages and drive action.

    However, as a rule of thumb, websites with less content have an easier time effectively communicating a particular message to visitors because there is less clutter and fewer distractions. Marketers often recommend to, when in doubt, opt for less rather than more.

    Beyond that, here are a few more best practices to make your nonprofit website’s communication more clear:

    • Keep your content as brief and concise as possible.
    • Have your main messages stand out by using large text or a different color.
    • Make it so that when visitors first arrive at your website, they can quickly and accurately understand why your organization exists and what you do.
    • Be very clear about what type of action your visitors should take and how they can do so. Can donors give online? Where and how? How about becoming a member? Should they call by phone?
    • Consider your target market and audience when developing or redesigning your nonprofit website. Your website should be designed and developed so that it can communicate effectively with your target audiences.
    • Work on your readability. Readability describes the degree to which the meaning of the text is understandable, based on the complexity of sentences and the difficulty of vocabulary.
    Image Credit: Anchor Digital

    Pro tip: Optimize your website copy to get amazing organic exposure to prospects searching for your work for free. SEO — done right — can provide a huge return on investment.

    3. Essential content

    To make your website useful, start by defining and understanding who your users are and what they care about. 

    Talk to them to find out what their goals are when visiting your site. Then, define user scenarios that demonstrate in which situations people visit your site. 

    Image Credit: Malu Romero (Dribbble)

    Any design decision that you make based on that information should result in a more user-friendly website for your users.

    Here’s a quick hit-list of some of the more crucial elements to include in order to make your website more useful:

    • Mission Statement
    • Value Propositions
    • Intro Video/Hero Beneficiary Shot
    • Overview of Programs
    • Impact Proof
    • About Us
    • Testimonials
    • Case Studies/Success Stories
    • Resources

    4. Establish trust & credibility

    When first building a nonprofit website, one of the biggest challenges is gaining the trust of visitors. This is especially the case when a website communicates something to visitors in an attempt to convince them to give away their hard-earned money — in which case there could be a natural resistance to trust. Overcoming this requires thoughtful consideration.

    Image Credit: Charity: Water

    Here’s what you can do to build trust and credibility:

    • Make it easy for your website visitors to contact you (email, phone number, and address if relevant). If visitors want to get in touch with you, but can’t find any contact information, you lose their interest and trust.
    • Leave out the fluff and the hype. Visitors expect you to be straight-to-the-point and transparent. They want facts and information so they can make an educated decision about giving. Whenever possible, include relevant statistics that can help support your claims. Don’t go overboard, however, and always try to put data in the context of a story.
    • Share about your nonprofit’s history and achievements, especially on your About Us page.
    • Share a photo of your founder if it’s relevant. Bonus points if the founder is seen in action, i.e. directly involved in your program activities with your beneficiaries.
    • Share photos of your team, office, program locations, and beneficiaries (with permission). This will humanize your brand and increase credibility.
    • Dedicate a page to testimonials and/or case studies.
    • Link out to your reviews on Google, Trustpilot, or another relevant third-party website. Third-party endorsements hold weight.
    • Continually update your site, add to it, and remove any information that is obsolete or inaccurate. If your content isn’t current, you can lose credibility.
    • Keep your website design clean and crisp.
    • Avoid mistakes, such as incorrect grammar or misspellings.

    Pro tip: As a nonprofit, you have a mission you’re working toward. Make that mission crystal clear. Are you an organization that promotes female empowerment? Include imagery and testimonials from women you’ve worked with. Are you working to protect forests? Break out those images from the field. The goal is to make sure your organization’s brand and identity are clear for those visiting for the first time.

    5. Design matters

    A study conducted by Google found that visual complexity impacts the appeal of a site within 17 milliseconds of a visit.

    Simply put, research shows that people prefer a website with a simple design, and they judge a website within 60 seconds of seeing it.

    Image Credit: Interactive Labs (Dribbble)

    The design and appearance of a website are of great importance, especially to the modern user. However, they can sometimes be so emphasized that they become an overpowering element that hinders communication. 

    When building or redesigning your nonprofit website, take care that you use design strategically to enhance the message of the website, not overshadow it.

    Even in a visual-first world, the content of the website still holds the biggest weight, while the appearance of the website should be used to make the visit easier and more enjoyable. 

    Furthermore, whatever the action you want the user to take, you can use design to aim a spotlight on it.

    Here are a few suggestions to help you make your website design shine:

    • Limit your use of stock photos. Stock photos are appealing and high-quality, but they’re often too generic. When it comes to nonprofit work, your own, real photos will work best.
    • If possible, opt for simple and minimalistic design. Flashy features like complex images and options slow down sites. A minimalistic website will load faster, will attract new visitors, as well as more search engine traffic.
    • Use design to incite users to take action. This action might be signing up for a free event, donating, or even learning more about your nonprofit.
    • Reduce the number of things on your site. This way you’ll increase the chance that your visitors will remember the main point of your site.
    • Use lots of white space. According to Crazy Egg, white space around text and titles increases user attention by 20%. White space can also make your website feel open, fresh, and modern and if your branding is consistent with these then it can help you communicate that feeling to the user. But it can also take space from some valuable information you need to communicate. Find the balance by deciding what’s important to communicate and using sufficient white space.
    • Use bullet points and headers to enable your users to quickly get all the information they want: your mission, ways you solve key problems, and key features of your programs.
    • Make sure your links are easily identifiable by visual cues such as underlined text in blue. This draws the attention of the readers and lets them know the text is a link.
    • Keep everything consistent: heading sizes, fonts, coloring, button styles, spacing, design elements, styles of images, and videos. 

    6. Accessibility

    Web accessibility is about designing and developing websites, tools, and technologies that people with disabilities can use, according to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

    W3C also state that web accessibility applies to all disabilities that affect access to the web, including:

    • Auditory
    • Neurological
    • Physical
    • Speech
    • Visual

    Improving accessibility on your nonprofit website has many benefits. Firstly, it can help expand your potential audience and build a more positive brand image, putting you one step ahead of your competitors who might not have done the same.

    Furthermore, and more importantly, improving your website’s accessibility promotes inclusion and ensures that you don’t shut out people with disabilities.

    Image Credit: Blink (Dribbble)

    Here are a few ways in which you can make your nonprofit website more accessible:

    • Ensure your website works without the use of a mouse. Many assistive technologies rely on keyboard-only navigation.
    • Make sure colors on your website contrast well and that the text stands out against the background. This ensures that everyone can distinguish between various elements on the page.
    • Include equivalent alternative text (alt-text) in the markup/code of your images. If alt text isn’t provided for images, the image information is inaccessible to people who cannot see and use a screen reader that reads aloud the information on a page.
    • Provide a text transcript to all your audio information (and everything else that’s not text) to make it accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
    • Make sure that nothing flashes quickly (more than 3 times per second).
    • Construct your website so that it will work on as many modern computers, phones, and browsers as possible.
    • Make it so that your visitors can pause, stop, or hide anything non-essential that starts automatically, is presented with other information, and moves or blinks.
    • Offer the ability to enlarge the font size without breaking your page.
    • Minimize the use of tables. It’s often challenging for screen readers to read tables in the same flow that matches the visual order. 

    Pro tip: Place important links and other interactive elements higher up your web pages. This increases your site’s accessibility, and most users expect important items closer to the top of a web page anyway.

    7. Delight your visitors

    Now, this one might be the most subjective of them all, but if you wish to craft a nonprofit website that truly stands out and converts, you need to delight your website visitors.

    Their experience on your site should be pleasant, hassle-free, and enjoyable. It’s worth considering all the small things that delight website visitors, as well as the potential wow factors.

    Image Credit: Rakib Kowshar (Dribbble)

    Here are some of our suggestions:

    • Try not to use pop-ups. Pop-ups interrupt the browsing session and require instant feedback.
    • Use second person words like “you” and “we” (contractions like “you’ll” and “we’re” are usually fine). A friendly, informal tone is often better than a more professional one. Avoid using industry jargon and buzzwords.
    • Consider adding a live chat feature that enables you to engage with your website visitors in real-time.
    • If your website includes a form, such as a Contact Us form or a donation form, ask the fewest questions possible.
    • Don't forget about optimizing your site for mobile.
    • Make sure your page loads fast. Slow page load is a frustrating experience for the user and it can increase your website’s “bounce rate.”
    • Vary the length and format of your content to make it as appealing as possible to different kinds of audiences. Mix up shorter, informative blog posts with long-form articles, videos, and infographics.
    • Ask your regular visitors for input, learning what design features and elements someone landing on your page would most want.
    • Check for and remove 404 error pages. They annoy users and make them rethink spending their time on your website.
    • Don’t be afraid to experiment and play. Let your creativity run wild and find ways to make your site stand out. Maybe you want to use an interesting animation or ask a question in a different way.

    Pro tip: Building a community is the most effective way to delight your website visitors and convert them into donors and supporters. Engage with Facebook and Instagram comments or create a dedicated place for your community to share and connect with your organization.

    8. Evaluate & update regularly

    It’s key to consistently measure how well your website is supporting your nonprofit goals.

    Closely monitor how many of your users are doing what you want, such as donating or signing up for a newsletter.

    To optimize your conversion rates, conduct A/B testing for as many aspects of your website as possible. For example, A/B test different menu formats or A/B test your main call-to-action button. By doing this, you can determine what on your website brings in the most donors.

    Evaluate conversion paths, how far users scroll, what they’re clicking on and sharing. All of these can reveal if your website is performing the way you intended it to.

    When you’re tracking and evaluating your website’s performance, you’ll be able to identify what you need to change.

    And simple changes to colors, buttons, links, headers, or amending a few sentences in your copy can make a big difference to your site’s success.

    Pro tip: Google Analytics is an invaluable source of data, from your most popular pages to visitor demographics. Keep a close eye on your Analytics data, and use this information to inform your strategy.

    9. Drive donations

    Fundraising is at the core of any nonprofit’s sustainability, so it’s vital to make it easy for your donors to donate from your website.

    A good rule of thumb is to try to keep supporters just one click away from your donation form no matter where they are on your site.

    Image Credit: Adam Wathan & Steve Schoger

    Here are some tips to help you drive donations from your website:

    • Make sure the final step on your donation page is easy to find for your donor. Use a button of a different color and use words like “Donate Now” or “Submit” to make it obvious that this call-to-action is the last step.
    • Craft a mission statement that will live front and center on your home page. The mission is what inspires giving. Keep it short and simple.
    • Use a “Donate Now” button and frequently link it to your donation page in your website content and include a “Donate” page in your menu navigation.
    • Explain other ways visitors can support your cause. Add a section or page on your site labeled “Support Us” or “Ways to Give.”
    • Create content that drives donations (e.g. stories of impact, videos, photos from the field).
    • Donors want to know how their donations will be used so make sure to fill them in with a compelling visual list or graphic.
    • Promote recurring giving. Ongoing monthly donations are a crucial funding source for many nonprofits. Donors will have this option available when you use GiveForms.
    Image Credit: Thorn

    Take your nonprofit website to the next level 

    As our online and offline worlds continue to merge, it’s now more important than ever for nonprofits to better understand the importance and value of a great website.

    With a good understanding of your visitors' needs, desires, and preferences, and equipped with the tips shared above -- you’re now ready to drastically improve your nonprofit website!

    Clear, well-designed, functional websites are central to effective fundraising and brand management.

    However, even with the best website live, you’ll need a great online donation solution if you want to raise funds online. When you use GiveForms, you gain access to a plethora of nonprofit-specific benefits

    • A customizable donation page optimized for mobile
    • Embeddable donation forms directly on your website
    • Donor dashboard to help you search, view and export your donations
    • Monthly recurring donations and social sharing options
    • And more!

    Get up and running in only 15 minutes!

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